On weekdays, 69-year-old Osha Neumann works as a defense attorney for homeless people at a Berkeley law center. On weekends, he changes into his torn jacket and builds brilliant sculptures at the Albany Bulb, a former landfill that pokes a mile into the San Francisco Bay.
Neumann has created a number of impressive sculptures at the Bulb in the past ten years, using styrofoam, driftwood and scrap metal collected at the waterfront. One of them, a female statue called the Water Lady, was once promoted as an Albany landmark.
Her skirt waves. Her hair blows. Made out of driftwood and rusty metal, the Water Lady embraces the sky, the birds flying by, and the people who seek peace and freedom at an abandoned land. Photo by Linda (Linjun) Fan.
Neumann creates art freely at the Bulb. He doesn’t need to pay for the materials. He doesn’t need to get directions from city officials.
“I can follow my imaginations and let my mind wonder,” Neumann said.
Neumann was impressed by the place when he first visited it in 1999, guided by a homeless person. Several dozen homeless people lived at the Bulb at that time.
“These people were hiding behind garbage cans before. Here they live in this beautiful place, a haven for troubled souls, ” Neumann said.
There were many anonymous paintings at the Bulb. Someone had painted all kinds of wild scenes on concrete blocks by the shore. When Neumann first saw them, it was like wondering into a cave and discovering amazing cave paintings.
He met the painters a few weeks later. They were a group of amatuer artists who painted at the Bulb on weekends. They improvised like a jazz group, and called themselves SNIFF. Neumann joined them. He has both the passion and the talent, for he had worked as a painter before he became a lawyer.
Later when he saw an abundance of styrofoam washed ashore after a storm, Neumann decided to carve sculptures out of it.
“I realize this is great stuff. I can pick it up with one hand, and carve huge sculptures with an old rusty saw, ” he said.
He created magnificent statues out of the styrofoam, which stood at the Bulb for several years.
But they were easy targets of vandalism.
“Eventually after the fiftith time they were vandalized, I decided to move on. I need to find other material, ” Neumann said.
He started to build scupltures using driftwood, working together with his son-in-law Jason DeAntonis. They made a warrior riding a dragon rushing towards the Bay, and a man comtemplating earth holding a spade. Later Neumann got interested in scrap metal, and used it in creating several other sculptures, including the Water Lady statue.
One of their recent works is an arch. It looks like a door openning to the Bay, with Golden Gate Bridge in its background. There were various figures — a fisherman, a dog, several birds and animals on it. Neumann and DeAntonis had worked for months on the arch, and planned to keep adding things to it.
The arch. Photo by Linda (Linjun) Fan.
A storm came in January and brought the arch down. The dog was crashed, and the head of the fisherman fell off. Neumann was sad, but he had to accept it.
“You can’t expect things to last forever here, although you wish it could last a bunch of time to justify the amount of work that goes into it, ” he said.
He rescued a few figures, put the head back in place, and started to rebuild the dog.
His jacket is splattered with paints and worn out. His hands shake while he drills a piece of wood. But he enjoys the singing of birds, the rustling of trees, the smell of the water, and the artworks coming out of his labor.
“It completes my life to be able to come out here, ” he said.
Watch the video story below for more about Osha Neumann and his work at the Bulb.