Commentary: Mudflat Sculpture:Art to Remember By DOROTHY BRYANT

Tuesday June 07, 2005

Reading the May 31 article and seeing the photo of driftwood/junk structures which might be removed if the Albany Bulb becomes part of the Eastshore State Park, I was taken back years and years to—does anyone remember?—the Mudflat Sculpture in the tidela nds beyond the Eastshore Freeway before it was expanded and “improved.” 

At high tide much of it was underwater. But if you happened to be driving to San Francisco at low tide, you could see Don Quixote on his rearing horse, a prop plane ready to take off from what looked like a buoy, a huge hand rising from the swampy tidelands clutching at the setting sun—and dozens of other creations that appeared and disappeared, made from driftwood and trash and whatever people could manage to cart out there in defiance of “No Trespassing” signs. 

At first it was just a goofy protuberance here and there (maybe Osha Neumann was involved in this too, I don’t remember, and after a while everyone claimed to have started it). Then whole art classes were wading out in the stinking sand (you know that smell when the tide goes out!), building and assembling things. I used to look forward to driving to The City, and, yes, we would slow down a bit to take in the latest whimsical creations in this ever changing display, which c heered us up in the most dire days when the Vietnam War dragged on and on and during the political lows that followed. 

My friend of bygone days, Bill Jackson—sometime teacher, poet, electrician, photographer—took it upon himself to photograph the ever-shifting display of art. (I’m sure he wasn’t the only one, but he was the one I knew.) I still have one of his photos somewhere—of the huge drowning, clutching hand rising from the tidelands, photographed through a red filter at sunset. One day, sitting in the Med, when it was still the caffeine-crossroads of all kinds of Berkeley folks, he told me that he had sold huge enlargements of his photos to the City of Emeryville, to be hung on the walls of their little City Hall. “What they paid me is no more than what it’ll cost me to have such enlargements made, but, oh, hell . . .” He was very pleased at even this recognition. “You ought to go see them!” 

I meant to, but . . . . 

Then Bill’s health declined rapidly, we lost contact, and I’m sure he is long dece ased. The new freeway was built, mudflat sculpture torn out, access impossible. Funky old Emeryville became a slick, shiny mall. Everything changes. Okay. 

A few months ago, I happened to be near the shiny new glass Emeryville City Hall. The little old bu ilding was still there, locked up. I went into the new building and asked if we could get into the old City Hall and look at the Bill Jackson Mudflat Sculpture photos. Blank looks. I asked a few people. They didn’t know what I was talking about. I explained, again and again, to different people. Finally, an older woman said, “Oh, yes, I remember those. They were taken down and put into a warehouse.” No, she didn’t know where. No, I couldn’t go to the warehouse to see them; no one had the time to find the warehouse, let me in, and search for them. 

I hope that the people trying to save the art at Albany Bulb, can also start a campaign to hang those old Mudflat Sculpture photos somewhere. The thought of them jammed into that warehouse, lost, forgotten, is sad. 


Dorothy Bryant is a Berkeley author.