How Quirky is Berkeley? Marcia Donahue’s amazing world

"Quirky Berkeley-03/19/2015"
Marcia Donahue in front her house on Wheeler Street. Photo: John Storey

Marcia Donahue has lived at 3017 Wheeler St. for 37 years. She has gardened there for 37 years, exquisitely and creatively, favoring lush and jungle-like plantings that change with the changing sunlight of the day. She has created art there for 37 years.

"Quirky Berkeley-03/19/2015"

In the early years she carved stone, but for the last ten years has worked in ceramics, She lives in the house with her daughter and son-in-law Sara and Ehren Tool, and their son. She enjoys the rejuvenating friction of multigenerational living.

3017 Wheeler Street. Photo: John Storey.
3017 Wheeler St. Photo: John Storey

From the street, you see the luxuriant planting style that carries through to the back garden, which is open to the public Sunday afternoons.  You also see Big Beauty, a ceramic sculpture made by Sara and trucked up from Los Angeles piece by piece.

"Quirky Berkeley-03/19/2015"
“Big Beauty” by Sara Tool. Photo: John Storey

On the steps up to the porch you see eyes, and, on the porch, a large John Abdul Jaami sculpture.


Quirky Berkeley
3017 Wheeler St. Photo: John Storey

The stairs are lined with bowling balls, which are found throughout the garden.

"Quirky Berkeley-03/19/2015"

Not just a few — many,  many bowling balls. You reach the back garden by a path on the south side of the house. It is difficult to capture the entirety of the beauty and whimsy of the garden.

Marcia Donahue garden path. Photo: John Storey.
Marcia Donahue garden path. Photo: John Storey
"Quirky Berkeley-03/19/2015"
Koi pond in Marcia Donaue’s garden. Photo: John Storey

Throughout the garden are pieces of Donahue’s ceramic art. Many are over-sized malas, a set of beads – usually 108 – used by Hindus and Buddhists for keeping count while reciting, chanting, or mentally uttering a mantra or the name or names of a deity.

Ceramic mala in Marcia Donahue's garden. Photo: John Storey.
Ceramic mala in Marcia Donahue’s garden. Photo: John Storey

Others are nats, spirits worshipped in Burma as part of the Buddhist faith tradition.  There are many lower nats and 37 Great Nats who inhabit the six heavens.

"Sisters Age" nats in Marcia Donahue's garden. Photo: John Storey.
“Sisters Age” nats in Marcia Donahue’s garden. Photo: John Storey

She calls these three nats Sisters Age, an allusion to M.F.K. Fisher’s Sister Age. Floral ceramics abound in the garden, blending seamlessly into the flora.


Floral ceramics in Marcia Donahue's garden. Photo: John Storey.
Floral ceramics in Marcia Donahue’s garden. Photo: John Storey
Floral ceramics in Marcia Donahue's garden. Photo: John Storey.
Floral ceramics in Marcia Donahue’s garden. Photo: John Storey
Floral ceramics in Marcia Donahue's garden. Photo: John Storey.
Floral ceramics in Marcia Donahue’s garden. Photo: John Storey

The back deck is a soaring Mark Bulwinkle creation – steel bamboo railing, a heart-shaped outward-jutting shelf, a large steel screen, and maniacal faces screaming into the sky.

Back deck in Marcia Donahue's garden. Photo: John Storey.
Back deck in Marcia Donahue’s garden. Photo: John Storey

If the spectacular plantings were not sufficient, and the happy exotic chickens were not enough, and the Donahue mala and nats and ceramics were not enough, there are objects, found and made, hidden and not hidden.

Land mines in Marcia Donahue's garden. Photo: John Storey.
Land mines in Marcia Donahue’s garden. Photo: John Storey
Mississippi planter in Marcia Donahue's garden. Photo: John Storey
Mississippi planter in Marcia Donahue’s garden. Photo: John Storey

Donahue calls this a “Mississippi planter” in honor of southern inventiveness which can take a worn-out tire, splay and slice it, and fill it with plants or, in this case, cutlery.

Donahue’s ceramics studio is ground level, front of the house.  Here she extrudes clay into forms which she then carves, paints, and fires.

Marcia Donahue's studio. Photo: John Storey.
Marcia Donahue’s studio. Photo: John Storey
Marcia Donahue's studio. Photo: John Storey.
Marcia Donahue’s studio. Photo: John Storey

The house proper is filled with brilliant colors and African fabrics and Japanese obis (decorative kimono sashes) and massive pieces of asian furniture and dappled sunlight and found objects and iconography from Asian and African faith traditions. It is ever-changing and very difficult, if even possible, to take in.


Jana Olson lamp in Marcia Donahue's kitchen; ceiling painted by Mark Bulwinkle. Photo: John Storey.
Jana Olson lamp in Marcia Donahue’s kitchen; ceiling painted by Mark Bulwinkle. Photo: John Storey
Sculpture by John Abdul Jaami in Marcia Donahue's home. Photo: John Storey.
Sculpture by John Abdul Jaami in Marcia Donahue’s home. Photo: John Storey
An altar to Sri Jagannath, Lord of the Universe, in Marcia Donahue's home. Photo: John Storey.
An altar to Sri Jagannath, Lord of the Universe, in Marcia Donahue’s home. Photo: John Storey
Beckoning Cat altar in Marcia Donahue's home.
Beckoning Cat altar in Marcia Donahue’s home. Photo: John Storey
Marcia's Donahue's home. Photo: John Storey.
Marcia’s Donahue’s home. Photo: John Storey
Sculpture by Sara Tool in Macia Donahue's home. Photo: John Storey.
Sculpture by Sara Tool in Macia Donahue’s home. Photo: John Storey
Mugs by Ehran Tool in Macia Donahue's home. Photo: john Storey.
Mugs by Ehren Tool in Macia Donahue’s home. Photo: john Storey
Marcia Donahue home. Photo: John Storey
Marcia Donahue home. Photo: John Storey
"Flash Mob Barbie." Photo: John Storey.
“Flash Mob Barbie.” Photo: John Storey

The quirky and whimsical and creative and artistic and glorious abound at 3017 Wheeler – almost four decades of masterful gardening, a decade of making ceramics, and a lifetime of collecting art. Donahue opens her garden to the public Sunday afternoons; it is hard to think of a better glimpse into creativity and the quirky that is 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.

A longer version of this post may be found at Quirky Berkeley.

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