August 31, 2011, I stumbled across the neighborhood project first being installed. One of several new urns, modeled after one legacy urn. A concrete pedestal had been cast. A crew must have hoisted this person-size urn into place. And a group dedicated it. There was a second one down the street on a traffic island.
The urns surprised me. I thought perhaps they were to honor the Ohlone people, who lived here hundreds of years ago and were displaced by the Spanish and the missionaries in the 1700s. It's easy to think this might be so because the oldest original urn is left standing at the foot of a path called "Indian Trail." I took this photo in 2011, but shortly thereafter, the elderly urn was repaired and given a new collar to match historical photos.
legacy urn, 2011
legacy urn, 2018
But it's not about the Indians at all. Not a tribute to those who were here first. According to the website and the plaque that was installed, this area in the Berkeley hills did not become a public park, which some desired, but was subdivided and developed in 1909 with winding roads and paths and natural elements. "About 20 monumental urns, in the style of Maxfield Parrish, were placed by developers along streets and walking paths," says the sign. So they are random, perhaps of their time.
One Parrish painting with urns from 1908 is The Garden of Allah based on an "idealized interpretation of a scene from Islamic mythology." How confusing! I think the word "idealized" is probably the key. Idealized nature. Idealized homes. Idealized art. For those who could afford it. If we are to understand the context the urns become a symbol of idealized wealth and perhaps idealized lifestyle. What is so strange about the addition of the urns is that the area is already beautiful. It features abundant and twisty old Live Oaks, Camphor, Magnolia, and other trees, as well as monumental boulders pushed up out of the earth and transported to the area (I wrote about the rocks in this 2016 post). To see the natural beauty is one of the reasons I go walking up there.
One morning recently, I found the urn at Great Stoneface Park had been vandalized. (I think this was related to the legalization of marijuana more than any other statement.)
It has since been cleaned, with no trace of the graffiti left behind.
The 2018 urn at the triangle park should be getting its collar soon.
(Photo addendum: February 11, 2018)
And I just found another, at the top of Thousand Oaks Blvd.