Oakland Art In Surprising Places


OAKLAND IS full of surprises. Just when you think you know everything, you find out those scary rubber masks you see at Halloween are made right here in our town.

In an old metal foundry in West Oakland is a design studio so popular that its art is known worldwide. And Halloween masks are just part of what’s created at Chiodo Studios.

Much of the garden art you see today is made here, including some whimsical pieces that are being molded and designed for the new children’s section of the Oakland Zoo. Chiodo’s vice president, Francine Agapoff, showed me the pieces the other day, in a great little tour.

In a sunny spot in the back lot, a man was casting polymer on a giant purple spider. By spring, kids will be climbing on this big bug, along with a caterpillar, ladybug and a tortoise (and shell).

“It’s art with great educational value,” says zoo director Dr. Joel Parrott. “Kids will get to climb on the backs of oversized insects of real species,” he says, adding that the art goes perfectly with the new bug house, underwritten by hills businessman George Zimmer (a long time zoo supporter).

Chiodo is also designing a maze and an interactive otter den, as well as a three-dimensional mural. The total cost: $300,000.

“It’s the going rate for great interactive art,” Dr. Parrott says with a laugh, “and the kids will have a lot of fun learning.”

Escargot a go-go

Reader Al Caruso says there’s money to be made in ranching — snail ranching, that is. You just catch them, purge them (with a seven-day cornmeal diet), and they’re ready for the sauté pan — with a little white wine and garlic butter. Get enough of them and you can sell them to fancy French restaurants.

Don’t expect to make a fortune immediately, though. The profits come in at a snail’s pace. For more information, look on the web at www.snailfarming.net.

Sign of the times

Oakland’s Camera Corner is gone, but not forgotten. Owner John Hartz says the Oakland Museum wants his old sign, which has been hanging above the 13th and Broadway store since the mid-1940s.

A chemical fire forced the shop’s closure about a year ago, but the 6-by-20-foot sign is still up, and Hartz says the landlord would probably like to get rid of it. The old saying, “One man’s junk is another man’s …” comes to mind, since the museum sees the sign as a part of the city’s history.

History cruise

FDR’s floating white house is setting sail July 24 for a cruise honoring Admiral Daniel Judson Callaghan.

Reader Howard Smith says Callaghan was Roosevelt’s naval aide and was born and raised in Oakland, attending St. Elizabeth’s School. The 10 a.m. cruise is open to the public, and reservations can be made by calling 510-627-1215.

Beloved bartender

A good bartender is a therapist and a mixologist. But Luis Dehora (www.martiniman.com) has taken his job a step further. The Brazilian bartender is so popular at the Lafayette Park Hotel that customers Harold and Lee Reed have paid for his trip to Rio and back three times.

But that’s just the beginning. Another couple is so attached to Dehora, they’ve purchased plots at the cemetery next door. It has something to do with his “heavenly” spirits.

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