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Dressed in a baseball jersey and cap, Brandyn Willridge peers over a student cutting out a shape in a metal sheet with a cutting machine. Sparks fly. “It sorta looks like the state of Massachusetts,” Willridge says as he holds up the tiny abstract shape.
Willridge, a trained industrial metalworker, began his career in his home state of Massachusetts before taking up welding jobs in New York and Los Angeles. In 2018 Willridge moved to Oakland to pursue a new career path that would allow him to use his welding training to create mixed-media art.
He found that opportunity at The Crucible, an industrial arts complex in West Oakland. Willridge started working with The Crucible as a volunteer, and within five months he was teaching welding classes.
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“I’ve never done any art myself before The Crucible because I haven’t had access to material and all that,” he said.
The Artisan Entrepreneurial Program helps aspiring artists like Willridge grow their businesses by offering them business licensing and marketing training, access to materials and a large workshop space in its 56,000 square-foot facility, and mentorship from seasoned artists.
“[The Crucible is] helping us,” Willridge said. “It’s really hard to find a spot where you can work freely and just to be able to work with other artists and collaborate on my business.”
In addition to metalworking, The Crucible also fosters other industrial arts like carpentry, blacksmithing, and glassblowing. In 2021, the organization launched its Open For Business program, which was created to support Bay Area BIPOC artists and entrepreneurs in developing their technical and business skills.
“That’s why I like The Crucible,” Willridge said, “because it gives everyone the opportunity to start off as a beginner in any class.”
Willridge recalls that the first time he felt inspired to pursue creative metalwork was while he was living in New York City. Every day on his way to his welding job, he passed a man on the street selling roses made from aluminum cans. One day, Willridge made him a metal vase for the flowers and asked him to teach him how to make the roses.
Five years later, metal flowers are a staple in Willridge’s portfolio.
Today, Willridge splits his time between running his small business selling his metal art pieces and teaching welding classes for budding industrial artists at The Crucible.
“I love teaching my class because it gives me a chance to show what I have been doing all these years,” he said. “To get someone to walk out of here after a three-hour class and be like, ‘I’m going to buy a welder,’ that’s a good accomplishment for me.”