Three years ago, a proud group of muffler-based sculptures was positioned in front of Ron’s Berkeley Muffler, just outside Berkeley and just inside Oakland.
This crop was created when Ron Hulse was still running the Muffler Shop, which he opened with his wife Deanna at 2420 Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley in 1962. They moved south on Shattuck in 1989, now “just inside Oakland.” Thus – technically, not in Berkeley. But the sign says “Ron’s Berkeley Muffler Shop” and it started in Berkeley and it’s quirky. That’s good enough for me.
Muffler shops have a heritage of “muffler men,” figures constructed from discarded automobile mufflers. They are excellent examples of vernacular workplace sculpture. And they are quirky and cool.
These days, Hulse is enjoying retired life in Danville as his daughter Abby Mays runs the shop. Here she holds a photo of her and Elvis Presley taken in 1971 after Hulse gave Presley a steel motorcycle sculpture.
By early 2016, the population of muffler men out front of the shop had dwindled. Theft, purchase, and giveaways had culled the herd. Prompted by our visit (I like to think), Mays gave the crew the green light to “get creative” with muffler sculpture during down time in the shop. As a result, there are now two new sculptures out front:
Folklorists love muffler men, which they see as striking and remarkable embodiments of folk art creations. For me, that is a bit overthinking. The muffler repair men like fitting around with muffler and they make cool art, just as Peter Mitchell made his giant bugs with car parts. It is my hope that Mays continues to encourage her crew to make more muffler men to brighten our day as we travel Shattuck Avenue.
Bonus: The photo below is a muffler sculpture made by workers at MGR Muffler, 12432 San Pablo Ave, Richmond.
Tom Dalzell, a labor lawyer, created a website, Quirky Berkeley, to share all the whimsical objects he has captured with his iPhone. The site now has more than 8,600 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means.
A longer and more idiosyncratic version of this post may be found at Quirky Berkeley.