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Here’s why 700 rubber ducks have been nailed to a Divisadero Street wall

A man stands arms crossed before a vibrant wall of colorful rubber ducks.
Barber Shorty Maniace installed almost 700 rubber ducks on a plywood-covered wall next to his Divisadero Street shop. | Source: Jesse Rogala/The Standard

As a diabetic with an impish sense of humor, San Francisco barber Shorty Maniace has long given out rubber ducks to kids at Halloween instead of candy. But after his block of Divisadero Street became a little too blighted by shuttered storefronts and excessive tagging, he repurposed the tub toys as an art project.

Two months ago, Maniace—pronounced “mon-ee-AH-che,” although he embraces its similarity to “maniac”—nailed almost 700 rubber ducks to a plywood-covered wall next to his shop, J.P. Kempt Barber Social. They face downward in (mostly) neat rows and columns, a striking, orange-billed sight on a street where the ratio of street art to vandalism had been growing out of whack.

an art piece consisting of 663 mounted rubber ducks on a wall facing a city sidewalk
There were 663 ducks on a recent visit—because people have stolen some. | Source: Jesse Rogala/The Standard

“It's meditative,” he said of his work. “I got all my aggression out. I'm now smiling every time I walk past it.”

The duck wall was partly a way of catching the eyes of onlookers. 

“People smile in the neighborhood [now],” said Maniace. “They stop by and say thank you.” 

He hoped that pedestrians on Divisadero might also stop and notice there was a barbershop next door, one filled with vintage photographs and a Darth Vader figure with Mars Attacks! Alien-style eyes—and owned by a committed extrovert who had been a street artist in his youth. There were 663 ducks when a couple of reporters visited earlier this month, a few shy of the intended 666.

Assorted rubber ducks are featured on the Duck Wall, created by J.P. Kempt Barbershop owner Shorty Maniace, on February 8, 2024.
Assorted rubber ducks are featured on the Duck Wall—some purchased by Maniace and other donated to him. | Source: Jesse Rogala/The Standard

“That’s because people steal,” Maniace said.

Rubber ducks—those icons of bathtime, of Ernie from Sesame Street and the hood of the occasional Jeep—are a disarming way to lay claim to a wall. They’re innocent, apolitical and, if passersby help themselves to one or two, Maniace doesn’t mind, because they’re all about making people happy. He is, you might say, an odd duck.

Street artists and vandals

Divisadero Street in the Western Addition is one of San Francisco’s liveliest neighborhood corridors, cramming everything imaginable in only a few blocks, from the high-end Bi-Rite Market to a decidedly affordable Popeye’s. Murals and wheat-paste and other creative expressions are everywhere.

Toward the southern end, however, an encroaching blight becomes more noticeable. Next door to J.P. Kempt, Vinyl Coffee & Wine Bar has been vacant since summer 2020. Across the street, Kelly Moore Paints left last month when the chain imploded, and an affordable housing development at a derelict former car wash diagonally across the intersection remains in limbo almost 5 years after it was proposed.

a man in a green shirt and black cap drills a duck into a wall of rubber ducks
Maniace adds a new rubber duck to his installation. | Source: Jesse Rogala/The Standard

Maniace was well into his 37-year hairstyling career when some of the neighborhood’s more prolific taggers were still playing with their own rubber ducks. He has a fairly nuanced view of what’s vandalism and what’s not, but what really ruffles his proverbial feathers are street artists who don’t play by the rules of the street. 

“You didn't mess with churches. You didn't mess with personal property. You didn't mess with small businesses,” he said of his misspent youth. “Have some pride in what you do, and be an artist about it instead of just a little vandal.” 

Art inspires people to make more art, and a duck wall inspires people to take selfies in front of a duck wall—or treat it like a rock-climbing gym. Maniace is down with all of it. He insists he’s just having fun.

As a shop, J.P. Kempt practices what Maniace preaches. He hires and trains a lot of skaters, because he sees skateboarders as the new punks. And any dissatisfied customer has a weeklong grace period to come back and leave again looking their best—water off a duck’s back, as it were. But apart from the challenges of running a business in a tough city, Maniace has another problem on his hands. 

People are just bringing me ducks,” he said.