Celebrating The Life And Impact Of Machine Shop Department Head Ken Gilliland


We are sad to report that long-time Crucible community member, instructor, staff member, mentor, and friend Ken Gilliand, passed away earlier this month on Thursday, May 6 at his home in Oakland. For years, Ken brought his extensive knowledge and passion for machining to every class he taught, inspiring makers of all ages. His impact on the Crucible’s Machine Shop will be felt for years to come and he will be greatly missed by all around the studio.

 Ken has been a wonderful champion of The Crucible and supporter of the organization through hard times and good. He has been a leader and cultivator of The Crucible’s Machine Shop Department for the last sixteen years, and the staff, faculty, and students were lucky to have such a thoughtful, knowledgeable, heartwarming leader in that area. His presence was a gift and he will be missed.

– Susan Mernit
Executive Director

celebrating ken gilliland

You can read Ken’s obituary below and learn how to support his end-of-life costs via GoFundMe. There will also be a memorial service for Ken on Saturday, June 19th. Find event information and details on Eventbrite.

Help Support Ken’s End-Of-Life Expenses

Daniel Yasmin and Chris Niemer—Crucible community members and friends of Ken—are fundraising to support his in-home care, outstanding medical expenses, and other end-of-life costs.

Kenneth C. Gilliland

September 2, 1957 – May 6, 2021

Beloved friend and mentor, Kenneth Christopher Gilliland, born in Alameda on September 2, 1957 passed away in his home in Oakland on May 6, 2021 surrounded by friends and family. Born to machinist Kenneth Gordon Gilliland and artist Helen Howen Gilliland, he is part of a lineage of American machinists and engineers. Embarking on his own, he started off his machining career in the medical device field, then later expanded into defense contracting just like his father and uncle, heads of The Gilliland Instrument Company. His technical expertise moved him into making tools and dies for the forging industry, and later heading the second-operation department for a local screw machine shop. As a self-taught poly-math with a passion for antiquarian books, Ken dedicated himself to excelling in his craft as well as sharing his immense knowledge by teaching and mentoring youth and adults in machine shop practices.

A pillar of his Oakland community, Ken passionately engaged with non-profit organizations such as The Crucible where he headed the machine shop department, growing its capabilities and dazzling Bay Area kids with his model engines and his fascinating “doohickeys.” There, he developed curriculum for machine shop classes and instructed thousands of artists and emergent technicians on how to think like a machinist. Always working to bring out the hidden instrumentality within every person, he volunteered with Bay Area Bike Rescue non-profit, where he donated countless hours fixing bicycles and machining custom trike parts.

His interests were as vast as the sea which he loved to sail in, working on boats in the Oakland Marina like the “Just Imagine”, where he clocked thousands of nautical miles sailing up and down the western U.S. with his friends. In 2006, Ken and the “Diesel Dozen” built “Die-Moto”, the one-of-a-kind motorcycle blending artistic and industrial sensibilities. On his 50th birthday at the Bonneville Salt Flats, they set the still-unbroken world land speed record using 100% biodiesel. Growing up in the historic Cohen-Bray House in Oakland, Ken was the last of the original family members to live in the iconic estate and was the steward of generations of memories and stories about the family and grounds.

His memorial will take place at the Cohen-Bray House garden on Saturday, June 19, 2021 from 2-4pm. RSVP here.

In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the fundraiser Honoring the Life and Passing of Ken C. Gilliland for his end of life care expenses, and/or a charitable donation in his memory to one of the non-profit organizations to which he dedicated his life: The Crucible, Bay Area Bike Rescue, and the Cohen-Bray House.

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