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'Red Baron' artist whose sculptures adorned San Francisco Bay pier posts has died


The Golden Gate Bridge may be the most iconic monument on the San Francisco Bay. But for decades, a smaller spectacle has persisted along the East Bay shoreline - whimsical sculptures of biplanes, like the Red Baron, perched on pier pilings, flying above the water.


Tyler James Hoare was the man behind those sculptures, and he died on January 31.

MATT REYNOSO: He would sculpt these large planes out of stretched canvas, wood, plaster, all kinds of found materials, and he would throw on, like, boots and, like, put a figure in it, and then he'd put them out on the pier posts in the bay.

SHAPIRO: Matt Reynoso of The Compound Gallery knew Hoare for years. He invited Hoare to the gallery for a talk a few years ago. And as Hoare clicked through slides on a projector, he described the placing of his very first plane.


TYLER JAMES HOARE: I got some friends. We got two boats, ladders and made a pontoon and started out in high tide.

SUMMERS: Hoare explained that he didn't have a gallery to store his growing collection of sculptures, so he made the bay his gallery - without asking for permission.


HOARE: And one of the people with us I left on shore with the paperwork. It was all fake paperwork that UC Berkeley had bought it, the city of Berkeley bought it.


SHAPIRO: Hoare was born in Joplin, Mo., along Route 66. He said he always wanted to come to California, especially after hearing the song.


BOBBY TROUP: (Singing) Get your kicks on Route 66.

SUMMERS: He moved to Berkeley in 1965 and set up a studio in the basement of an old Victorian home. After years of showing in conventional galleries, he began installing his sculptures on pier posts in the 1970s.

SHAPIRO: Not just biplanes, either - he built human figures, sharks, Viking ships, a UFO with battery-powered Christmas lights. And when Mother Nature would wash one away, he'd put another in its place.


HOARE: The best piece I've ever done is the next piece I do. I expect Mother Nature to take care of everything I put out there.

REYNOSO: (Laughter) He wasn't very precious about his work. He didn't overconceptualize his work at all. He made it, put it out there.

SUMMERS: The last of Hoare's Red Barons is still standing in the bay outside Emeryville. Matt Reynoso, the gallery owner, says Mother Nature will eventually drive it away, but he says it might be fitting to install something more permanent to memorialize the sculptor who brought the East Bay shoreline to life with his ephemeral art.

SHAPIRO: Tyler James Hoare was 82 years old.


TROUP: (Singing) To LA... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alejandra Marquez Janse
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.