This post is about Ken Stein and beautiful things that he made.
Ken checks most of the boxes on the list of why Berkeley is the glorious place that it is.
He has been a lifelong disability rights activist. He is a gifted photographer and has documented the history of the Bay Area Disability Rights /Independent Living Movement. He has been an active voice in teaching the history of that movement to younger generations. He is married to Ingrid Tischer, the Development Director at the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund (DREDF) and a highly regarded longtime disability rights activist in her own right. He chaired the commission that granted Berkeley landmark status to People’s Park.
He loves Berkeley. He loves the architecture and spirit that have defined Berkeley.
The beautiful things that Ken made that are featured in this post are a menorah and two lamps.
Both are about light, which demands a recitation from Genesis, no?
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.
And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.
And God saw the light, and it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness
The menorah –
A few months after watching the 1985 Ken Burns documentary about the Statue of Liberty, he found a set of tiny brass State of Liberty trinkets for sale on eBay. He bought them. Of course.
Stein attached them to a brass menorah he found at an antique store with a bit of museum wax.
He thinks of Phil Ochs’ words – “Ah, but in such an ugly time, the perfect protest is beauty.”
I think – WOW, Ken, great job.
And now – the lamps.
In the early 1980s, Stein was part of the all-volunteer collective that published Grassroots. It was distributed free in newsracks all over town, and was supported by donations and ads.
Stein courted his first wife, a writer for Grassroots, by going to art openings which they could access with their press passes. Stein: “We were pretty much dirt poor as both of us were minimally employed. So these fancy events were always a great treat. High living. My favorite events were always the $100 / plate political dinners. I remember eating a lot of shrimp at buffets, and chicken dinners at fancy hotel plated affairs.”
Stein: “In November 1983, my friend Anthony Bruce and I attended the Press Opening at the DeYoung Museum for the Vatican Collection Art Exhibition which was then touring the country. I took some fine photos at the exhibit itself, which ended up being run in Chiori Santiago’s Metier Arts Magazine, as well as in The Daily Cal, and Grassroots.
“In addition to having the whole exhibit pretty much to ourselves and being given wine to drink as we toured the exhibit, before we left they gave us exhibition catalogs, and we could pick out whichever eight-by-ten black and white glossy photographs and five-by-seven full color transparency slides we wanted from the collection, which they had in indexed boxes on a big table. All courtesy of The Vatican. I picked eight 5 X 7 transparencies, The Astronomical Observations’ by Donato Creti, a set of 8 paintings that Creti had done in 1711.”
Of those paintings:
They depict the sun, the moon, Jupiter, Saturn, Venus, Mars, Mercury, and a comet.
Stein: “At the time, I thought they would make nice night lights. I put them away in a 5 x 7 Ilford Photo Paper box in a closet. Where they stayed for the next 15 years, until 1998. By then I had two children, ages 5 and 9. It was time. So I got the transparencies out and brought them over to Sue Johnson Custom Lamps on Solano, where we collaborated. I decided on the gold and blue trim, blue cloth and gold decorative braid. Sun and sky. She put opaque white plastic on the inside of each of the transparencies to help protect them from the heat and light, a low wattage 25 watt candelabra bulb in each. I got a dimmer/brighter on/off switch for the cord, for daytime or night viewing. Sue Johnson made two beautiful lamp shades of four images each. She really is a true artist.
“And then I had to get lamp stands for them. I must’ve looked for a month or more going to every single lamp store and shade shop in the area and nothing looked good. And then one day I saw these great jet black cast metal sunburst faux ancienne art nouveau tabletop stands, in the lamp section at Ross Dress For Less which was then on Shattuck Avenue. After months of searching at specialty lamp and shade shops, these ended up costing about $5 each, and they were perfect. Ha!”
Stein: “We have them operated from a remote control wireless on / off from a switch next to our bed, in part to save wear and tear on the gold ball pull-cord switches, but mostly for convenience. They are very relaxing to wind down to at the end of every day.
“Back then, the kids got one in their bedroom, and I kept the other in mine (by then mine, not our). Now that the kids are grown up and moving every two years, the two lamps are both on our dresser. ”
The menorah is really something. These lamps are more than really something.
I asked my friend to come in and look over the draft post. He brought in a pot of tea on a tray with milk and sugar and cups – yay! – and handed me this photograph.
Dear God! Is it just me or is this a tad creepy and frightening? It is from Fairyland at Lake Merrift shortly after it opened in 1950. I don’t know when it disappeared but I have a sense of why it disappeared.
He’s right, It fits in. I thanked him for the phone booth photo. He sat down with a cup of tea, read the post. When he was done he looked up. “I think I’ve got some big news for you. Maybe next week.”
What about the Ken Stein post? He gave me this verdict.