Susan Brooks grew up in the Bronx. Her father was Bert Brooks.
In the photo above he is holding Lord Rumsey.
Brooks was a designer and molder of plastic toys. This is an example of his work. Susan grew up in her father’s shop, carving plaster, chasing on copper, and getting comfortable with his tools.
After some time at the Parsons School of Design in New York, Brooks followed her dream and a boyfriend to Berkeley, arriving on July 31, 1971. The boyfriend didn’t last. Berkeley lasted and art lasted.
Her studio/gallery is in the Kawneer Building, which I know as the Sawtooth Building, at 2547 Eight St., Studio 24a. She has been there for 15 years. The building is a Berkeley Landmark. Daniella Thompson wrote a thorough and brilliant history of the building. Studios in the building house glass-blowers, woodworkers, sculptors, potters, jewelers, designers, musicians, painters in oil, acrylic, and watercolors, restorers, furniture makers, dancers and moving artists.
Her first medium was painting. In 1985 she developed her skills as a metal smith and branched out into jewelry.
She uses her father’s chasing tools for her metal work. Chasing is surface decoration.
She does both chasing and repoussé. Repoussé is a metal-working technique in which a malleable metal is ornamented or shaped by hammering from the reverse side to create a design in low relief. It is a form of toreutics, which is the art of making designs in relief or intaglio.
And then came the Objects of Desire and Mirth, which were conceived and born in profound loss and grief.
Susan’s sister, Kathe Kaufmann, died in September 2016.
In February 2017, Brooks channeled her grief into a project — making small figurines as part of an undertaking she calls “Objects of Desire & Mirth.” She writes: “I wasn’t sure where I was going with this project. I didn’t even know it was a project, but soon it became clear. I would make 1,000 figures in batches, and see where it took me. I could tune out the news cycle and just play with clay to put my mind at ease. I began to delight in the magic little world that I was starting to create.”
Brooks uses her father’s chasing tools working with clay. At first, they were not two-sided, but the project evolved into that. Now: “I tend to anthropomorphize. Many of these figures are two-sided, with an animal or insect on the back as an alter ego.” She carves them without sketches. What they are supposed to be reveals itself. They are fired twice to vitrify the clay. She paints them. The magnifying visor she is wearing in the photo above comes in handy.
For 45 years, Brooks has been collecting figures characterized by an Odd Stance and a Strange Glance. Many but not all wear high-waisted pants
Shortly before visiting Brooks I came across the carved man on the left. He has the stance and the glance and the high-waisted pants. I gave him to Brooks and almost immediately he hit off with a lady, his other half. Brooks finds that the figures she collects often find love with a kindred spirit in the collection.
She also collects Billikens, a charm doll that is known as “The God of Things As They Ought to Be.”
As I worked on this post, Brooks sent me a photo. Scary! She used the term doppelgänger to describe the figure on the left. Could this be my evil twin, or my stranger twin. Scary!
Susan Brooks — daughter of toy-maker, sister, maker herself of objects of desire and mirth. To visit her studio is to step into a world of whim and quirk.
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 8,000 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-plus-year resident muses on what it all means. Longer and more idiosyncratic versions of this post may be seen at Quirky Berkeley.