My daughter Charlotte is a freshman at Berkeley High. When the mood strikes her, she will pass on slang that she hears at school. If I should use that slang, however, it is a different story. Not cool!
Thus it was with “AF.” She told me. I use it once in a while, ironically. She cringes. What the heck – it’s a good intensifier.
Let’s start at Lanesplitter Pizza, 2033 San Pablo, just south of University. I’ve been there a few times. I like it.
As is the case with any self-respecting pizza joint, Lanesplitter has dolls. I really love the dolls.
There is a one-page explanation of the dolls towards the back of the restaurant, signed by Soctt and Madeline, Vince and Erica, dated May 2007.
The owners were struck by the people they hired to work there. “Soon we were imagining everybody at Lanesplitter as a doll, as ‘action figures’ with accessories and clothes and packing – the works.” Priding themselves on being “the kind of people who can talk each other into doing just about anything,” they decided to actually make them.
The first dolls were in 1998. They continued making them, “more cool people and more dolls,” at least until 2007, “quirky, silly dolls to honor Lanesplitter.”
So there it is! Dolls to honor individuality. Dolls to honor community. Dolls and the adjective “quirky.” What more could a flaneur want? Never mind the “rules and decisions about who gets a doll and when.” They are cool.
Tangent: A little south of Berkeley – at 4801 Hollis in Emeryville – is Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe. There are Barbie-like dolls in a case, along the western wall.
Lanesplitter’s Barbies (or are they Barbie-like?) invite – no, they demand a visit with other dolls shown in past and future Quirky Berkeley posts.
This photo is from Richmond, not Berkeley, but you can see Berkeley from where the sign stands.
The point being – dolls can be quirky, very quirky, and – sorry Charlotte – quirky AF.
Dolls can stir strange and unsettling feelings, and not just because of dolls in horror movies. Dolls invoke the “uncanny valley” described in robotics by Japanese roboticist Masahiro Mori in 1970. The uncanny valley is the notional home of the response of revulsion many of us experience when we see human-like features on something other than a human. The eyes! While in that valley, I am told that Facebook uses the term “uncanny valley” when Facebook-produced content takes on a tone that is too “human.”
There is no better example of creepy dolls than The Island Of The Dolls (Isla de las Muñecas), located in the network of canals to the south of Mexico City, near Xochimilco is one of the creepiest tourist attraction in Mexico. Here, among the branches and dead trees hang hundreds of old, mutilated dolls. Check out Amusing Planet’s 2011 piece and photos.
Enough words – BRING ON THE DOLLS! I will illustrate the Quirky AF thesis with a few Berkeley homes and shops.
Will Squier’s Berkeley apartment is Kitsch Ground Zero, including some dolls. The dolls range from quirky to creepy, and then throw in his dismemberment and placement – Very Quirky.
There is a spectacularly quirky house at 1720 Talbot. I don’t know the story on it yet.
I may not know the story, but this collection of dolls/figures in the front yard may very well be my very favorite juxtaposition of icons in All Of Berkeley.
Jana Olson does wonderful things. She builds lamps and candlesticks that astound. Her garden in the hills astounds. In that garden, sort of, is what she calls the Grotto of Santa Basura, relics she has found in the ravine behind her house. Among the trash (basura) are a few dolls.
Marcia Donahue’s daughter Sara Tool does cool things with dolls. Quirky things in fact.
The bottom installation is called “Barbie Flash Mob.” Quirky!
This doll supervises Donahue’s clay workshop. Just like a doll to sit there on the shelf and second-guess things.
Michael Christian is an artist who does big things. Really big. In his studio, this scary doll:
Helen Holt runs Helly Well Lamp Shop on Dwight. She builds lamps from bric-a-brac. Her shop is filled with bric-a-brac, mostly porcelain. There is the occasional doll, as in here:
And a photo bordering on a photo that would offend pious eyes:
Howie Gordon has thousands of figures in his house, including dolls. He likes to embellish them and pair them in unexpected ways – as in this little scene.
At his Vine Street house (the “Berkeley or Bust” UFO house, a future post), George McNeil has dolls from the uncanny valley through the house and garden. Some are leftovers from daughter Lily, and some are picked up at the Alameda Point Antiques Faire (flea market).
A final doll stop in Berkeley – ttepping inside the California Theater on Kittredge:
Upstairs there is a quirkily dressed display case with movie reels and film, a couple of puppets, and a creepy doll. Creepy AF!
Berkeley artist Tyler Hoare made this piece 50 years ago and gave it myy college English professor Robert Regan, who was working on his doctorate at Cal in the late 1960s.
Heading out of town, only to prove the point:
Susan Alexander’s Glen Ellen house is filled with folk art. And a few dolls. Happy, quirky dolls with many friends.
The final doll photos edge from quirky to, well, maybe creepy. Let’s get out my friend’s fbutcher cover of “Yesterday and Today” for inspiration. It is a first-state version. He is proud of it.
My friend being my friend, a couple other items were slipped in on his shelf with the butcher cover:
Oh dear. We’ve taken a turn to the creepy, haven’t we?
On a field trip to Eureka I visited Duane Flatmo’s kinetic sculpture workshop (future post). On a shelf, watching over all:
The second stop in Eureka was in Arcata. Ha! The home of Laurel Skye (future post) has many things, including a few dolls:
Creepy, no? Uncanny valley and all that. Let’s turn the amp up to 11:
The late Brian Sproul created this most dark piece. Sproul was all about reality distortion.
The Thunder Mountain Monument is 100+ miles east of Reno, in Imlay.
This doll in a tree at Thunder Mountain Monument is fairly tame compared to the rest of what is there. That gives you an idea of how quirky the rest is.
There were once many more dolls.
This photo is from Thunder Mountain’s website. Quirky! Scary!
These next photos are from a field trip to Sebastapol with Susan Alexander. What dolls have we here?
Before leaving, a mention of Altered Barbie. San Francisco has seen Altered Barbie shows since 2003. They tell us: “The Altered Barbie Exhibition is a creative reuse art show where people transform these icons into not-so-everyday ART reflecting our current society.”
The Altered Barbie tableaux show us a seldom-seen side of Barbie (Barbara Millicent Roberts) and Ken (Ken Carson) and their friends.
This is kind of the tame end. Huge fun, but definitely NSFW.
Tamer and consistently amusing is Barbie Savior on Instagram.
I took the photos to my friend. I was careful. He is a little sensitive about doll things. A Very Good Friend of Quirky Berkeley referred to him as a “creepy little hippie doll” before she met him. He has forgiven her, but, still, the whole doll thing is thin ice for him.
He was in good spirits and not defensive. His verdict?