My grandmother once tried to teach me how to crochet and, under the guidance of her graceful hand, I made a trivet. Or maybe it was a coaster. It could even have served as an oven mitt in a pinch, such is the enigmatic nature of needlework.

Had I paid better attention, exercised a little patience, procured an extension ladder and overcome my fear of heights and/or cops, I could have used this skill for an illustrious career of illegally blanketing billboards with huge swaths of crocheted graffiti. Billboard cozies, if you will.

A kinder, gentler grafitti is carefully crocheted and draped over an Oakland billboard, as shown March 10, 2013, at the intersection of 39th and Peralta
A kinder, gentler grafitti is carefully crocheted and draped over an Oakland billboard, as shown March 10, 2013, at the intersection of 39th and Peralta streets. (Angela Hill/Staff)

Last Sunday, I saw what could have been. Thanks to a tip from a fellow reporter, the GPS on my phone and a crochet-hook-in-a-haystack search, I eventually came across what is being called the only crocheted-over billboard known on planet Earth: a neon-pink camouflage background with "BOYS!" spelled out in bold white letters. From a distance, it appears to be a painted sign. Only from right up underneath will you involuntarily utter the words, "I'll be darned. It's crocheted."

This diversionary doily is displayed on a billboard in West Oakland on the cusp of Emeryville at 36th and Peralta streets, positioned at the triangulation of a freeway overpass, an apartment building under construction and the backside of The Home Depot where the refuse bins are kept. The setting is urban, it's gritty, it's the perfect place for an oversized toaster cover, which may or may not still be there by now. Such is the enigmatic nature of illegally altering someone's paid ad.


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A good yarn

This is the work of Olek, so say sources and Olek's own tweets. She's a New York-based yarn artist, known for her yarn "interventions," which involve crocheting colorful art pieces and draping them over bicycles, cars, construction vehicles and public sculptures such as Wall Street's Charging Bull. She sometimes covers people. Lest you think this fluff, Olek has had gallery shows and commissioned works, and her entire crocheted studio apartment -- furniture and everything -- was part of an exhibition at the Smithsonian last year.

The Oakland piece took her two months to create, and "BOYS!" is apparently a statement to men that crocheting is cool and not just for chicks, so the billboard probably should have read, "CROCHETING IS COOL AND NOT JUST FOR CHICKS!" but that would have required a bigger billboard. And more yarn.

Olek dedicated the work to the Billboard Liberation Front, a loosely-knit (or perhaps crocheted), generally anonymous (although most people know the players by now) underground group that started in San Francisco in 1977 to practice "culture jamming," altering billboards -- often cigarette or corporate ads -- to radically change or allegedly improve the message. Things like rewording Apple's "Think different" ad to "Think disillusioned." Or after the Hurricane Katrina disaster, they enhanced a billboard promoting the American Red Cross, adding: "Cuz the government ain't doing squat."

Meow

I like Olek's method better. It may hide the ad beneath (I don't know what it is, but it's clearly offensive to Olek), but it's a kinder, gentler graffiti that doesn't actually damage anything. It's similar to the amiable vandalism of Streetcolor, a well-known "yarn bomber" in Berkeley who often brightens neighborhoods by wrapping bicycle racks and parking meters in rainbows of yarn. And who can forget the genial gnomes, hand-painted on utility poles near Lake Merritt in Oakland earlier this year. The gnomes are really small, as gnomes tend to be, so they're gnotably gnot a gnuisance.

Come to think of it, other crimes should be so civilized. Instead of propelling bricks at plate glass windows, progressive protesters might consider lobbing throw pillows. Rather than keying the car doors of a despised neighbor, deposit some "statement" baked goods on the hood. Perhaps muffins. Perhaps blueberry.

Or maybe stick up a bank by shoving a kitten in a teller's face. "Gimme all your money (meow)!" The teller will surely swoon from the cuteness, freely handing over everything in the vault.

Sadly, my own crochet skills never reached the heights of culture jamming. Although my trivet/coaster/oven mitt could definitely have been considered a form of domestic terrorism.

Contact Angela Hill at ahill@bayareanewsgroup.com, or follow her on Twitter@giveemhill.