PRO-PORTRAIT: The Meaningful Life of Painter and Baker Dan Berkeland.

Dan Berkeland’s creative path has taken him from Witchita, Kansas to Florence, Italy. He’s traveled from the Central Coast of California, to Rattvik, Sweden for love and family. He’s studied architecture, become an accomplished professional artist, and opened a bakery out of the back porch of his house that is now a thriving business. He leads his life with a firmly held notion that there are an infinite number of ways to lead a meaningful life.

“What I do all day, everyday is try to learn. I read, and experiment. I keep mountains of indecipherable notes, and talk to everybody. I ask a million questions. I think, daydream, and try to learn all I can about everything.” But forced to define himself and his career, Dan says that he is an artist—a painter and a baker.  “That is how I digest.  I take raw materials, shuffle them around, and sell them. Actually I prefer the word craftsman to artist.”

Dan grew up under the flight path of LAX—thinking of the millions of people who would float by his head, heading in millions of different directions. “I still sleep best when I hear jet engines roar.”  He grew up in a multi-cultural environment, in a school that was primarily black, and in a neighborhood largely populated by families from Mexico. He discovered the differences in all humans, and daydreamed about the different paths he could take his life. “Some of my best friends came from Korea, Argentina, and Afghanistan. I had wealthy black friends and poor white friends.”

After graduating from Cal Poly SLO with a degree in Architecture, fortune took him on trip to Italy with his father. It was to be a month-long adventure “goofing around before getting real about life.” But a month turned into a five-year adventure working in a guesthouse outside of Florence and learning to cook and paint. He used his time in Italy to grow his passion and skill as a painter, a cook, and to play music. 

“At first I worked on the land cutting grass and pulling weeds under the olive trees, and then eventually worked my way into the kitchen where I worked as a cook,” remembers Dan, “I had friends who were painters so I started painting too in my free time.” Turning an old chapel on the property into his studio and a gallery, he began selling his paintings to tourists, and put on gallery exhibitions in the old chapel. When he moved back to the States, he began selling his paintings through galleries in San Francisco, and along the Central Coast of California—and eventually returning to San Luis Obispo where he had lived while attending architectural school.

His paintings began to sell, and he was being commissioned more and more. Dan saw it as a portable profession where he could travel, and create, and make money wherever in the world he wanted to be.

While not painting, Dan started teaching classes in Mediterranean cooking, meat curing, and bread baking. And, he began baking bread for his family, friends and neighbors. With the prompting of his fans, Dan began to sell his bread via Facebook, out the back door of his kitchen. By simply posting a note on Facebook announcing that his bakery goods were being taken out of the oven, lines of buyers would start showing up at his back door. “Back Porch Bakery” was born. Soon Dan had hundreds of bread-starved locals showing up on his back porch.

It’s two years since Dan opened the door on his back porch, and now he has his own bakery and sells 14 local restaurants, cafes, hotels, and caterers.  “So I suppose this means I have two careers now – painter and baker – both of which were the result of simply starting one day and continuing to do it.

Dan spends his time thinking, creating and being with art, food, writing, computers, music, politics, his wife, daughters Molly, Tessa and Quinn, and his health and fitness: “It's not cool.  It is obsessive, and I envy people (just for a second) who seem to be able to simply exist.” 

“If you pay attention, things lead into other things.  The idea of a career spanning 50 years in one field followed by retirement is probably not for me.  In typical artist fashion, I will probably spend my life doing something just up to the point where it is going to work, just to switch things up and start a whole other thing.”

Who knows what will be next for Craftsman Dan Berkeland. 



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