How Quirky is Berkeley? It is Helly Welly quirky

Helly Well art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Welly art. Photo: John Storey

Helen Holt has lived and worked and raised two daughters at 1649 Dwight Way since 1979. Her parents moved to Berkeley from London, via Rhode Island, in 1960, and her father, the late Maurice Holt, was a highly respected and beloved professor at UC Berkeley. She attended the San Francisco Art Institute and majored in print-making. And then she did something different.

Helen Holt and her dog Charlie Parker. Photo: John Storey
Helen Holt and her dog Charlie Parker. Photo: John Storey

Her workshop/lamp shop/gallery/home was Sherwood’s Antiques when she moved in, a butcher shop before that. There is still something of the corner grocery store feel to the space. Her business name is Helly Welly, a childhood nickname endowed upon her by her brother Nick, recently deceased.

To say that she makes lamps is a truth, but it is one of those truths that obscure a fuller truth. She makes art, and some of that art is lamps. The shop is filled, completely filled, with lamps and musical instruments and — well — Helly Welly art.

There is an occasional piece of someone else’s art. Holt attended the San Francisco Art Institute at more or less the same time as Mark Bulwinkle, and several of his early prints are on her walls.


Bulwinkle print at Helly Welly. Photo: John Storey
Mark Bulwinkle print at Helly Welly. Photo: John Storey

Casually leaning against a wall are two pieces of the sign from Mel’s Drive-In on Shattuck at Channing, a stunning artifact of Berkeley popular culture.

Mel's Drive-In sign at Helly Welly. Photo: John Storey
Mel’s Drive-In sign at Helly Welly. Photo: John Storey

And then there is Helen’s art — everywhere.

Helly Well art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Welly art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Well art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Welly art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Well art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Welly art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Well art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Welly art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Well art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Welly art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Well art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Welly art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Well art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Welly art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Well art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Welly art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Well art. Photo: John Storey
Helly Welly art. Photo: John Storey

Helen’s lamps can be seen in Berkeley at Ajanta Restaurant (1888 Solano Ave.), and Meal Ticket (1235 San Pablo Ave.). The full scope of her creative mind and hard work and passion can be seen at Helly Well on Dwight Way, which is open by appointment. To visit Helly Welly is to take a sip of 100-proof Quirky Berkeley.

For a fuller treatment of Helly Welly, 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 8,600 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-year resident muses on what it all means. 

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