When Andrea Scharff’s family bought their 1907 Bernard Maybeck home at 1321 Bay View Place — a home that’s been on countless city historic home walking tours because it’s one of the few by Maybeck that still exists in Berkeley — they wanted to share the home with the neighborhood and passers-by who have shown interest in the gorgeous property.
After all, the home had been owned by one family for decades, and empty for years after a family member’s death. Why not celebrate the work of one of the Bay Area’s most iconic Arts and Crafts architects with the community?
“We wanted to connect with people but didn’t want to have people over” during the pandemic, Scharff said. “It’s hard being a new neighbor and we wanted to open up the space.”
Neighbors started talking. What if Scharff followed in the footsteps of many Berkeley residents before her and erected a tiny library in front of the house?
Scharff took the idea a step further. Atop the traditional small cubby of free books, she opened an even smaller art gallery — just 5 inches deep, 3 inches high and a little over a foot wide.
Since Scharff’s Art & Lit Gallery opened in April 2021, several local artists have shown their work to hundreds of people. The beautiful location near the Berkeley Rose Garden commands sweeping views of the Golden Gate Bridge.
“I’ve gotten reactions from some people I haven’t seen in a long time,” said artist and quilter Rita Guzmán, whose 2-by-2-inch quilt creations “Starflowers Chain,” “Sashed Tumblers,” “Friendship Star” and “Chimney Sweep” are currently hanging on the yellow walls of the gallery.
Guzmán, who lives in Emerald Hills near Redwood City, feels pretty great her work is being shown in a gallery with such a fantastic buzz.
Guzmán’s quilts have been photographed and shrunk to miniature size. But the “people” admiring the artwork from inside the gallery don’t notice. They’re just an inch tall, and lucky enough to have a plush, relatively monster-size pillow to sit on as they take in Guzmán’s work.
By the way, ducks are allowed in this gallery. Miniature ones.
“I think the thing I love about it is it’s magical. It’s just magical,” said realtor Ira Serkes, who’s had several photography shows at Art & Lit. “You go there and she does just such an extraordinary job with the ducks and the people and the sizes and shapes. … She puts tremendous thought into it.”
Look inside the gallery and it feels like you’re right with the little figurines taking in Guzmán’s massive quilts and their luscious, vibrant colors and intricate patterns.
“All the neighbors like it. When people have guests visiting, it’s part of the neighborhood tour,” Scharff said. Even when those historic walking tours stop at her house to talk about the lovely Maybeck, “visitors now make a beeline for the gallery when the person’s talking about the house.”
Scharff is not an artist, she said, but she experiments in just about everything. She has oil paints and acrylic paints. She has done metal work and has several musical instruments laying around that she plinks and planks.
“I dabble in art,” she said. “I have a short attention span and just do a lot of stuff. I like to move around a lot and do a lot of things. And people have a lot of ideas they bring to me, and I just never say no.”
Since opening the gallery, she’s changed the shows every two or three weeks. She’s shown the photography, hand drawings, illustrations, and images of paintings. She likes to show the work of local artists, but sometimes breaks the rules and has themed shows, like a recent Frida Kahlo exhibit.
And the neighbors, who she has tried hard to impress, have certainly fallen in love with Scharff’s tiny, socially distanced, neighborhood gathering space.
“It’s wonderful,” said neighbor Natasha Beery, whose daughter Julia Beery is a science illustrator and showed her drawings of nudibranchs, soft-bodied mollusks, at Art & Lit. Beery said she and her other neighbors had talked for years about putting out a free library before Scharff moved in.
“Within a few days, Andrea had the gallery up and running and beautiful,” Beery said.
When Julia Beery showed her work, it was around the holidays and their entire family got to see the show, complete with its gallery soundtrack of sea shanties.
“It was utterly delightful,” Beery said. “It’s just become our little landmark. We’re just delighted.”
See Art & Lit for yourself by just walking down Bay View Place, or visit the gallery’s website.