Since 1966, Essex Street in south Berkeley has been home to Bruce Arnold and his phantasmagoric, multicultural front yard sculptures.
On the left side of his front walk is an architectural water feature composed of an eclectic collection of flags, dolls, swans, whirligigs and whatnots all anchored by a shallow grate covered wishing well. On the right, in the middle of his front lawn Arnold has created the "Mother of the World" a spraying water fountain and aggregation of painted stones, branches and crockery overseen by a Black Santa Claus.
The 91-year-old self-taught artist has been on his own since he was 15. He came to California during World War II to work in the Alameda shipyards.
"I left Arkansas to come to California in 1942, February the 15th," Arnold said. "I worked on the ships, repaired the ships, everything. It was tough then. I worked night and day, 12 hours, 24 hours a day. Every ship you name I worked it. Oh man. I was so good they'd tell me, 'Hot sheet! Hot job coming in. You got to stay overnight and work.' I said, 'Okay.'
His garden sculptures are kept tidy and are a matter of pride to Arnold, but politics is his passion. "My daddy was a Democrat," Arnold said. "I been active in Democratic Party all my life. Won’t vote nothing but Democrat." Inside his house there are about a dozen signed photographs from former President Clinton and his wife Hillary. Arnold has no love for President Bush.
"You know why, 'cause Bush took it. That wasn't right," Arnold said. Pointing to a picture of Al Gore he continued. "See Gore. He won this election. Bush, he went to the Supreme Court. Bush didn't steal it, He just took it. He has money. He bought it. He knows the people. Gore didn't follow Clinton. Clinton teach him but he didn't follow. I believe his wife's gonna run next time. I'd vote her."
Arnold puts his money behind his beliefs and donates regularly to the Democratic Party. "Sure I do. I'm a Democrat. Why shouldn't I help them? They're there for me. I'm not a rich man but I need to help them Every cent is a help, you know? A vote helps them more better than any money."
Berkeley politics play an important part in Arnold's life as well. He proudly announces that Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates is a friend.
"I know Tom. I helped him win this race. He's been in my house. He did a favor for me. I needed some help and he sent some help over for me to go to the doctor. He know me. Tom Bates know me."
More than supporting just the personalities of politics, while Arnold is proud he's never been arrested, he supports those whose who are speaking out against the war.
"They doing a good job," Arnold said. "Protest against the war, that's a good job. Somebody got’s to speak up for what's right. They got to let the people know what they want, what they don't want. What you going to keep yourself hid for? Nobody's going to know nothing about it if you keep yourself hid."