Garden - Ceramic Sentinels

Tuesday April 08, 2003

Perched high in the Berkeley hills, Büldan Seka’s exotic army of colorful and heroic ceramic figures wait, ready to belay the eyes of passing bicyclists, walkers and commuters. Easily visible from the street, Seka’s garden at 707 Spruce St. is crowded with strange, exotic animals, colorful, voluptuous females and tall and mysterious males, many standing over seven feet tall. 

“It’s hard to be a cyclist and not get into an accident when you ride by here,” said Henri Laborde. He rides up and down Spruce Street at least four times a week, and Seka’s large sculptures never fail to distract him. 

Originally from Macedonia and Turkey, Seka and her husband, Georg, have lived in their north Berkeley home for nearly 36 years. For most of that time their home was much like the others in their neighborhood. All that changed five years ago when a friend suggested she display one of her greater-than-life-size sculptures in her front yard.  

“When I first was told to put out one piece I wondered if people would break it or do some damage. No. Everybody, the whole neighborhood protects them. Everybody wants them in their garden now,” Seka said laughing.  

Seka’s sculpture garden reflects her world view. The interior of her house is cluttered with a rich selection of colorful glass and fabric and objects she and her husband collected in their travels around the world.  

Seka originally studied art in Turkey, but raising a family interrupted her commitment. Seventeen years ago, after her children no longer needed care on a daily basis, Seka enrolled in Oakland’s California College of Arts and Crafts to continue art studies under sculptress Viola Frey. 

“I have my own gallery right here in my front yard,” Seka said. “Sometimes the kids come, especially the Cragmont School kids, and they look at the work and they write me beautiful love letters. ‘Thank you for leaving your art out for us,’ and all kinds of nice things like that. I find it very nice when I get those notes.” 

But along with the compliments have come some not-so-encouraging remarks. 

“When you open your own work, like I do, it’s almost like exposing a piece of your soul to total strangers,” Seka said. “Some people criticize you without knowing you or knowing where you come from or how it was done. They come and give you a good criticism. So you have to know how to take those. But all together it has been such a pleasant experience to put them out.” 

Next door, Red Oak Realtor Charlie Cook held an open house last weekend for a three-bedroom home listed at $939,000. While he praised the sculptures, he acknowledged that not everyone would want to live next door to them.  

“In this price range there are many very conservative people,” Cook said. “Some of them might not want that in their front yard.”  

Lon and Carol Sobel viewed the home for sale over the weekend. The couple is based in Los Angeles and Lon Sobel teaches at UC’s Boalt School of Law.  

“It’s not in my taste, but I think it actually enhances the value of this property,” said Sobel. 

Would-be home buyer Pete Dito was not so enamored. “As much as I like it, it doesn’t belong in front of a house,” he insisted.  

His wife, Rejinther Dito, disagreed. “I love art and I love these sculptures. Besides, this is what America is all about. You can do anything you like on your own property.”  

For the most part Seka does not sell her work.  

“I’m keeping them all together because I feel when you see the whole work it’s quite impressive,” she said. “You know that the same person did the whole work. You can see that I have been working very regularly, very hard, for a very long time. 

“I was told that there are two kinds of artists. One kind of artist will make few works and they will go out and make themselves a name. The second kind of artist, they will work and work and work. Then the work will become an army and start marching and pull the artist behind.”