Jana Olson arrived in Berkeley the day after I turned 20. I was still in Philadelphia, working at the University of Pennsylvania Dining Service. My family still lived on Old Gulph Road in Bryn Mawr. All about me! The point being: on July 6, 1971, Olson came from Minnesota looking for work in landscape architecture. She got a job quickly. And stayed.
In the 1990s she took over Omega Lighting on San Pablo, not to be confused with Ohmega Salvage on San Pablo. She got good at rewiring and repairing lamps.
The relationship that underlined Olson’s work at Omega ended as did her time at Omega.
She married Roger Carr, a Burning Man artist and professional physicist at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center. His deal was titanium metallurgy, metalworking and tungsten inert gas welding. He wrote a monograph titled “Correlation Between Thermal Desorption Spectroscopy and Optical Second Harmonic Generation for Monitoring Surface Coverages.” Unless you are well-grounded in the Langmuir kinetic model, this probably isn’t for you. More, though. One titled “Coster-Kronig yields in silver measured with synchrotron radiation.” And “Vacancy multiplication following Ni L-shell photoionization.” He is smart!
In 2006 he walked away from Stanford and she walked away from Omega. They started a whole new deal. They were too young to call it an encore career move. Just – starting a whole new deal.
Her part of whole new deal is lighting. She had the idea of making lamps a long time ago, but it took a while to take the idea from idea to reality, that reality being Panache Lighting on 9th Street. Panache? Flamboyant confidence of style or manner.
She repairs lamps. Like this Murano glass chandelier.
And sometimes is inspired by what she repairs and then designs based on what she has touched. In this photo, ceramic components that will mimic the Murano. She made the ceramic components.
She also fabricates.
This represents a small fraction of the parts that she has at her disposal. They are very, very well organized. Her hanging lamps are not your grandmother’s hanging lamps.
This one is a commission for a home in Sonoma. The owner provided the wheels and harness and springs. The rest – Olson.
She is fond of everyday objects repurposed as lamps – kitchen utensils and teapots and Wedgwood porcelain cups and Lustreware. .
This six-armed lamp is a prototype. She calls it the Anakroid.
And, one day, these horns will be a BIG chandelier. I am anxious to see this. Her table lamps are equally charming.
Threadspool candlesticks! And you should see the shadows that the colanders make when it is dark.
While still on the subject of Olson’s lamps, let’s go to Marcia Donahue’s house on Wheeler and revisit the Olson ceiling lights there. I’m always up for a trip to Donahue’s house and garden.
The bottom two were collaborative efforts between Donahue and Olson.
Another Olson chandelier in the field – Dick and Beany Wezelman’s home on Shattuck:
I mentioned earlier Olson’s gardening past. Well, there is a gardening present and for that we will visit her home, way up in the hills, lots of winding and twisting and ravines and Codornices stream running through it.
The house is just uphill from the quatrefoil on the side of the road. Pure quirk! Olson brought the quatrefoil home from Ohmega. No body buried under the rocks. It is not a shrine. It is a quatrefoil for the sake of a quatrefoil. Still – I like to think of it as the opening of the cosmic central axis at the crossroads of the four cardinal directions, the passage between the celestial and the underworld.
When Olson moved into the house in 1997, the grounds, the lodge architecture, and the giant Wolf range in the kitchen made her feel like she was in summer camp – and so she gave the house a name and sign, “Camp Shasta.”
There are eight thermometers near the front door. Check, double check, triple check,etc, triangulating data points. One of them is probably right, no?
A quick peek inside the house, and then the gardens.
Oh my. Oh my indeed. Over the fireplace:
This Olson piece is inspired by the Unorthodox Taxidermy project that a young Dr. Seuss embarked upon in the 1930s, matching bills, horns, and antlers from dead zoo animals with imagined and bizarre beings. The June 7, 1938, issue of Look magazine dubbed Ted Geisel (Dr. Seuss) “The World’s Most Eminent Authority on Unheard-Of Animals.” In this vein, Olson has launched her own Unorthodox Taxidermy project. If you listen carefully when she is talking about her project, you may notice that she (like Geisel) often speaks in an anapestic tetrameter.
The garden that runs just inside the fence along Shasta is filled with art.
Marcia Donahue ceramic terrestrial gastropod mollusks. Better known as Marcia Donahue ceramic snails.
Chandeliers in a tree.
There are three Bulwinkle stone pieces set against the fence, two of which are shown here.
And chicken plates! Marcia Donahue explains: “I got a friend’s mother’s chicken kitsch collection—several boxes full. I made some of the chicken plate flowers, didn’t like them at my place and handed them and the remaining parts over to Jana who did them proud.”
Next to the house is a weathered piece by John Abduljaami,
And the first hints of Marcia Donahue’s ceramic bamboo, here graced with ceramic snails.
On the way around the house you pass under a deck, where Olson has created the Grotto of Santa Basura which bleeds into the Graveyard of Rusty Tools.
I mentioned that the house is sited in a ravine.
To stabilize the hillside, Olson brought in 350 tons of rock. Hand-placed. Yikes. Granite from the Custom House in San Francisco, the state office building, the Opera House. And lots of rocks. Olson’s mother Gladys helped finance the stabilization, and Olson expressed her gratitude with this carved slab of granite.
The lowest path follows the bed of the stream. Here Olson stands next to the valve that controls the flow of the stream. Not really. But that is the joke.
Marcia Donahue ceramic bamboo line one side of the path.
Just beyond the bamboo is the Zone of Death and Dying. The path then leads to a Bulwinkle rose-covered steel arbor.
A shovel tops the Bulwinkle arbor, with the words “A Woman’s Work is Never Done” cut into it.
We have reached Codornices Creek.
Sitting in the creek is a Marcia Donahue stone sculpture named “Codornicia.” She weighs two tons. She was slowly winched down the bank to the stream by a tow truck.
We cross the stream and go back up the hill.
The gate to the upper garden is made without a frame. Olson designed it. And made it. Without a frame. It does just fine. Without a frame.
In the driveway is a pickup they call Des Mond, short for Desert Mondrian. As in Pieter Cornelis “Piet” Mondriaan, the Dutch master of the grid-driven neoplasticism school of non-representational painting.
I usually leave the last word to my friend, and I will here, but I want a last word myself. Lamps. Home. Unorthodox Taxidermy. Chicken plates and Marcia Donahue art and Mark Bulwinkle art and John Abduljaami art and the Grotto of Santa Basura and 350 tons of stones and granite. Yes, people like Olson are found outside Berkeley. But she’s here. And only here. And there are more like her, what Mark Bulwinkle calls “aesthetic conspirators.” She and they make this a better place, a special place, a creative place.
I showed my friend this post. He was perfectly happy to take a moment off from unpacking a modest-sized Paul Bunyan collection that Gabby had sent him. I doubt he’ll keep much of it – maybe a few of the maps. But he likes seeing it unfold.
What does he think of Jana Olson and her work?