Art, Gravy at Live Oak Park

By Neil G. Greene, Special to the Daily Planet
Monday June 10, 2002

Somewhere between chuckling at Wavy Gravy's clown-nose antics and Karl Schroen's hand-forged knives, visitors to the 32nd Annual Live Oak Park Fair found time to peruse more than 112 artist booths, munch on Tibetan food, and just sit by the stream and enjoy the Saturday shade. 

Word on the street, and from the worldly jester and master of ceremonies Wavy Gravy, is that Gravy’s Ben and Jerry ice cream flavor has been taken out of production. Consequently, the $30,000 to $40,000 annual commission that Gravy made from his ice cream is gone, leaving less funds to run his popular youth camp. 

His commissions provided scholarships for economically-challenged kids to attend Camp Winnarainbow, and to make up for this shortfall, a portion of the fair's vendor's fee went toward the Camp Winnarainbow scholarship fund. 

"My flavor has been retired. It's the most complicated flavor in humankind [and] the oldest next to Cherry Garcia and chocolate and vanilla,” said Gravy. 

Even with the fair revenues, Gravy fell short of the scholarship goal. Still, his smile never once faltered as he introduced numerous entertainment acts such as the Jean Paul Valjean Comedian Contortionist, Baguette Quartette and Urban Harmony Chorus. 

The performers also gave out free smiles to the shoulder-to-shoulder audience as the young performers vaulted, juggled, tumbled and clowned around. 

Kathy Fagan, of Oakland, watched her daughter perform a comical acrobatic rendition of the fox trot with her troupe Splash Circus. Fagan's daughter, Alexis, began her performance career in gymnastics and took her skills to the next level at Camp Winnarainbow. “Camp let her wings spread and dry. It's a way to let her go away,” said Fagan. 

According to fair organizer Jan Etre, the goal of the Live Oak Fair is for artists to support themselves through their original work. Of the 112 booths, a handful were run by Berkeley natives. The rest of the vendors came from Sebastapol, to Napa, Arizona and Santa Fe. 

It was Karl Schroen's fourth year at the fair, an event where he proudly knives. Schroen learned his trade from his Grandfather, a blacksmith who sparked Schroen’s interest after taking him to San Francisco’s DeYoung Museum to see an exhibit on armor, swords and knives. Schroen and his grandfather subsequently made a knife together, hooking the younger Schroen for life. 

"A knife is a tool, and tools change over time. They evolve, and generally I try to make it simple," said Schroen. 

With similar elements and a different palette, Chanin Cook of Napa was enjoying her tenth year at the fair. Cook’s furniture, like Schroen's knives, exhibit an overwhelming precise unification. The simplicity of clean lines where the fossil of a Diplomystus fish, salvaged by one of Cook's friends along Wyoming's Green River, merges without a hint of division with its wood frame. The fossilized fish, replete with inlaid skeletal bones is framed by the silky smooth wood and snugly embedded in its iron base. 

"The specimen will dictate how the piece plays out. I like clean and simple lines so the materials speak for themselves,” said Cook. “They're always evolving from a design standpoint. We're keen observers of the world around us,” she added, pointing to a table inspired by watching a giraffe on the nature channel. 

Lisa Souza, of Lafayette, has sold her knitwear and dyeworks at the fair for 15 years. She has been knitting since childhood, perhaps one reason why she could hold a conversation while operating a pedal-operated portable, wooden loom. 

Souza's dyed blue Merino Wool slipped from its carted form onto the rapidly spinning bobbin. Souza is no longer what she calls a knitting purist. She has stopped raising her Angora rabbits for their coats and works for the joy of it– a sentiment reflected in the finely knitted dark colored sweaters, and home-spun yarn sitting in wicker baskets. 

Souza said that after the September 11 terrorist attacks she worried about how business would fare. Her worries subsided on September 12, after she received an order for a sweater from a woman in Manhattan. 

“Life goes on, and if [people in New York] were going to do it, the rest of us have to snap out of it and get busy,” she said.