Berkeley hosted its own version of a tea party protest Sunday afternoon, complete with pots of tea and a heavy dollop of civic disobedience.
Rogue knitters encamped along the Berkeley-Oakland border with lawn chairs, tea cakes and knitting projects to protest the city of Berkeley's order that they remove an 8-foot knitted tea cozy they sewed over the T in a public sculpture they believe insults Oakland.
"Berkeley always thinks it's the best and gives Oakland a bad rap. Berkeley always feels so entitled," said protest knitter Kate Freeman, a recent nursing school graduate who was raised in Oakland but now lives in Berkeley. "I wasn't surprised when they told us to take down the tea cozy."
The sculpture depicts two 8-foot-tall steel words, "Here" and "There," facing each other near the BART tracks at Adeline Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Way just north of the Oakland border. The work is a riff on writer Gertrude Stein's famous description of Oakland, her hometown, as having "no there there."
Stein's comment referred to the bittersweet knowledge that one can never return home again, but generations of Oakland bashers have interpreted it as a pithy slam on the Bay Area's most underappreciated city. As a response, proud Oaklanders have dotted the city over the years with signs and flags proclaiming "There."
The "Herethere" sculpture was commissioned by Berkeley's civic arts commission in 2002 at a cost of $50,000, apparently with advance notice given to Oakland's cultural arts commission, according to Berkeley's office of economic development.
The sculpture, installed in 2005, is by artists Steve Gillman and Katherine Keefer, who, at the time, lived in Oakland. On its Web site, Berkeley described the artwork as "a whimsical and literary welcome to those entering Berkeley ... poetic message of hello and goodbye (to) provide a sense of place."
Sculpture called divisiveBut Oaklanders never quite took to it, perceiving the "There" as patronizing and insulting, many said Sunday.
"It seemed kind of surprising for a city supposedly as progressive as Berkeley to put up a sculpture as divisive as 'Here' and 'There,' " said protester Emily Jan, a graduate student in art who lives in Oakland. "A lot of us from Oakland look at that sign and think, 'For real? We're 'There'? OK, fine."
Finally, last month, the knitters who frequent the Knit One One shop across the street from the sculpture (in Berkeley), decided they'd had enough.
About 20 knitters gathered their leftover yarn and created a giant tea cozy to pull over the "T" in "There," so both halves of the artwork would read, "Here."
Wearing masks and working at night, they stitched the multicolored cozy over the T and awaited the response. The public seemed to like it - many stopped by the yarn shop to say thanks, said owner Sile Convery.
Subversive, creative fun"It brings a smile to people's faces," she said. "People seem to love the slightly subversive, fun, creative quality to it. It seems to bring people together."
The city of Berkeley did not look so kindly at the knitters' handiwork. Last week, a city employee visited the yarn shop and ordered the knitters to remove the cozy because tampering with public art is against the law.
Berkeley officials, as well as the artists, did not return phone calls Sunday.
The rogue knitters refuse to remove the cozy. Eventually, the sun and rain will disintegrate the wool, cotton and acrylic yarn, but meanwhile, they plan to guard it from authorities.
Neighbors had mixed reactions. Irv Staats, who lives in Berkeley, stopped by to take a picture for his wife.
"It gives the sculpture a little spice," he said. "But if you're a purist about art, it should be taken down. Berkeley's become more and more conservative than it used to be, especially about art."
Janie Gardner, a retired licensed vocational nurse who's lived in Berkeley 65 years, said she'd never noticed the sculpture before.
"I'm not sure I understand what this all means," she said. "But I don't think we should be looking down our noses at anyone."
Wednesday, June 16, 2010
How proud I was when I read this article from the San Francisco Chronicle by Carolyn Jones. A band of "rogue knitters" had knit around a public sculpture. (There's one thing I really can't stand though.... I just wish there was a better term used than "tea cosy." ) Not only are they making an artistic statement, they are protesting an unfair rap on a great city.