Visitors to the Elmwood shopping district on College Avenue may have spotted something a little unusual recently.
While Berkeleyans are no strangers to pop-up street art — be it yarnbombed lamposts or front yard sculpture — the heads that have appeared on defunct parking meter posts there are particularly striking. Reminiscent of heads on a stake, with some vaguely sacrificial undertones perhaps?
The heads, which are made of cement and ceramic, are the work of artist Lynne-Rachel Altman who lives in the Elmwood and has a studio in East Oakland.
The idea sprang from a conversation Altman had a few months ago with her 14-year old daughter who complained that she couldn’t find a place to park her bike on College Avenue because they had removed the parking meter heads when they installed the new parking machines.
“My family joked about reinstalling new heads,” says Altman. “I had been sculpting heads for my sintered glass “empty head” series and decided that I would use my skills to make a few heads for my daughter and her friends to lock their bikes on. I wanted the work to bring joy to people who saw them, as well as to provide a safe place to park a bike.”
Altman made two cement, and two ceramic heads in her studio. Because she didn’t receive any funds for the project, she primarily used materials she already had on hand. And she incorporated bike parts and imagery so people would know they were for bikes. Altman installed the cement ones a few weeks ago and the ceramic ones last weekend.
Not all the heads have survived. Earlier this week someone ripped the ceramic “reflector head” off from its pole, but Altman plans to make more soon.
“Ideally, I would like to receive funding and some institutional support so I can make them out of metal and weld them to the steel posts,” she says. “In the meantime, I am doing what I can to provide additional bike parking and add some joy to the streetscape.”
Altman was one of the artists who applied to create a piece of public art for the remodeled Claremont Branch library. She was not selected, but sees the head installations as going some way to making up for that letdown.
“I was particularly interested in the library project because I grew up in the Elmwood and am now raising my own family here as well. The process of applying for the library project was disappointing, but it made me eager to create something special for my neighborhood.”