sculptures, constructed of steel with many
repurposed and recycled parts, decorate many front
yards on Florence Avenue in Sebastopol, Calif., on
Wednesday, Feb. 4, 2015.
love a town that supposedly earned its name in an 1850s
bar fight — something about likening the brawl to the
British siege of the seaport of Sevastopol during the
Crimean War. Clearly, folks were up on global events back
then, despite no broadband service.
was a suitably sassy way to launch this offbeat place.
These days, politicians duke it out at city meetings, and
free spirits of the art and/or wine kind flow freely
through town, alongside old hippies and young hipsters,
organic farmers, hermit holdouts and whimsical sculptures
(more on those later).
know — kinda like Berkeley, but with cows.
Calif., a town of about 7,800, has been home to various
Grateful Dead members, free-speech front man Mario Savio
and cartooning icon Charles Schulz, and it has long
sported cute shops, good eats and pastoral scenery. But it’s
usually viewed as a mere pass-through at the junction of
highways 12 and 116, on the way to Bodega Bay or the
began changing in 2013 with the opening of The Barlow —
a hip, happening hub of art galleries, wine-tasting rooms
and foodie shops (think liquid-nitrogen ice cream) set in
a cluster of old produce warehouses. And there’s bounty
beyond The Barlow. In short, Sebastopol and the
surrounding areas offer a great weekend getaway.
the town is not laid out in perfect, tourist-friendly,
town-square fashion, so part of the fun is the search for
the singular, the quest for the quirk. Wander through
Mockingbird Used Books on Sebastopol Avenue and check out
some of their intriguing categories, such as "Western
True Crime" or "Paranormal Romance." Next
door is the Toyworks toy store, two stories of Play-Doh,
magic sets and Etch A Sketches. Stop in at Screamin’
Mimi’s Ice Cream (no liquid nitrogen here), or grab a
minty mocha at the walk-up stand of Friendly Joe’s
Coffee that touts its treats as organic, sustainable and
12 becomes Bodega Avenue, so head west a few blocks for a
stroll through the historic Luther Burbank Experimental
Farm, where in the late 1800s, the famed horticulturist
developed and grew thousands of new hybrid and crossbreed
cruise the curvaceous backroads by car or bike, winding
through orchards and vineyards. You will spot handmade
signs for fresh eggs, jams, lavender. Bloomfield Bees
Honey has a roadside shed on Bloomfield Road selling raw
creamed honey and candles.
five miles out, Bodega Avenue leads to the blink-and-miss,
26-house village of Freestone and the not-to-miss Wild
Flour Bakery, with sticky buns bigger than your head and
steaming hot breads. Warning: highly addictive. A loaf’s
throw away (although you’d never want to throw away
those loaves) is Freestone Artisan Cheese in a tiny yellow
house offering cheesy crepes. Get a massage and a cedar
enzyme bath at Osmosis Day Spa Sanctuary.
the Sebastopol area’s main — and quirkiest —
attraction has to be the wild and wonderful sculptures
sprinkled all about town, the result, one might guess, of
Tim Burton, Edward Gorey and Salvador Dali getting drunk,
tumbling down a rabbit hole and ending up in Oz.
the giant, colorful, cartoonish dogs, fish, cars, people,
trains, mermaids, witches, baseball players, superheroes
and more are treasured "junk art" from the
magical minds and backyard studio of husband-and-wife
artists Patrick Amiot and Brigitte Laurent. Since 2001,
Amiot has been wielding his welder on old water heaters,
wheelbarrows, alarm clocks, oil cans, shovels, you name
it, with Laurent brushing on garish grins, outrageous
outfits and bulging eyeballs in bold, brash colors.
fact, one of the first sights when heading toward
Sebastopol along Highway 12 is a huge, 10-foot-tall
Holstein, made of a semi truck’s sleeper cab and pieces
of scrap metal, poised pensively out in the fields next to
a cud-chewing cluster of bona fide bovine. She is simply
who calls himself a happy-go-lucky guy, says these works
have no deep meaning. They’re just for fun. Still, he
does appreciate the "journey" of found objects.
have this thing in my little artist mind, that things have
a spirit and have something to say," he said when I
caught him on the phone as he took a break from working on
a postman being chased by a dog. "Most were on their
way to the landfill. I just happen to intercept them at
some point in their lives in the process. I like to think
this hubcap has seen prairies and cows and accidents and
hot asphalt and snow. I try to imagine every little piece
and what it’s been through."
imagined a lot. At least 200 of these characters live in
Sebastopol — some in public spots, but many on private
property and hidden from street view. The best place to
see the bulk of them is on the artists’ residential
street: Florence Avenue (their house is the one with the
massive Godzilla out front). This four-block stretch of
mostly bungalow-style homes between Bodega and Healdsburg
avenues has become an open-air gallery over the years, as
neighbors also began displaying Amiot-Laurent sculptures.
a Babe Ruth in pinstripe Yankees uniform, and a Batman
made up of a toaster, flashlight and what looks like a
meat grinder. "The Zucchini Brothers" are three
trash-can jugglers stacked on each other’s shoulders.
There’s the Wicked Witch of the West and a mermaid with
a sultry blue tail, her scales formed from overlapping
paint-can lids; a ship captain and a small-scale pickup
truck marked "Three Little Pigs Construction,"
stuffed with pigs.
makes for a great stroll and even a game, trying to guess
which parts are what. You might consider parking on a
nearby street and walking to Florence to ease traffic. But
Amiot says that’s really not a problem.
this used to be a shortcut with people speeding through
between 116 and 12. Now, because of people driving really
slowly, pointing out their windows at the artwork, it’s
slowed everybody down. It’s much safer for cats."
there: There are at least two ways to get to the quirky
West Sonoma County town from San Francisco. Take Highway
101 north to Highway 116 west near Cotati, or remain on
101 until Santa Rosa and take Highway 12 west — and be
sure to watch for the giant cow sculpture.Junk art
sculptures: Must-sees are the many junk art sculptures
around town by Sebastopol artists Patrick Amiot and
Brigitte Laurent. A concentration of them can be found
along Florence Avenue between Bodega and Healdsburg
fest: The 69th Apple Blossom Festival and Parade takes
place April 18-19 on Main Street; www.appleblossomfest.com.