Brower Sculpture Still In Need of a Home By RICHARD BRENNEMAN

Friday July 29, 2005

The search for a home for the Brower Ball, as some wags have dubbed “Spaceship Earth”—a massive sculptural memorial to the late Berkeley environmentalist David Brower—took another twist Monday when Ohlone Park was crossed off the list. 

While two other sites are officially on the table, only one appears to have any likelihood of acceptance, a spot near a goal on the Frisbee golf course at Aquatic Park. 

The latest decision came at a Parks and Recreation Commission hearing Monday night, when the panel voted a hearty thumbs down on the Ohlone Park pitch. 

“Neighbors and other people who use Ohlone Park are so vigilant and so protective of the park, and they made it clear that they thought [the sculpture] was way too large,” said commission Chair Yolanda Huang. 

None of the speakers who turned out for the meeting spoke in favor of the Ohlone Park location, Huang said. 

David Snippen, member of the Civic Arts Commission and chair of a three-commission panel working to find a home for the sculpture, said the group wasn’t interested in mounting the sculpture anywhere it wasn’t wanted. His subcommittee includes members from the Parks and Recreation and Waterfront commissions. 

Snippen said he expected the same sort of opposition from the second site on the subcommittee’s list, Cedar Rose Park. 

“People don’t feel they have enough green space,” Huang said. “The [Parks and Recreation] Commission voted to ask the subcommittee ... to seek another site.” 

Snippen said the Cedar Rose site was “also problematic because the BART tracks are closer” than at Ohlone Park, and the 350,000-pound mass of the orb would likely pose structural engineering problems. 

The sculpture, which has yet to be assembled, is made of wedge-shaped sections of blue Brazilian Quartzite which will be bolted together at the site. The continents and islands are crafted of bronze and will be bolted to the surface of the sphere.  

As originally designed, the sculpture was to have a life-size bronze of Brower kneeling atop the earth and reaching for the stars. The notion of a white man astride the globe and reaching for the stars evoked images of imperialism for many critics, so a subsequent version was proposed that would have had Brower sitting on a bench and admiring the globe. 

“There’s no figure now at all,” Snippen said, leaving only the massive 12-foot diameter 25-ton orb and its black granite base. “We won’t allow it.” 

Another site mentioned at Monday’s meeting isn’t even on the subcommittee’s dwindling short list—in the center of the Turtle Fountain in Civic Center Park. 

“The site has good attributes,” Huang said. “It’s already made of concrete and it’s surrounded by benches and offers a long view of the sculpture.” 

Snippen, however, scoffed at the notion. 

“Some years have been spent on the design of the park, and to try to overlay the Brower sculpture at this late date is not feasible. It’s disrespectful of the neighborhood,” he said, and “of the Native Americans the Turtle Fountain is meant to honor.” 

Typically, he said, public art is commissioned to be created for a certain space, a context: “This is a non-site-specific piece, and that makes finding a site much more difficult.” 

The sculpture was commissioned by Power Bar founders Brian and Jennifer Maxwell well before the former’s death last year. 

The Maxwells originally intended the piece to be sited in San Francisco, but the city’s Visual Arts Subcommittee had unkind things to say about it, such as: “extremely grand and flamboyant,” and lacking in “sensitivity to environmental issues.” The Maxwells withdrew the offered and turned to their friend Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates, who was a friend both of the Maxwells and the late environmentalist. 

Besides Bates, whose embrace of the artwork led to the site search, Eino’s orb’s biggest fan is Waterfront Commission Chair Paul Kamen. The first sites studied and rejected by the sculpture committee focused on the Berkeley Marina, where Kamen thought the artwork was well suited. 

“Next to the mayor, I seemed to be the only one who thought it looked good there,” said Kamen, speaking from Hawaii, where he had just arrived via sailboat Tuesday. 

Bonnie Hughes, who resigned from the Civic Arts Commission earlier this year, partly in protest over the commission’s vote to accept the sculpture, said she’ll accept a site at the lagoon, “but only if they install it at low tide.” 

With the commission headed for its August recess, the homeless big blue ball will bounce back in September as the search continues.