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Studio Quercus features tiki art and culture

on August 3, 2011

For a couple more weeks, Studio Quercus, an art gallery in Oakland’s burgeoning art scene, will display Polynesian-style art inspired by Pacific Islands culture. The show known as “Tiki!” debuted early last month and features hand-crafted sculptures, painted storyboard panels and ancient-looking war clubs throughout the gallery’s 40 square foot front room space in the Uptown corridor.

Polynesian war clubs from Jack Ford’s collection.

“People come in here and love it,” said Kyle Milligan, who founded Studio Quercus with his wife Susan Casentini in 2008. “They want us to be a Tiki dance club,” he added, but said with their gallery’s non-profit status, that won’t be happening anytime soon.

Tiki has become as American as apple pie, making its debut in the United States after World War II when soldiers brought back a piece of the Pacific Islands with them, often in the form of carved Tiki man statues or ukuleles.

The show features almost all California-based artists, but the more authentic looking artifacts are on loan from Jack Ford, a faculty member at the California College of the Arts. Ford lived on the Pacific Islands for several years and collected many of the war clubs and other items that Milligan describes as “hitting” devices. “Anything that looks like an implement to hit someone,” Milligan said with a chuckle, “is most likely a war club.”

Emil Barber, the chief curator of the Tiki show and the gallery’s “official” Tiki carver, built a wooden and palm-covered lanai that greets visitors at the front entrance. A carpenter by trade, Barber’s largest piece of a work is an eight-foot Tiki man with a long face, prominent nose and dark eyes.

The rest of the gallery’s walls are covered with straw material, paintings from Studio Quercus artist Tim Sharman, and original Polynesian tapa cloths made from bark. Milligan estimates that one of the storyboard panels displaying a rustic-looking wooden house is from the early twentieth century.

Emil Barber and Kyle Minnigan pose with Barber’s sculpted tiki man.

Oakland is an appropriate place to feature an art show on Tiki culture, Milligan said. It was the home of the original Trader Victims—one of the first tiki bars in the United States after World War II and the place where the Mai Tai cocktail was created—in addition to a handful of other beloved tiki bars.

The public can view Studio Quercus’s Tiki show at this Friday’s Art Murmur and every Saturday from 1-5pm when Quercus and other art galleries open their doors.

Studio Quercus will also host a special show featuring the Oakland surf-rock band Trivalve on August 13. For more information about Tiki and other upcoming show’s at Studio Quercus, visit their website.


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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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