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How Quirky is Berkeley? Darwin the Retriever Cat

Photo: Darwin the Retriever Cat Facebook Page
Photo: Darwin the Retriever Cat Facebook Page

The Museum of Modern Art defines the French term objet trouvé (found object) as art created from undisguised, sometimes modified, objects or products that are not normally considered art, often because they already have a non-art function.

A subset of found object art is celebrated in Found Magazine, which collects, catalogs, and publishes found notes, photos, and other ephemera, publishing them in a magazine, in books, and on its website.

And that’s what we have here.  Notes, photos, and other ephemera found on the streets and in the yards of Berkeley, collected and photographed as above.

So far so good – but there is a catch.


Darwin. Photo: Darwin the Retriever Cat Facebook Page
Darwin. Photo: Darwin the Retriever Cat Facebook Page

The objects are found and retrieved by a cat, Darwin.

His spokesperson, who is the epitome of all that is good and inspiring and to be admired about our dear old Berkeley, explains:

A friend from West Oakland called me.  He had found an orphaned kitten. I was going to just socialize him and adopt him out, but that … uh … didn’t happen. I knew from the get-go that he was odd. I called him Darwin because I was convinced he was going to naturally select himself out of the gene pool. If there was a dangerous object, he would find it. He would chew on tacks, broken glass, scissors, X-Acto blades, walk toward hot burners and open flames, that sort of thing.

He started out by bringing leaves. It took me a while to figure out how they were getting in the house.  The early ones scared me. I was living alone at the time, and I found them under the kitchen table. I finally remembered to look for the fang marks. Phew.

I think the first non-leaf thing was the instructions for quinine bush tea. He still makes a big yowling announcement when he brings these gifts. If I’m out really late, I’m lucky to get anything. If I’m home early, he’ll sometimes make 5 or 6 trips. Most of it is just yucky garbage, though.


Darwin is a retriever of things.  He retrieves, always at night, from neighbors near North Berkeley BART. Mostly paper items, but occasional surprises.  Here are a few more examples of his found object art:

Photo: Darwin the Retriever Cat Facebook Page
Photo: Darwin the Retriever Cat Facebook Page
Photo: Darwin the Retriever Cat Facebook Page
Photo: Darwin the Retriever Cat Facebook Page
Photo: Darwin the Retriever Cat Facebook Page
Photo: Darwin the Retriever Cat Facebook Page
Photo: Darwin the Retriever Cat Facebook Page
Photo: Darwin the Retriever Cat Facebook Page
Photo: Darwin the Retriever Cat Facebook Page
Photo: Darwin the Retriever Cat Facebook Page

You may follow Darwin on his Facebook page, which now includes some motion-activated infrared video footage of Darwin bringing his found objects home in the middle of the night   How absolutely, stunningly brilliant is it that the Spokesperson would go to this length to record the Bringing Of Things?

And what may be the ultimate honor, Found Magazine itself found the Quirky Berkeley post on Darwin and gave him a shout-out.

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Darwin’s found objects, assembled and photographed by his Spokesperson, are a bit of a stretch a pure application of Quirky Berkeley rules of engagement, but rules when blindly followed may stifle creativity and progress.  It is important to break the occasional rule in service to creativity and progress, although no need to abandon all rule wantonly just for the sake of fun.  The creativity and progress here are clear and my rule is broken with a clear conscience.

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 8,000 photographs of quirky objects around town as well as posts where the 30-plus-year resident muses on what it all means.


For a fuller version of this post, see Quirky Berkeley.