Snapp Shots: Berkeley Art Studio Beautifies Neighborhood

June 22, 2016 GMT

For years there’s been a vacant lot in my neighborhood in Berkeley, at the corner of McGee and University. Delancey Street uses it every holiday season to sell Christmas trees, but the rest of the year it’s just an eyesore surrounded by a chain-link fence.

But when I walked by on May 16, I noticed something different: six enormous sunflower plants blooming along the University Avenue side of the fence. On closer inspection, they turned out not to be plants at all. They were images of sunflowers knitted with wool yarn. There was even a knitted ladybug on one of the leaves.

The artist’s name, I found out, is Dawn Kathryn. Seven years ago she took a knitting class at the Oakland Library and got the bug (pun intended). This is her second knitted public art project. The first was a sweater she knitted for a tree in West Oakland in front of Kilobolt Coffee shop.

Alas, it’s not there anymore. A vandal tore it down, which is frustrating because she works as much as six months on each project. And two weeks ago the same fate also befell the sunflowers. Somebody cut their heads off.

“After putting in that much time on a project, it can be a little nerve-racking hoping nobody takes it down,” she says. “It doesn’t matter how many people like it, one mean person can screw it up for everybody who enjoys it.”

But that’s not the end of the story. The lot is only a couple of doors down the street from Sticky Art Lab, a great, only-in-Berkeley art studio for kids where they can experiment with scrap materials and create unique, handmade works of art.

The next day, the kids from Sticky Art Lab were out there restoring the sunflowers (including the ladybug) to their former glory. I spoke with two of them: Sasha, 8, and Emma, 10.

“With no sunflowers, the fence looked really sad,” says Sasha. “All Dawn was trying to do was make the world a prettier place, although there’s beauty in everything, I think.”

“And if it isn’t as beautiful as it could be, you can always try to make it better,” Emma adds.

They worked in teams: One kid holding each flower or leaf in place while the other tied it to the fence with matching-color yarn.

“We started with the flowers, and after that we worked on each separate petal,” Emma explains.

Now the sunflowers look better than ever, bringing a smile to everyone who sees them.

“It was really fun,” says Sasha. “I felt really good after we did it.”

“It makes me proud to admire my work every time every time I pass by,” says Emma.

As for Dawn, she’s already at work on another public knitting project: a sweater for a signpost around the corner from Discount Fabrics on Ashby and San Pablo.

“I don’t have a timeline; I do it when I can and when I feel like it,” she says. “But the post isn’t very large, so I don’t think it will take long.”

And she’s grateful to the folks at Sticky Art Lab.

“It’s a wonderful place, with great afterschool programs and summer camps. And they are wonderful people, as attested to by the fact that they repaired my flowers.” Reach Martin Snapp at catman@sunset.net .