Eli Leon — A lifetime of quirky collections for sale

Eli Leon and Lemmy. Photo courtesy of Eli Leo Living Trust
Eli Leon and Lemmy. Photo: Courtesy of Eli Leo Living Trust

For 55 years, Oakland Reichian psychotherapist Eli Leon collected kitchiana, textiles, aprons, vintage clothing, traditional standard quilts, and, most famously, Afro-tradition quilts which he bought in California and on repeated research and collecting trips to East Texas, northern Louisiana, and southern Arkansas.

Beginning on June 23 through 25, Geneva and Julie Addison will be selling his collections, other than the Afro-tradition quilts, in his home at 5663 Dover St. in Oakland, a few blocks south of Berkeley. The collections are breathtaking — manifestations of a driven collector with a sharp eye for acquisition and for juxtaposition in his home. Proceeds from the sale will go towards Leon’s care. See their blog about the sale, with more than 500 photographs.

At my Quirky Berkeley blog, I explored Leon’s life, home and collections. Here I present a small portion of the wonderful quirk that will be for sale this weekend. The first weekend of the sale will deal with the non-textile collections. The traditional quilts and other textiles will be sold later this summer. The sale is first come, first served. It represents a perfect chance to pick up some pre-collected quirky material culture and to honor a great scholar and collector.

Describing Leon’s collection is not simple. Much of what will be for sale this weekend comes from his collection of kitcheniana.


Eli Leon antique meat grinders. Photo: John Storey
Eli Leon’s antique meat grinders. Photo: John Storey

The meat grinders originally lined high shelves in his kitchen. His affinity for the color green is evident.

Eli Leon dining room. Photo: John Storey
Eli Leon’s dining room. Photo: John Storey

Other collections fill what would have served as a dining room had it not been filled with collections. One of the collections here — green glassware.

Eli Leon dining room. Photo: John Storey
Green glassware in Eli Leon’s dining room. Photo: John Storey
Eli Leon dining room. Photo: John Storey
More green glassware in Eli Leon dining room. Photo: John Storey

A second collection that fills the dining room consists of antique and vintage packaging and advertising signs.

Eli Leon dining room. Photo: John Storey
Vintage packaging and advertising signs. Photo: John Storey
Eli Leon dining room. Photo: John Storey
More of Eli Leon’s vintage packaging collection. Photo: John Storey
Eli Leon dining room. Photo: John Storey
Also: clay pots. Photo: John Storey

Also part of the sale:

Eli Leon dining room. Photo: John Storey
Antique photos. Photo: John Storey

Random antique photographs, albums, and scrapbooks.

Antique shoe polishing brushes. Photo: John Storey

Antique shoe polishing brushes — why not?

Antique measuring devices. Photo: John Storey
Antique measuring devices. Photo: John Storey

Things by which we measured (John Lennon allusion there!).

Chess set. Photo: John Storey
Chess set. Photo: John Storey

An exotic vintage translucent plastic chess set.

Dolls. Photo: John Storey
Dolls. Photo: John Storey

Throughout the sale are dolls, like these in the bathroom. The doll with high heels, beret, and cigarette dangling from her lips borders on the uncanny, not in the Freudian sense but in the “uncanny valley” aesthetics sense — the hypothesis that human replicas which appear almost like real human beings elicit feelings of eeriness and revulsion.

Drawer. Photo: John Storey
Drawer. Photo: John Storey

Every drawer in Leon’s house was filled with treasures. Here, the Addisons have dusted and arranged the treasure.

Most of Leon’s fabric collections will be sold later this summer — the traditional quilts, the aprons, the crocheted trivets, the vintage clothing. That said, there are some fabrics for sale this weekend:

Ethnic fabrics. Photo: John Storey
Quilts and fabrics. Photo: John Storey

These fabrics are in the front room of the sale. Stunning. They’ll go quickly I bet.

Sample books. Photo: John Storey
Sample books. Photo: John Storey

There are books with fabric samples — beautiful and glorious and from another time, of interest even to those without a specific interest in fabric.

Vest. Photo: John Storey
Vest. Photo: John Storey

A homemade vest, using a grits sack for the fabric.

Leon’s most famous collection is of African-American quilts; it is the hope of his Trust that the collection be preserved intact by a museum or consortium of museums, so none will be for sale. About 100 of the traditional American quilts will be for sale this weekend as a preview of the second sale later this summer. They weren’t yet on display when we visited, but here are a couple photos that give a sense:

Double wedding ring quilt. Photo: Chere Mah
Quilt vault. Photo: john Storey
Quilt vault. Photo: john Storey
Traditional quilts. Photo: Tom Dalzell
Traditional quilts to be sold this weekend. Photo: Tom Dalzell

Leon kept most of his quilts in temperature and humidity-controlled airtight vaults.

Leon was a passionate and driven and skilled collector. I have never seen a better opportunity for buying quirky little things, and visiting Leon’s house will give a glimpse into the world of that driven and talented collector.

The Addison Studio Sale, the estate sale of the artist and collector Eli Leon is on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, June 23, 24 and 25, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day. Address: 5663 Dover Street, Oakland, 94609.

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-year resident muses on what it all means.