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Quirky Berkeley: The small world of Grace Munakata

The small world of Grace Munakata at 1230 Monterey Avenue. Photo: John Storey
The small world of Grace Munakata at 1230 Monterey Avenue. Photo: John Storey

Grace Munakata paints, makes collages, and teaches painting at California State University, East Bay. She also gives to the street a small world on the gently sloping hill in front of her house at 1230 Monterey Ave., just above Hopkins Street and the Monterey Market.

The tableau changes constantly — leaves fall, oxalis spurts, the rain and wind have an effect, neighbors edit, and pieces are brought indoors for rest and recuperation.

Munakata describes the process: “Once, the cast-metal frog (a candle holder), originally holding a cup of ‘rubies,’ disappeared and reappeared years later on the porch with wax on the lily pad. I am quite sure a neighborhood teen took it to college and returned the prodigal safely home.

The small world of Grace Munakata at 1230 Monterey Avenue. Photo: John Storey
The small world of Grace Munakata at 1230 Monterey Ave. Photo: John Storey

We’ve been gifted by many items that appear — globs of green glass, stained glass birds, once a ceramic reproduction of Rodin’s ‘The Kiss.’ There’s a legend we hear some children tell each other: You can take something from the garden as long as you replace it with something you have that you like as much.”


The Monterey Avenue small world is not the only one in Berkeley. I have come across miniature tableaux on Ada Street, Russell Street, and Talbot Street.  Like Munakata’s on Monterey Avenue, they are perpetual works in progress.

The small world of Grace Munakata at 1230 Monterey Avenue. Photo: John Storey
The small world of Grace Munakata at 1230 Monterey Ave. Photo: John Storey
The small world of Grace Munakata at 1230 Monterey Avenue. Photo: John Storey
The small world of Grace Munakata at 1230 Monterey Ave. Photo: John Storey
Small world at 1411 Ada Street.  Photo: John Storey
Small world at 1411 Ada St. Photo: John Storey
Small world at 2828 Russell Street.  Photo: John Storey
Small world at 2828 Russell St. Photo: John Storey
Small world at 1320 Talbot Street. Photo: Catherine MacNeal.
Small world at 1320 Talbot St. Photo: Catherine MacNeal
Small world at 1320 Talbot Street. Photo: Catherine MacNeal.
Small world at 1320 Talbot St. Photo: Catherine MacNeal

There are other small worlds to be discovered. They come and they go, lending quirkiness while they are here.

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 8,600 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means. This is the 18th installment in the series published on Berkeleyside.

For a fuller treatment of Grace Munakta’s small world on Monterey Avenue, see Dalzell’s post at Quirky Berkeley.

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