Marcia Donahue has lived at 3017 Wheeler (just below Ashby, just above Shattuck) for 37 years. She has gardened there for 37 years, exquisitely and creatively, favoring lush and jungle-like plantings that change with the changing sunlight of the day. She has created art there for 37 years.
In the early years she carved stone. Ten years ago, more or less, things changed in her life. One was a change in her art. She now works in ceramics, not stone.
She lives in the house with her daughter and son-in-law Sara and Ehren Tool, and their son. She enjoys the rejuvenate friction of multigenerational living, although she half mocked me for suggesting that term which she rightly supposed was a term that I had borrowed, not coined.
From the street, you see the luxuriant planting style that carries through to the back garden, which is open to the public Sunday afternoons. You also see Big Beauty, a ceramic sculpture made by Sara and trucked up from Los Angeles piece by piece.
You reach the back garden by a path on the south side of the house. My photographs don’t really capture the entirety of the beauty and whimsy of the garden. Here are several that try:
Throughout the garden are pieces of Donahue’s ceramic art. Many are over-sized malas, a set of beads – usually 108 – used by Hindus and Buddhists for keeping count while reciting, chanting, or mentally uttering a mantra or the name or names of a deity.
Others are nats, spirits worshipped in Burma as part of the Buddhist faith tradition. There are many lower nats and 37 Great Nats who inhabit the six heavens.
She calls these three nats Sisters Age, an allusion to M.F.K. Fisher’s Sister Age.
Non-mala and non-nat ceramics abound in the garden, blending seamlessly into the flora.
There is a smaller Bulwinkle screen as part of an overhang roof on the north side of the house.
If the spectacular plantings were not sufficient, and the happy exotic chickens were not enough, and the Donahue mala and nats and ceramics were not enough, there are objects, found and made, hidden and not hidden.
There are bowling balls throughout the garden, making it the motherlode of bowling balls as lawn art in Berkeley.
Children who visit the garden ike to count the bowling balls. I bet that there have not been any two counts that were the same. There are lots of them. Maybe we should just go with the Romans and say “forty,” meaning “lots.”
Now – Marcia’s studio. It is inside and thus not within the parameters of Quirky Berkeley. As I have said before, because there is a parallel Berkeleyside post that isn’t constricted by outside-only rules, I include here photos from inside the house and the studio.
Marcia’s ceramics studio is ground level, front of the house. On one wall is a large Bulwinkle screen:
There is a doll supervising all:
There is a Big Blue extruder which squishes clay into the basic forms from which Donahue carves her art.
And there are works in progress, in this case all hats.
And then the house proper. Wow. Simply – wow! Brilliant colors and Africa fabrics and Japanese obis (decorative kimono sashes) and massive pieces of asian furniture and dappled sunlight and found objects and iconography from Asian and African faith traditions. It is ever-changing and very difficult, if even possible, to take in.
The kitchen ceiling was painted by Mark Bulwinkle. Marcia remembers that it only took him a few hours. He remembers that there was a bottle of gin involved.
The overhead light fixtures are by Jana Olson, either alone or in collaboration with Marcia.
Photographs do justice to individual elements, but not the overall effect. The individual elements –
In early 2916, Donahue went all silk on this wall:
The photo above is of what daughter Sara calls “Barbie Flash Mob.” How perfect is that?
The quirky and whimsical and creative and artistic and glorious abound at 3017 Wheeler. Almost four decades of gardening, a decade of making ceramics, and a lifetime of collecting art – all here, one stop.
When I showed my friend these photos, he was truly taken aback. He went back over them a few times, slowly.
“Know what this reminds me of?” I didn’t. He got a photo:
“Spinal Tap. Nigel Tufnel’s amp. It went up to 11. Sister Donahue here has got a garden and house that go up to 11. Right over the cliff!”
Good point. Anything else about the photos?