by Kristin Arzt
Oakland native Camille MacRae first started volunteering in our Bike Shop in 2015. Proudly sporting her prescription safety glasses at all times, she prides herself as a role model for safe shop practices. After teaching herself how to weld while building out a shipping container to live in, she joined our faculty as a MIG and TIG Welding instructor in 2016. Camille has recently found home in our Neon department, and will begin teaching there this summer.
Camille consistently finds opportunities to collaborate across departments, from a Hot Couture piece with Bike Shop Department Head Camen Gambino in 2016, to a piece featured in our Spring Open House Art Gallery with Blacksmithing instructor Adrian Rodriguez. Most recently, Camille made a neon restroom sign that hangs above the Tool Room, easily visible throughout the studio.
We sat down with Camille (and her cat Rex) to learn about her neon art, how she uses metal fabrication to make her pieces beautiful whether they are on or off, and the collaborative community she has found at The Crucible.
How did you first get involved at The Crucible?
Growing up in the area, I always knew about it. A lot of the youth outreach we do here has been really effective, from Field Trip Day to school visits. When I started to volunteer, I came in every Wednesday night to help with the Earn-A-Bike Program, working closely with volunteers Howard and Marc. I still love bicycling. But I have recently gotten into neon, and it is impractical to bike and carry around glass things.
How did you get started with neon?
I took my first neon class in 2016. It was the first time I had taken neon or done any glass-related work. A first for everything! Now, I’m teaching Youth Glass Tube Sculpture: Intro to Neon. One of the reasons I love this department is the other teachers are older with decades of experience. Spending time watching them work, and having them demonstrate and teach me techniques has been really helpful.
What is your favorite part about Neon?
I like that neon is both craft and art-oriented. Since letter working is fairly challenging, I need a lot of practice, and The Crucible provides me with the space to do so. I could practice at my house, but it is way less fun and engaging. You can’t collaborate with people at home. The Crucible is an amazing environment to collaborate with other artists.
Most instructors in the Neon Department have an academic background, and it is really interesting to get their perspective versus the perspective of someone who is in the industry. Spaces like this are rare, and they create the opportunity for skills and collaboration to grow, providing multiple perspectives.
What are some artistic goals you have when you are creating?
I am interested in combining neon and metal in an aesthetically beautiful way. When a neon sign is not lit up, you can actually see the metalwork. My goal is to have it look good when it is turned off. In the industry, neon doesn’t typically look good when it is off. I’m really trying to change that.
What is one word you would use to describe The Crucible?
Community. It is so valuable to have a space where you can engage with other artists and creators in a way where there is sincere interest. I really love and value this place. I found it at a time in my life when I really needed a sense of community. There is such a variety of skills and projects people are working on. All the different collaborations in this community bring me such joy.
(We look over at Rex napping on the bombarder). Of course, Rex chooses the bombarder to nap on! That is the most dangerous tool in this room . . . though, not dangerous when it is turned off.
Restroom sign by Camille MacRae, March 2018.
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