Some things are inevitable, and the appearance not long ago on the Emeryville scene of a Michael's was one of them. Now the East Bay has its own craft megastore, complete with huge gleaming aisles of dried flowers, dyed feathers, puffy paints, adorable baskets, and all the rest, just waiting to be hot-glued, decoupaged, scrapbooked, and modpodged. Which is not to say that Michael's doesn't have plenty to offer, as do our other art supply heavy-hitters such as Amsterdam Art (which is about to take up a full city block, and where lately the service has actually been creeping up on attentive and friendly instead of sullen and uninvolved), Utrecht, and the Depot for Creative Reuse, all of which are in Berkeley, as well as California Art Supply and Poppy Fabric in Oakland. When it comes to reliable, name-brand supplies in a variety of media, East Bay artists have it really good. But what if you want something a little, well, different -- even by local standards? Hidden gems abound. Whether you're tricking out an art car or expressing your angst with found materials, the bit that will pull the whole thing together is probably closer than you think.
1643 San Pablo, Berkeley
This shrine to the party favor can be a little daunting at first -- the aisles are narrow and overflowing with a jumble of items that follow no readily apparent order, and you have to step carefully around drifts of fallen merchandise. But if you hang on, you'll find piñatas, all sorts of stickers, several kinds of colored paper (some of it archival, for much less than you'd pay elsewhere), unfinished papier-màché boxes (square, round, hexagonal, oval) in several sizes just waiting to be gussied up, racks of shiny paper ribbon, blank books with fun covers, holiday paraphernalia, mylar, crepe paper, glow-in-the-dark tchotchkes, and so much more. It's a collager's paradise.
Ashby Flea Market
Ashby BART parking lot, Sundays
Smooth, lumpy, striated, small as a sesame seed or big as an apricot, shiny and colorful or neutral and matte, beads beckon. If consistency or variety is a priority, and it's a weekday, the only thing for it is a trip to San Francisco and the cluttered two-story confines and cotton-candy-haired denizens of General Bead on Minna. But for the sheer pleasure of discovery and the timeless sensation of the marketplace, head to the flea market, where between booths offering knockoff Japanese swords, vinyl records, and household cleaning supplies, vendors display ropes of chunky African beads (traditionally worked from recycled glass over small open fires) in more colors than any of the regular bead stores offer. Also here are shoeboxes full of every imaginable type of stone and plastic bead and plenty of strands of seed, pony, and bugle beads. Dig in.
Cost Less Beads
1710 University, Berkeley
While at first glance it looks forbiddingly utilitarian and rather like an electronics store -- starkly lit, devoid of suncatchers and curling plumes of incense smoke and the rather hobbity nature of some retail bead emporia -- this cavernous room makes up in variety for what it lacks in atmosphere. One recent visit turned up more than a dozen different types of frog beads, for example, and the selection just goes on and on. A specialty here is supplies for bellydancewear: all the trimmings for beautiful waist, neck, and head adornments. For sure all these shiny chains and fake coins will make you want to tinkle.
The Bone Room
1569 Solano, Berkeley
"We have gopher feet earrings back in stock," announces a hand-lettered sign in this "natural history store," which also stocks skeletons, preserved beetles, fossils, and chocolate-covered insects, as well as skull-themed candlesticks, jewelry, and sculpture. From tiny adornments to authentic human skulls imported from China (around $750, based on number of teeth), the Bone Room is a wellspring of both raw material and inspiration -- there are some really beautiful animal skulls here, for example, that simply beg to be drawn. Nothing in the shop was killed solely to be sold; most of the dog and cat bones, for example, came from roadkill. Frenetic crickets and other reptile feed are in stock as well, for those of you who prefer live models.
-- Lisa Drostova