How quirky is Berkeley? The art of Conny Bleul-Gohlke

1748 Marin. Photo: John Storey
1748 Marin. Photo: John Storey

Coming up Marin Avenue, just before Colusa Avenue on the south side of the street, you will have seen the collection of folk art: the garage door, the bench, the pigs in the ivy and the mailbox. They were designed and created by Conny Bleul-Gohlke, an autodidactic artist who came to Berkeley from Berlin with her husband in 2002 for an 11-month work assignment which has turned into 12 firmly entrenched years here.

Before launching her painting career four years ago, Bleul-Gohlke had excelled in several fields. First, she is a well-known and highly respected birth doula, giving assistance and advice to new or expectant mothers, either informally or professionally — especially providing guidance and continuous support during labor. Second, she was a world-class swimmer, swimming on the German National Team (an injury forced her out of the competition), the 1984 German Olympic Team and in Berkeley on the Aquatic Masters team.  She earned a doctorate in Philosophy, has taught for nearly 30 years, and is currently pursuing a degree in Museum Science from the University of San Francisco.

And then there is the art in her front lawn on Marin Avenue, painted several years ago.

148 Marin.  Photo: John Storey
1748 Marin. Photo: John Storey

Bleul-Gohlke painted the couple on the bench in honor of her parents’ 50th anniversary, which they celebrated at home in Berlin. The garage door is a Disney-esque trompe-l’œil, and the mailbox is one of the best animal mailboxes in Berkeley: quirk for quack’s sake.


1748 Marin.  Photo: John Storey
1748 Marin. Photo: John Storey
1748 Marin.  Photo: John Storey
1748 Marin. Photo: John Storey
1748 Marin.  Photo: John Storey
1748 Marin. Photo: John Storey

The art in Bleul-Gohlke’s yard is of a single style, but when you get down to the Berkeley Marina, where buildings and storage units are her canvas, there is no pigeonholing her work. Her Marina murals were a gift to the Cal Sailing Team; in addition to her accomplishments as doula, swimmer and artist, Bluel-Gohlke is a wind-surfer. The Sailing Team murals are part folk art, part pop art, part Banksy, part graf art — she moves effortlessly from style to style.

Berkeley Marina.  Photo: John Storey.
Berkeley Marina. Photo: John Storey

The car crashing through the Berlin Wall is a Trabant, manufactured in the former East Germany by VEB Sachsenring Autombilwerke Zwickau. The Trabant mural here is a tribute to a 1989 Berlin mural on the East Side Gallery, near Berlin Ostbahnhof, a train station.

In the background is a mural that evokes Banksy, the nom de plume of a social activist/graffiti artist in the United Kingdom. Other murals at the Sail Team quarters at the Marina display the wide range of styles in which Bleul-Gohlke works.

Berkeley Marina.  Photo: John Storey.
Berkeley Marina. Photo: John Storey
Berkeley Marina.  Photo: John Storey.
Berkeley Marina. Photo: John Storey
Berkeley Marina.  Photo: John Storey.
Berkeley Marina. Photo: John Storey
Berkeley Marina.  Photo: John Storey.
Berkeley Marina. Photo: John Storey

Bleul-Gohlke has painted murals in homes as well and they too defy pigeonholing.

Her painted furniture spans as many different styles as do her murals. This wunderkammer (below) or cabinet of curiosities, is a striking piece of art, and a metaphor for the exploration of Berkeley in search of quirky material culture.

Cabinet of Curiosities.  Photo: Conny Bleul-Gohlke.
Cabinet of Curiosities. Photo: Conny Bleul-Gohlke
Cabinet of Curiosities.  Photo: Conny Bleul-Gohlke.
Cabinet of Curiosities. Photo: Conny Bleul-Gohlke

For a fuller treatment of Conny Bleul-Gohlke’s art, see Quirky Berkeley.

Tom Dalzell, a labor lawyer, created a website, Quirky Berkeley, to share all the whimsical objects he has captured with his iPhone. The site now has more than 8,400 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means. This is the sixth installment in the series.

Related:
How quirky is Berkeley? Marion Fredman’s art 
How quirky is Berkeley? Jane Norling’s Nicaragun mural

How quirky is Berkeley? Topiary art
How quirky is Berkeley? The giant orange of Spruce St.
How quirky is Berkeley? Painted garage doors

How quirky is Berkeley? Check out these dinosaurs

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