Robert Graf Turns Passion For Neon Into Impact At The Crucible

By Cathy Niland | 1.29.2020

robert graf

Growing up, Robert Graf always had a passion for technology and art. He dabbled in electronics at an early age and when he went to college, he studied computer science, fine art, and graphic communications. When he started working in Emeryville, he found The Crucible while searching for nearby maker spaces. Now, six years after joining our studio, Robert has become a dedicated volunteer, an active member, and a passionate advocate for artistic exploration.

We got to chat with Robert about his favorite medium (spoiler alert: it’s neon!) and how volunteering has exposed him to new ideas and helped him make deeper connections to The Crucible’s community.

This January, we’re celebrating Volunteer Appreciation Month. What volunteer roles have you held at The Crucible?

I’ve helped out at events like GIFTY and the Open Houses, demonstrating neon skills and sharing info about how neon works. Starting in February, I’m going to be volunteering in the Neon Labs, helping out in a more official capacity!

What are you most looking forward to in that new volunteer role?

I’ll be seeing people who have recently taken Neon I , which will bring me back to where I was when I first began six years ago. It’s a way for me to give back to the community. It’ll be cool to see their passion and excitement, what they plan to do with it, and how I can offer assistance. The neon community is small, so I like connecting and meeting new people with this special interest.

Why is it important to you to volunteer?

It’s a great way to see what people are doing and see new things I might not have. In Neon Lab, people are working on individual projects so it opens me up to new perspectives. It’s a great way to build community.

You are also a CREATE member in a number of other departments. How does having access to different departments influence or inspire your work?

It’s been really helpful for me! I’ve been exploring more areas and getting excited about them. You’ll have a problem that you tackle in one area, and when you go to another area, you can carry that problem solving over. I like being able to work with multiple materials and think that way.

This past fall, Robert Graf made a side table in Woodworking I where he incorporated neon and LED elements. 

Are there other classes you’ve loved taking?

I really enjoyed the Flame Effects I class. I have experience shooting fireworks with a company here in The Bay and fire has interested me since I was a kid. But it can be hard to get into the fire art community. The Crucible is a great way to bridge that gap and invite people to explore the medium. I liked being able to learn the technical and safety aspects.

Is there a particular instructor who’s left an impression on you?

Mateo Hao in Woodworking I. He wanted to ensure that everybody had a good experience in the class. The way he taught was so efficient and well executed—very succinct. And Dan Caven, a volunteer in the Neon Labs. He has been really supportive of all the students. He is always super pumped to see their work and encourages them to do their best. Having that level of excitement brings a lot to Neon Lab.

What about the process of art-making is most enjoyable to you?

Learning. If I’m making art and I’m learning, then I consider it a success. Part of that is accepting failure. It’s important to experience art-making itself and not always focus on the end product. For me, neon is a great medium because it allows me to explore technical aspects through an expressive medium.

Describe The Crucible in one word.

I would say open because The Crucible has really encouraged me to open up and explore new things and see things in a different way. It’s also allowed me to open up and connect with and become part of a community.

robert graf

Robert Graf lent us his neon Christmas tree to display at GIFTY, our annual craft show and open house

Robert graf

Work in progress! Robert Graf has been using his time in Neon Lab to create a custom neon sign. 

Interested in becoming a Crucible volunteer?

As a nonprofit, we rely on our volunteers to make our work and mission possible.  To show our gratitude, we offer our volunteers a range of benefits, from discounts off class tuition, studio access, specialty programming, and free entry to on- and off-site events.

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