If Quirky Berkeley were to grant Quirky Landmark Status, the rusting steel skeleton playing a saxophone in front of 2219 Marin would be an early and unanimous choice of the QLS Commission. It is prominent, quirky, and because to is on a well-traveled street it is known by many.
The sax-playing skeleton, the rusting fish, and the cut-off welding gas tank wind chimes are the products of Mike Yoji Nakamoto.
When Nagamoto came to the front door, we asked if he was the artist responsible for the skeleton, fish etc. in the front yard. He said he was the welder. Like Mark Bulwinkle, Nagamoto identifies with his craft rather than the results of his craft. You can’t do what he does, though, without a strong artistic vision.
Nagamoto retired from the Berkeley Fire Department with 30 years of service in 2008. Also – he worked as an industrial welder under contract with Piledrivers, Dives, Bridge Wharf and Dock Builders Local 34, taught welding at Laney, and taught welding in PG&E’s Power Pathway program.
The sax-playing skeleton is the centerpiece of the work in his front yard. He is not the first or only skeleton. The original sax player was stolen in the late 1980s. Bad karma! Bad thief! This one is big and heavy and attached to big and heavy things. It will not be easily stolen.
Nagamoto has lived here for more than 30 years. His front yard is filled with pieces that he has made, filled to the point that his wife has suggested that no more art go in the front yard. To be fair, there are a lot of steel fish:
There are also these balanced rocks, perhaps known as axial stones. It is possible that these are enhanced by internal rebar.
Waste not, want not –
Nagamoto cut used welding gas tanks and fashioned large wind chimes. Very large.
With the spousal ban on any more front yard art, the back yard is filling out nicely. Nagamoto’s work area is at the north end of his driveway.
Below the Private Property sign are no-longer-in-use welding torch head tubes and tips, now purely decorative.
Through a moon-gate and past a musical deer fence – the backyard.
The backyard is filled with his sculpture and stag horn ferns. They are native to tropical areas, but are doing well in Nagamoto’s back yard. Some are very old.
A front yard around the corner from Marin on Spruce features a school of Nagamoto rusty fish.
Riggy Rackin sent me this photo of a Nagamoto fish.
It is found at the San Pablo Yacht Harbor.
Some of Nagamoto’s work is for sale at the Buddhist Center of America’s bookstore at 2140 Durant (at Fulton),
To Those In The Know, the building is known as the Howard Showroom on account of its first owner. The jewel of Art Deco design was the work of architect Frederick Reimers.
Back to Nagamoto. What a prince of Berkeley quirk he is. A self-effacing, humble, bemused retired fire fighter, a welder, a diver, a lover of stag horn ferns – and an artist to boot. This is a Quirky Berkeley Landmark, and so is Nagamoto.
I took the photos to my friend. He jumped up and put on music.
“Released in 1979. We thought that the sixties were long ago then. Try now! Neil was trying to avoid artistic complacency.”
Fine. Well and good. But what about Nagamoto? “I dig the dude.” What about the photos?