How Quirky is Berkeley? Mark Olivier’s Colusa Avenue beach trash sculpture garden

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Third Buddha and other sculpture at 1118 Colusa Ave. Photo: Catherine MacNeal

Colusa Avenue between Marin and Hopkins is not well traveled, but people who have heard about Mark Olivier’s incredible — as in unbelievable — front yard at 1118 Colusa often make a point to go there.

Olivier, a carpenter who found himself as a sculptor, has created a fantastical display from found objects. He walks the Albany Bulb and other beaches to collect trash, mostly plastic, that has washed up. He takes the trash home, sorts it in boxes and bins. And then the magic happens: unexpected animals and masks and figures and machines.

For some pieces, Olivier sticks to one basic trash commodity. Baseball caps wash up on the beaches with some regularity, and one man’s washed-up baseball cap is another man’s material for sculpture:

Nike of Samothrace at 1118 Colusa Avenue.  Photo: John Storey
Nike of Samothrace at 1118 Colusa Ave. Photo: John Storey

This sculpture is one of the few Olivier sculptures which is an allusion to classical sculpture.   The Winged Victory of Samothrace or Nike of Samothrace is a second-century BC marble sculpture found in the Louvre. It is believed that Pythokritos of Rhodes was the sculptor and that it was erected by Macedonian general Demetrius I Poliocretes after a naval victory at Cyprus. That is quite a bit of heritage for a bunch of washed-up baseball caps in Berkeley.


Olivier has created a series of thunderbird sculptures, also made primarily from baseball caps:

One of the Thunderbird Series at 1118 Colusa Avenue.  Photo: John Storey
One of the Thunderbird Series at 1118 Colusa Ave. Photo: John Storey

The number of disposable butane lighters that Olivier has rescued and repurposed is staggering. The Zippo lighter was introduced in 1932. Great thought was put into its design and care was exercised in preserving and using a Zippo for years of smoking pleasure. Not so with the disposables. Beaches are littered with them, and Olivier is especially fond of their symmetry and bright colors. He has several intricate bridge sculptures made almost entirely with lighters, as well as this serpent:

Double-headed Aztec serpent at 1118 Colusa.  Photo: Tom Dalzell
Double-headed Aztec serpent at 1118 Colusa Ave. Photo: Tom Dalzell

Braided nylon rope, especially dynamic kernmantle rope, washes up by the mile on beaches. Olivier salvages the rope and builds around wooden frames. Margate, New Jersey may have Lucy the Elephant, but we have Mark Olivier’s Babu:

Sweet Babu at 1118 Colusa Avenue.  Photo: Catherine MacNeal
Sweet Babu at 1118 Colusa Ave. Photo: Catherine MacNeal

Other sculptures mix and match the detritus that Olivier has retrieved:

Sculpture at 1118 Colusa Avenue.  Photo: John Storey
Sculpture at 1118 Colusa Ave. Photo: John Storey
Sculpture at 1118 Colusa Avenue.  Photo: John Storey
Sculpture at 1118 Colusa Ave. Photo: John Storey

In one instance, Olivier displays what he has found without assembly. Hanging from a tree are hard hats that he has found on the beach. The sculpture is called “Strange Fruit,” the song most famously performed by Billie Holiday in 1939, decrying lynchings in the South.


Quirky Berkeley
Strange Fruit at 1118 Colusa Ave. Photo: John Storey

The sculpture garden is not static. Pieces come and pieces go. Visiting a few weeks ago, I saw two sculptures that I had not seen before.

Sculpture at 1118 Colusa Avenue.  Photo: Tom Dalzell
Sky King at 1118 Colusa Ave. Photo: Tom Dalzell
Sculpture at 1118 Colusa Avenue.  Photo: Tom Dalzell
Sculpture at 1118 Colusa Ave. Photo: Tom Dalzell

Olivier’s garden is ever-changing and ever-expanding. Neighbors join in, and Olivier pieces are on a number of neighboring front yards as well:

Sculpture at 1121 Colusa Avenue. Photo: John Storey
Sculpture at 1121 Colusa Ave. Photo: John Storey
Sculpture at 1132 Colusa Avenue.  Photo: John Storey
Sculpture at 1132 Colusa Ave. Photo: John Storey
Capodillo at 1106 Colusa Avenue.  Photo: John Storey
Capodillo at 1106 Colusa Ave. Photo: John Storey

Any one of Olivier’s sculptures is a marvel of color, form, and reuse of trash. Seen as a whole in his front yard, the effect is overwhelming in a Dr. Seuss world kind of way. I visit every month or so, seeing old friends and making new ones. I am always amazed.

For a fuller treatment of Mark Olivier’s beach detritus sculpture, 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 eighth installment in the series.


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