Arts & Events

BerkeleyMedhead-Artist Shows Her Stuff; It's Another Vinograd, but not Julia

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday August 10, 2011 - 02:57:00 PM
Opening night, Saturday, for Debbie Vinograd's and Tom Tuthill's art show at AutoBody Art-Space, Alameda. San Francisco artist, Chris Trian, is center (in colorful vest).
Ted Friedman
Opening night, Saturday, for Debbie Vinograd's and Tom Tuthill's art show at AutoBody Art-Space, Alameda. San Francisco artist, Chris Trian, is center (in colorful vest).
Debbie Vinograd by Bob Fischer
Debbie Vinograd by Bob Fischer

Medheads (Caffe Mediterraneum addicts) know the Vinograds, Julia, 67, and her younger sister, Debbie, 60, from a half century of shuffling past their front table at the Med. Only a few knew that Debbie was an artist, who had contributed drawings to her sister's books. 

Through a series of only-in-Berkeley Jungian connections, Debbie is emerging from the shadow of her famous sister and years of being ignored in Bay Area art circles (aren't we all). The whole string of events may have started with "pornography." 

Julia Vinograd, poet laureate of Berkeley (Planet: Wednesday June 15, 2011) and its flamboyant "bubble lady" is the Med's official poet-in-residence in a town of poets, where Julia is granted (some would say, tolerated, by owner Craig Becker) sole rights to sell her poems at the Med. 

"Poems with your pinto beans omelette, dude?" 

Julia wandered into the "Battle for People's Park," 1969, where she started blowing bubbles, taking tear gas, and recording the urban legends of the now demolished Berkeley Inn, her digs, now a vacant pit at Haste and Telegraph—home to the weird and deranged of Telegraph avenue. 

Julia still proudly wears her renowned, "weird but proud button," although she's gone through many buttons and many yellow and black berets in a half century. 

Julia, who was a student at Cal in the 60's (she studied with poets Josephine Miles and Thom Gunn), was the first Vinograd to discover the Med, but she was soon followed by Debbie and Debbie's late partner, Tom Tuthill, where they all hosted a table until Tom became ill a few years ago. 

Julia's sister Debbie is less well known, except to a small circle of artists, poets, and musicians. Vinograd stresses the "small circle,"noting that she and Tuthill were ignored by the Bay Area art community for years until Tuthill's post-card "pornography" was "discovered" by an art gallery director and art-space owner in Alameda. The porno is soft-core. 

But after Vinograd's first major opening, Saturday at Autobody, an art-space, on Alameda's famed Park Street, her work, and that of her late partner is no longer known only by just a close circle of friends. Vinograd was inspired to mount the massive show (110 works) to honor her late partner. 

Attendance at the elegant, loft-like, Alameda gallery, near an enclosed antique newsstand which has operated since 1936, was crammed to the rafters as viewers had to get close to see the work, some of which (Tuthill's) is post-card size. 

Vinograd has a B.A. in art and art history from the University of California, Irvine and Tuthill an arts degree from Orange County Community College Middletown, N.Y; Vinograd moved into a 1940's era building ('74); formerly occupied by the Berkeley Black Panthers Party and Zap Comics in what was a marginal South Berkeley neighborhood but now newly-named South of Ashby-Shattuck (So-Ass!) neighborhood near the Starry Plough. Tuthill joined her two years later. 

Vinograd early-on converted her apartment into art studios, Tuthill, producing his post-card sized collages—from books Julia scored in exchange for her poems or from Moe's—in a kitchen-pantry ("smallest little art studio in the world") and Debbie working at her easel up to eight hours daily, in her living room, producing (using tiny labored brush strokes) still lifes and portraits. 

The seamless relationship between Debbie's work and Tom's is obviously synergistic. An artist couple who lived and worked together, they were mutual influences, according to Vinograd. 

Autobody Gallery, founded by Jacqueline Cooper, 49, three years ago is an "art space," only showing occasionally, "when I respect the work of the artist," according to Cooper, who is art director for Sun Gallery, Hayward,. and co-ordinates the art and photography competition at the Alameda County Fair. 


Autobody is located at 1517 Park Street, Alameda. 


Show hours: Saturday and Sunday, 1-5p.m., or by appointment, (510) 881-6974 




Ted Friedman has written many Med stories for the Planet. This is yet another of them, a continuing nostalgia trend.