How Quirky is Berkeley? Peter Mitchell’s car-part bugs

Peter Mitchell with bug. Photo: John Storey
Peter Mitchell with bug. Photo: John Storey

From 1970 until sometime five or eight or ten years ago, Peter Mitchell ran Peter’s Automotive, first on San Pablo Avenue, and then at 1745 Cedar at Grant, kitty-corner from Fatdawg’s Subway Guitars.

In his spare time, he used welding skills he picked up from a childhood on a farm to fabricate car-part bugs. He would dump a barrel of used car parts on a table and see what he could see. Once he saw what he could see, it was a matter of minutes to weld the parts into a bug. There were once many bugs, displayed at Brennan’s, at Eve Yarmo’s shop, and at Mitchell’s shop.

Five or eight or ten years ago, Mitchell turned the business over to V.  Mitchell began dividing his time between the East Village and Berkeley, and the remaining bugs were mostly locked in the kiosk of Peter’s Automotive, formerly Stu Anderson’s, formerly a Union 76 gas station.

1745 Cedar Street. Photo: John Storey
1745 Cedar St. Photo: John Storey

 

1745 Cedar Street. Photo: John Storey
1745 Cedar St. Photo: John Storey

On a recent visit to Berkeley, Mitchell tired possible combinations on the kiosk lock until he got it open. For the first time in years, the bugs had fresh air. Their maker had returned!


1745 Cedar Street. Photo: John Storey
1745 Cedar St. Photo: John Storey
1745 Cedar Street. Photo: John Storey
1745 Cedar St. Photo: John Storey
1745 Cedar Street. Photo: John Storey
1745 Cedar St. Photo: John Storey
1745 Cedar Street. Photo: John Storey
1745 Cedar St. Photo: John Storey
1745 Cedar Street. Photo: John Storey
1745 Cedar St. Photo: John Storey

V is vaguely interested in the bugs.

V and Peter Mitchell. Photo: John Storey
V and Peter Mitchell. Photo: John Storey

V mentioned that there was one inside the shop. He had just taken it down from the wires from which it had been suspended.

1745 Cedar Street. Photo: John Storey
1745 Cedar St. Photo: John Storey

What a difference life inside makes for a bug, compared with life in a kiosk.

Mitchell kept a few. One is in his house a few blocks west on Cedar from his old shop.

Gregor Samsa. Photo: John Storey
Gregor Samsa. Photo: John Storey

He made this bug, named Gregor Samsa, for a UC Berkeley professor who was teaching Kafka’s Metamorphosis. She returned Gregor to Mitchell after the course.


Mitchell doesn’t consider himself a sculptor or artist, just a mechanic with a vivid imagination. Mark Bulwinkle, the true north of quirky sculpture in Berkeley, admires Mitchell and his bugs. “One of the last of a breed, from back then” he says of Mitchell. Praise indeed.

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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