Patricia St. John who I know from the Berkeley Breakfast Club and the East Bay Nursery told me that I should meet Arnold Haller and see the masks he makes.
Haller worked on Fourth Street in Berkeley for Cal ink, which became a division of the Flint Ink Company of Detroit. He worked for them for 45 years. They made newspaper ink. He tells wonderful stories of what it was to work in industrial West Berkeley, the camaraderie, the long lunches in North Beach, the practical jokes.
In 2012, the building’s new owner Alan Varela invited the Endless Canvas underground artists’ group to paint graffiti art on all the structure’s interior. They did. It was quite a deal.
Varela founded ProVen, a national engineering construction company that specializes in large-scale infrastructure projects. David Trachtenberg was hired to redo the place as ProVen’s headquarters.
I mention this only to establish the Berkeley bona fides of Arnold Haller. Who lives in El Cerrito.
Haller grew up and has lived-in the Bay Area his entire life. He has lived in this El Cerrito house for 37 years.
He is on the far right in this photo from the late 1940s.
I will get to the masks and other quirky creations, but lest we think that Haller is all quirk, check out these busts he made of his family. He is an autodidact – self-taught, no training. Clearly made to do this, no?
There are several of Haller’s Möbius strip sculptures around the house.
A Möbius strip is a surface with one continuous side.
Can you see how it works? Take a strip of paper. Twist one end 180 degrees. Tape the ends together. You have a Möbius strip now.
A structure similar to the Möbius strip can be seen in Roman mosaics dated circa 200–250 AD.
Its discovery is attributed to the German mathematicians August Ferdinand Möbius and Johann Benedict Listing in 1858.
Haller has made a series of Cat Nemesis sculptures to keep his cats Eos and Selene off of chairs.
Here is how well the Nemesis works with Selene.
Here is what Eos thought of the Quirky Berkeley visitors.
Eos? Eos was a Titan goddess in Greek mythology.
She was the daughter of the Titans Hyperion and Theia. She was the goddess of the dawn.
Her sister Selene was goddess of the moon.
Building – still – up to the masks – there are other Haller sculptures around the house.
Haller’s bathroom won immediate induction in the Quirky bathroom post
See what I mean? Righteous quirk in the bathroom. Other sculptures:
The blonde is Celeste, as in she has a celestial body. The blue lady is an allusion to Randy Newman’s “You Can Keep Your Hat On” from his 1972 Sail Away album. Ry Cooder on slide guitar. Ry!
I dig birds with sneakers!
These are maquettes. A maquette is a sculptor’s small preliminary model or sketch. Good word!
You have been patient. Now – the masks that Haller makes.
These two are Day of the Dead masks. Other influences on his mask design are New Orleans and the art of the people of Haida Gwaii and other northwestern native American indians.
The masks above are in his living and dining rooms. There is a mask room with masks on the walls and shelves and surfaces – lots of masks.
Haller makes the masks in a basement workshop.
He has forms of his head and his wife Jennifer’s head over which he fits masks-in-making. He uses store-bought papier-mâché.
The rough mask that he is wearing here will be sanded, buffed, plastered, added and subtracted, painted,and accessorized. It might end up looking like one of these from the basement mask graveyard:
He calls this mask “William Tell’s Dad Missed.”
That’s where and how the masks are made. Here is where and how they are worn.
Haller’s wife Jennifer is from Louisiana. They host a Mardi Gras party each year. He makes masks for them.
Haller has never sold a piece of art.
There has been a lot of talk this week about John McCain and the end of an era. Along with Haller’s creativity and humor and sparkle, there is a touch of melancholy (at least in me) about a Berkeley that has all but disappeared.
But let’s not go there. Let’s rejoice in the masks and strips and nemeses and Arnold Haller’s wellspring of creativity.
I showed the post to my friend. He smiled as he went through the photos. When done, he went back to the William Tell’s Dad Missed mask.
“Did you know that the feathers on an arrow are known as fletching? A woman told me that one night in Lincoln, Massachusetts. There are 205 cities in the United States named Lincoln. A crossbow doesn’t shoot an arrow, it shoots a bolt.”
Did the fletching woman tell him that too? Nope. He went to his quarters and brought this back:
“You forget the vast breadth of my knowledge. I learned bolt from an intense study of William Tell.
“After the Tellensprung, Teller escaped from Albrecht Gessler, the tyrannical reeve of the Habsburg dukes positioned in Altdorf, in the canton of Uri. It was Gessler to whom Tell wouldn’t bow. Gessler was taking Tell to prison for the rest of his life when Tell sprung from the boat.
“Gessler knew that Tell had a bolt that he intended to use to kill him but he pursued Tell all the same. Mistake. Tell shot and killed Gessler with that bolt.”
Good story! What about Arnold Haller and his masks?