The Crucible – A Real Cool Place for Some Who Like It Hot!

The Crucible

Tina Kay Bohnstedt as Firebird in The Crucible's 2008 Fire Ballet. Photo by Eric Gillet

The coolest spot in Northern California is in actuality scorching hot; The Crucible – is a non-profit arts education center that fosters a collaboration of arts, industry and community in a 56,000 square foot warehouse facility in West Oakland. The school features, among its many hot classes, some of the most ancient of the arts – like blacksmithing.

The Crucible offers a myriad of classes that inspire creativity in everyone from children as young as eight, teenagers and their parents, and adults of all ages and backgrounds in the best-equipped industrial arts facility in the Bay Area. An extensive curriculum of classes in industrial arts are offered that bring out the best creativity from the most ambitious to the slower-paced meticulous art of jewelry-making led by an energetic group of guest instructors and faculty.

The classes available ignite imaginations, and the creations of sculptures, metalwork, artworks, glass, ceramics, furniture or jewelry have the surprise and rewards of great accomplishment. Over 5,000 students annually create in a vast range of variety – bronze casting, mold making, woodworking, neon, welding, glass working, blacksmithing and fire dancing. The Crucible, is not only a school for the creation of sculptural objects, miniature to monumental, but is also famous for their spectacular annual public events, uniting artists from many disciplines in imaginative theatrical productions of opera, music and dance dedicated to the creative fusion of art, fire and light.

The Crucible

Firebird in The Crucible's 2008 Fire Ballet. Photo by Sharlene Stephens

The Crucible’s smithy is where iron and other metals are heated and manipulated by the strike of the hammer into shapes by welding, twisting with rotational force, drawing, cutting, punching, bending, splitting, upsetting and controlled hand forging and forming shapes made with yellow-hot malleable metals on the anvil or in the vise. The forms emerge as a result from the swing of the sledge, mallet or the peen hammer, until the forger quenches the near red-hot steel with a steady stream of water and as the sizzling steam cools, it shrinks the object and sets the metal into the desired shape. Voila! The enduring object made by hand and heart yields a great pride of creation.

The metallurgical art of melting metal, and converting it to utilitarian objects, has survived millennia as evidenced by buried iron and bronze artifacts. The ancient Etruscans who inhabited the regions of Umbria, Tuscany, Lazio and Campania, the pre-Roman period metallurgists forged iron and copper in crucibles and forges thousands of years before Christ walked in Galilee. Blacksmithing is one of the earliest trades, which dates as far back to 3000 BC to the Bronze and Iron Age when the Egyptians, Celts, Etruscans and then the Romans formed equestrian or architectural elements and magnificent statues that honored the gods and the Caesars. Their civilizations became powerful and dominant as they inhabited regions rich in minerals and they mined natural resources and developed skills to make spears, swords, francisca throwing axes and battle weapons and built horse-drawn war machines that could out-race the enemy. The production of metal objects of warfare, tools and transport, in the ancient world, was the primary reason the conquerors overpowered other nations and with it came the spoils of war.

Today the arts of welding, blacksmithing and general metal fabrication enjoy resurgence, and The Crucible in Oakland, is one such place that ignites a new enthusiasm for the ancient and nearly lost profession of molding metal into desired shapes.

The Crucible

Bronze Metal Pour in The Crucible's foundry. Photo by Dave Wright

What is a blacksmith? A blacksmith is a person who practices the art of shaping heated iron and steel, forging utilitarian hand tools and who hammers on an anvil with hammers, tongs and chisels. The word ‘black’ comes from the color of the metal after heating and cooling. The word ‘smith’ comes from the word ‘smite’ meaning to strike therefore a blacksmith is one who strikes and shapes black metal with a hammer. The five basic blacksmith tools are the anvil, the forge – the place to hold the fire, the vise, the hammer and the slack tub. An offshoot blacksmith job is the ‘farrier’ – a person who makes and fits custom horseshoes.
The Crucible

Fire Breathing by Patricia Chavez, Photo by Ed Jay

The Crucible’s Youth Program offers classes, workshops and field trips that expose young people to both the fine and industrial arts. The Crucible’s innovative approach to education is the brainchild of its visionary Founder and Creative Director Michael Sturtz, who with his staff, are dedicated to promoting healthy youth development and strengthening competencies in leadership, community service and skill building. The goals of the non-profit school are sincere and achievable, in that they offer inspiring classes and workshops, with stress on community service projects who strive to create relationships with the youth, parents, schools and community-based organizations. Their desire is to inspire and generate interest in a new generation of industrial artists to enrich the community, and they have a very realistic vision to be one of the premier art centers in the country.

Michael Sturtz founded The Crucible in 1999, presently assisted by Kristy Alfieri, the Director of Programming, Carla Hall, Ismael Plasencia, Rob Nehring, and a large faculty including 75+ instructors who serve thousands of youth and adult students each year through workshops, classes, field trips, youth camps, events and community outreach programs. The organization has awarded nearly 300 scholarships to enable disadvantaged youth to experience art. The popular children’s workshops and classes include; blacksmithing, flame working, woodworking, welding, ceramics, radical robots, clay and neon sculpture and jewelry making. Over 57% of the children served through the school’s community programs come from Oakland and the rest from the Bay Area.

Michael Sturtz earned his M.F.A. at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago and graduated Magna Cum Laude from New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University. He extended his education at the esteemed Studio de Sem Ghelardini and Studio Art Centers International in Italy winning the S.A.C.I. Award for excellence in Florence. Sturtz has won many awards and honors and his artworks are in permanent collections of several colleges and museums in the United Kingdom and the United States. His sculptural metalworks and ceramic artworks have exhibited in Italy, across the nation, in California, the Bay Area and at Walnut Creek’s Bedford Gallery at the Dean Lesher Regional Center.

The Crucible

Michael Sturtz, Founder/Creative Director during Fire Ballet, Firebird, Photo by Margot Duane

If learning is fun and creating is rewarding – The Crucible takes their philosophy to Bay Area schools to satisfy the burning curiosities of young people, with a with the modified ERV – the Educational Response Vehicle, a converted red truck tricked out as a fire engine that throws attention getting plumes of flames into the air. The ERV is fully equipped for on-the-spot demonstrations of blacksmithing, torch cutting, welding, grinding and flameworking. The ERV has been a favorite attraction at the annual Makers Faire in San Mateo, and Alameda’s 4th of July parade.

Excitement occurred at The Crucible’s forges when it starred recently in a Myth Busters TV episode when the East Bay Discovery Channel crew melted iron and immersed the bits in an acid bath to prove if diamonds can be man-made by using the same techniques as Mother Nature in the heating, cooling and carbonizing of the mineral. Anyone interested in the formula?

The school is located in the heart of the Oakland community where the large warehouse is always bustling with artisans, students, and inventive artistic activities spearheaded by the fiery ambitious staff and instructors guiding students and inspiring artists with nearly 700 classes offered each year. The school is a collaboration of arts, industry and community featuring sculpture studio, foundry and metal fabrication shops for youth. Now in their eleventh year, they operate on a six-figure budget with major funding from community organizations, the City of Oakland, Cultural Funding Programs, foundations and charitable trusts. The non-profit school could not enjoy its unparalleled success without its 700+ members and a 1,200 enthusiastic volunteer base who have generously donated 8,000+ hours.

In addition to classes, The Crucible also supports the works of artists and artisans by making rental space available for private or shared studios and lockers within the warehouse facility with 24-hour access to their studio. The rented area is equipped with industrial pallet racks and 120-volt electrical outlets, in a secure building where renters become part of the vibrant collaborative and creative environment with the camaraderie of like-minded people.

The special workshops for adults offered as corporate or private team-building projects, are cutting-edge and innovative. For intrepid smithies, wanting to forge a metal throne or wrought a double-twisted balcony railing, the forge is always hot and ready. Then there are flame-related classes with Maori specialties such as Poi – Fire Dancing, Fire-Breathing and, not for the faint-hearted, the muy caliente Fire-Eating workshop. For those who really like it hot –sign up for the advanced workshop of Fearless Fire Eating – while walking on stilts. The art of Poi spinning with Kevlar-roped fireballs is a blazing choreographic showstopper that could lead to fire hula hooping. The advanced fearless fire-eaters, who learn to eat fire with grace and confidence, are required to bring their own fire-torches from home! Radical robots and kinetic art sets the school’s mood alive and the thrill of a project’s completion is exhilarating to the young creators. Yes, I said at the outset; The Crucible is a very cool place for some who like it hot…

For the Harley Davidson riders, an entry-level class titled The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and Repair is available. For bikes with damage, frame and engine repair workshops are available with a qualified instructor to get your hog back on the road and if the rider wants to trick out a bike, yes, someone could do that too. To add a new gizmo to the tool apron, stroll down the aisle to the blacksmithing workshop to make a new tool, tongs or a peen hammer to pound in the loose hand-wrought iron rose-head nails. For the fired-up blacksmiths who want to work in their own garden, Build-Your-Own-Forge is a good first step to fine-tune rusty smithing techniques.

To celebrate the school’s blaze of creative achievements during the year, the talents of the foundry’s artists and collaborators, feature with impressive creations enhanced with flame and fire in spectacular celebration. What better way to manifest their devotion and reverence of the mysteries of fire than to integrate flames into the annual entertainment events of fire-focused pyrotechnics highlighted by theatre, music, opera, ballet and innovative dance?
For its yearly theatrical collaborations, The Crucible’s studio space is transformed into a vast stage, with overhead lights and a state of the art sound system where innovative musical events feature professionally produced shows ignited with the elements of lights and fires. Sturtz masterminded the idea to satisfy the pyrophiliacs in an ambient paradise of fire-worship with the synergy of artistic theatre.

Benefit productions that have enraptured audiences in the past were Stravinsky’s Firebird – Fire Ballet with a thirty-piece orchestra and fiery stage stunts; Dracul: Prince of Fire a fire ballet of passion – an amalgam of classical and modern macabre dance about the stoker, vampires, fiery effects and a fire fountain sculpture amid flying sparks and roaring forges. Prokofiev’s fiery music set flame to the Romeo and Juliet – A Fire Ballet with aerial dancers on a flaming steel chandelier, martial arts, fire-eaters and jugglers with the score and story retrofitted to craft the foundry’s fantasy stage of fires and lights. Romeo’s bronze heart was cast, live and in real-time on the stage, and when swords were drawn, it was not from sheaths, but directly from roaring flames in the fiery forge. The opera The Seven Deadly Sins by Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht offered beautiful music choreographed with combustion and flames. The Fire and Light Festivals celebrate with the high-voltage focus of fire as art; Vesta, goddess of the hearth, Pele, keeper of volcanoes and Vulcan, god of flame and fire smile when rolling fireballs light up the stage, as if Jupiter himself threw the thunderbolts.

Under the lightning-bolt genius of Founder/Creative Director Michael Sturtz, who conceives and directs the spectacular stage productions, celebrates the forging of fire, creative combustion and artistic fire effects melded with opera, music and dance. The luminary vision of the director, with unusual creativity, is radiantly brilliant and Sturtz is truly a risen star soldering his smoldering ideas and sizzling dreams into a flambé of fantasy – reminiscent of the dazzling Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

Yes, The Crucible is the hottest high-voltage place in Northern California and it is getting hotter every day. Free tours are offered every Tuesday and Thursday at 6PM.
The Crucible
Photos: L top to R: Youth Welding, Mother & Daughter taking Introduction to Jewelry & Metal Class together, Photo by Becca Jay.
Foundry Master, Nick DiPhillipo doing a live bronze pour as Friar Lawrence in the 2007 Fire Ballet,
Romeo and Juliet, Photo by Juan Carlos, Blacksmithing.
All photos courtesy The Crucible

Fire and Light Soiree and Art Auction – 15-17 July 2010
Youth Summer Camp Sessions; June 21-25, July 5-9, & 19-23, August 2-6
The Crucible, 1260 7th Street, Oakland, 94607 * 510.444.0919 *

What Does “Going Green” Mean?

Michael Copeland

When I was told that the April issue of ALIVE was going green I naturally assumed the obvious. Once our readers finished perusing the magazine’s monthly standard of entertaining and informative articles, colorful ads and community news, they would then be able to recycle our topical issue. They could mulch it, smoke it or use it as a replacement for their Charmin.

The country’s obsession with “going green” sure makes the early green pioneers look ahead of their time. No one thinks the band name Green Day is lame anymore. The Green Giant Food Company’s Jolly Green Giant and Little Green Sprout are now the kings of the ACSA – Animated Commercial Spokesperson Association. The Broadway musical Wicked has audiences nationwide wanting to be green thanks to the lovable and misunderstood character, Elphaba. As a kid, I always thought superhero/crime fighter, the Green Hornet, was so cool. Finally, how about the Martians? Mars has apparently always been eco-friendly. So much so that the planet’s inhabitants have green pigmentation, which is evidence of every Martian who ever appeared on television or in the movies. Martians were at the party long before the ten foot blue Na’vis from the planet Pandora. It’s eco-interesting how Avatar is a movie based on saving the environment of a planet.

I recently tracked down a random sampling of our population to find out what “Going Green” actually means. It didn’t surprise me that there were reccurring themes such as recycling, water conservation and energy reduction. Many of the participants actually had practical suggestions to reduce our carbon footprint. Below are the actual responses I received from the subjects of my study.

“Everyone should pick-up garbage and when you leave a room, unplug things.” Regan B., 3rd grade.

“We need to cut back on gas and have more battery operated cars. It’s also important to save the polar bears and other endangered animals so I would pick up trash at the beach.” Nicole C., 5th grade.

“It’s important to save electricity and make our world a better place so we can be happy.” Lauren H., 3rd grade.

“People should help the environment by recycling bottles, paper and cans. Everybody can do it.” Santiago M., 3rd grade.

“I think people need to quit smoking and for everyone to start picking up their litter and throwing it in the garbage.” Gianna C., 5th grade.

“Pick up your trash and water your plants.” Michael M., 1st grade.

“We can help the Earth by recycling and planting trees. Trees make our neighborhoods more beautiful. Jules M., 4th grade

“Conserving water is a good idea. I’m not exactly sure why, but I know it’s important to the environment. We did a water conservation chart in school, but it didn’t work out so well.” Cecily K., 5th grade.

“I would be like Johnny Appleseed and go around planting plants everywhere. Hudson P., 3rd grade

We should all recycle, turn off lights and don’t litter.” Tyler G., 2nd grade.

“Everyone should turn down the heat in their homes and wear sweaters when they’re cold to save energy.” Claire C., 5th grade.

“I’m not going to tell you because you’re a stinky head.” Kylie K., 2nd grade.

I actually think the last response, while hurtful, may have been the most insightful. Young Miss Kylie may be on to something if by stinky she was actually referring to my breath or post workout funk smell. Perhaps, if people focused more attention on their personal hygiene there might be a greater sharing of information. Groups of people might actually come together in think tanks and share ideas or information they have previously been keeping to themselves. Wouldn’t it be incredible, if out of this collaborative effort, some breakthrough idea came? Perhaps some type of innovative solution to the global environmental problem that faces our generation? The possibilities are endless.

Looking back, I may have been doing this green thing for years and just never realized the relevance of my actions. When I was a youngster, Going Green used to be an expression my parents used to describe me after a ride on the Big Dipper Rollercoaster at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk. Mean Joe Greene was my favorite football player back in the 70’s. In college, my entire fraternity unwisely decided to Rock the Green (aka green body paint, everywhere) on St. Patrick’s Day 1984, before we all headed down to the Shamrock Bar in Van Nuys, California for a night of green beer chugging.

I’m green with envy whenever someone in my office closes a large sale or lease transaction. I wish my lawn would go green instead of brown like it usually does every summer. My wife has an aversion to green vegetables and green tea, but oddly loves Green Appletinis, green M&Ms and Trader Joe’s Salsa Verde. I may just send my kids to Green Valley School, move to Green Gables Court or read the book, Green Eggs and Ham.

This Going Green phenomenon make take some getting used to, but it is definitely the wave of the future. We all need to get on board or be run over …… by a Prius Hybrid.

Disengage From Passive-Aggressive Communications: Flex Your Assertiveness Muscles

Tina Swerdlow

Passive-aggressive communications often lurk quietly in the shadows of our relationships. These behaviors may not be disguised behind sunglasses or trench coats, but they do frequently express in hushed tones.

For instance, do you have a friend who calls you to tell you how angry she is at her husband, son, daughter, or sister? You probably listen patiently as your friend rants and raves about someone’s behavior that hurt her. After you listen for a while and empathize, do you ever suggest that she talk to the person she’s upset with and let him/her know she’s disappointed, hurt, or whatever? If your friend is uncomfortable with confrontation, then she’ll probably vent to you (and her other confidants) as a way to avoid sharing her vulnerability directly with the people with whom she’s upset. She’ll “blow off steam” with everyone except the person she’s upset with.

Unfortunately, sharing vulnerabilities directly through communication is a skill not often handed down from one generation to the next. Instead, what is commonly handed down becomes a major barrier to healthy communication: triangulation. As the word implies, triangulation happens when communication is indirect, behind someone’s back, and involves three people. Triangulation becomes an over-used form of communication when someone lacks the awareness or skill to directly communicate personal feelings and needs to another person. In this way, triangulation becomes the opposite of one-to-one talks.

In my private practice, I often teach my clients assertive communication. Direct communication—assertiveness—is a skill, like a muscle, that needs to be developed and strengthened before we leave the gym and “take it on the road.” And, of course, we need to consciously decide when to let “the small stuff” go and focus on issues that feel truly important.

Speaking your truth with compassion and honesty requires great courage. As you have undoubtedly noticed—speaking your truth with a loved one is no easy endeavor. Getting up the nerve to have a revealing one-to-one talk is stressful. Preparing to have “the talk” can take hours, days, or even weeks—that is if fear doesn’t prompt you to abandon the idea.

One reason for not pursuing a needed one-to-one talk is a fear that doing so will damage or end the relationship. Or, you may simply be afraid that you will hurt the other person’s feelings. Although these reasons may or may not have some validity, the danger is that when you repeatedly avoid the important one-to-one talks, the resentments may pile up and eventually cause a decline in the quality of the relationship. If you don’t speak your truth to a loved one, you may be hiding important parts of yourself from him or her. As a result, you may unconsciously begin putting up protective walls between the two of you.

The following example of indirect communication contains excerpts from my book, Stress Reduction Journal. In the Hudson family, triangulation and passive-aggressive communication was a mainstay of the family diet. Jim and Dorothy Hudson had two grown children, John and Beth. One continual communication triangle in this family was between mom (Dorothy), John, and Beth. A triangle recently became activated when Beth and John made plans to attend a concert featuring classical music. As it turned out, John canceled at the last minute and went to a sporting event with a buddy.

Instead of having a heart-to-heart talk with John, Beth used mom to vent. After listening to her anger and frustration, mom took on Beth’s feelings, called John, and gave him “a piece of her mind.” Or was it a piece of Beth’s mind?

John’s defensive reaction to mom was to blame Beth. “Beth knows I don’t like classical music yet she bought the concert tickets without asking me first. I didn’t want to go from the start, but went along with it to try to be a ‘good guy.’ Then this really fun invite came along—and I couldn’t resist.”

Hurt and disappointed, Beth withdrew from John and missed an opportunity to honestly tell him how his behavior affected her. Feeling blamed and misunderstood, John also withdrew from Beth. As a result, John missed an opportunity to express his thoughts and needs. If John had chosen assertiveness over avoidance, he could have let Beth know that he appreciated her wanting to spend time with him, and that he would like to be invited to an event before the tickets were purchased. That way, he could have told her beforehand whether he was truly interested in the event or not.

Short-Term Gains of Triangulation
You may wonder why anyone would triangulate since it is such a barrier to healthy communication. Obviously, there are a few payoffs, or none of us would indulge in it. One payoff is a momentary feeling of closeness to the person we are triangulating with (at the expense of the person being talked about). For example, Beth and mom felt momentary closeness when they were “on the same side” against John. But, by choosing this method to feel close, they each missed healthier ways to connect with each other—and with John.

The second payoff for triangulating is that “blowing off steam” toward the third party of the triangle momentarily lowers anxiety. Unfortunately though, these payoffs come at the expense of working out issues directly with loved ones and end up blocking healthy, direct relating. The triangulating process offers short-term gains that often create long-term pains by blocking honest emotional intimacy.

Flex Those Assertiveness Muscles
Assertive or direct communication is the opposite of aggressive and passive-aggressive communications. People communicating assertively know themselves well enough to know their own wants and needs, and they are willing to ask for what they want and need from others. People who are flexing their assertiveness muscles don’t expect people to read their minds.

In addition, people communicating assertively take responsibility for their feelings whereas people communicating aggressively (and passive-aggressively) often blame others and become “angry victims.” Assertive communications often begin with ownership and “I-statements.” By contrast, aggressive communications often begin with blame and “You-statements.”

For example, if Beth used assertiveness skills instead of triangulating with her mom, then she might say to John: “I felt hurt and unappreciated when you canceled two hours before we were planning to leave for the concert. I didn’t have enough time to find someone else, and I ended up not going because I didn’t want to go alone. I couldn’t get a refund for the $40 I spent. In the future, if you don’t want to go to an event with me, I would like for you to tell me no thanks, you’re not interested.” She may also see if John will take responsibility for his behavior and reimburse her for the price of the tickets.

By contrast, if Beth became aggressive with John she might say, “You are unreliable, self-centered, and I will never invite you to another event for as long as I live. You’re a jerk and you owe me $40!” As most of us have found out the hard way, aggressive behaviors often create high drama in relationships (win/lose) rather than looking for ways to learn lessons and create win/win resolutions.

The bottom line is this: John may not take responsibility for his behavior no matter how Beth communicates. However, John is more likely to listen to Beth, apologize, and pay the $40 if she is assertive rather than aggressive.

If, after reading this article, Mom (Dorothy) decides to disengage from triangulation and practice healthy communication skills with her family, she could alternatively:

  • Not “take on” Beth’s or John’s emotions and stay neutral. Since triangles thrive on high emotions and anxiety, a calm response can often help de-escalate situations.
  • Identify her own feelings with family members and ask for heart-to-heart talks with each person involved.
  • Suggest that Beth and John honestly talk to one another about their issue. She could encourage them to take turns attentively listening to one another—not in an attempt to be right, but as a way to step into the other’s shoes.

Payoffs for Strengthening Your Skills
By trading triangulation for a compassionate, assertive communication style, you courageously heighten the authenticity in your life. In addition, you develop direct connections with others and allow in deeper levels of emotional intimacy. Disengaging from passive-aggressive communication—and triangulation—awards you the opportunity to flex your assertiveness muscles and strengthen your sense of personal empowerment.

If you feel that it’s time to heighten or refine your communication skill set, then consider contacting me about Assertiveness Training. I will teach you how to:

  • Recognize passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive behavior
  • Communicate assertively
  • Set healthy limits and boundaries
  • Balance assertive behavior with compassionate listening when conflicts arise
  • Pursue win/win (rather than win/lose) conflict resolution results

My Assertiveness Training offers interactive communication exercises that are educational as well as inspirational. During the training, you can practice communicating assertively in the safe environment of my office. Humor and playfulness are integral parts of this educational process.

In addition, through hypnotherapy experiences, you will receive an opportunity to strengthen your connection to your own inner wisdom and authentic voice. As a result, you will develop tools and skills to genuinely connect with others…in more mindful and meaningful ways.

Names and details in example are fictitious and for educational purposes.