Tag Archives: Oakland

Everybody Must Get Stoned

Jimi Woodliff, known as “Jimi McMenace,” (right) and Joel “Joe Killmeister” Pacheco (left) are put into a headlock by Dustin “Rick Scott Stoner” Mehl during a practice wrestling match at the Victory Warehouse in Oakland. Photographs by Ryan McNulty

Story by Zak Cowan

[dropcap]I[/dropcap]t was the first Friday of the month and metal was blaring from the speakers of the Oakland Metro Operahouse. Hoodslam occupied the space for the night, bringing with it everything you’d expect from professional wrestling: choreographed bodyslams, acrobatic combat and, perhaps an expectation held for this particular event, plenty of pot smoking.

The performers gathered backstage as the start of the event neared. The members of Stoner University, a faction within Hoodslam that also runs a training school for up-and-coming wrestlers, stood in the center. They continued to go through the feats planned for the night, cramming in every strategy and marijuana hit they could until the venue’s doors opened for the public.

This is Stoner University’s main event, and they’ve been preparing for it all week.

The Stoner Brothers from Ryan McNulty on Vimeo.

Away from the Metro, Stoner University, named after founders Derek and Dustin Mehl’s on-stage moniker, the “Stoner Brothers,” helps conceptualize the characters its dozen-or-so students hope to step into when they’re ready to take the stage. In addition to coaching beginners, the university’s senior members use the week to continue to develop their Hoodslam act.

For Derek and Dustin, training wrestlers at their school is not just a hobby they do in their spare time; this is their career.

“We eat and breathe and sleep and shit and smoke wrestling,” Derek said. “A lot of smoke,” Dustin interjected, pausing, “and wrestling.”

Each brother measures in at 6 feet, 300 pounds, and sports straggly dark hair which has grown past their shoulders and beards which are completely unkempt. The massive brothers own the stage at Hoodslam.

They literally do. They brought it from home.

For the majority of the month, the stage sits in the middle of Victory Warehouse, just a mile from the Metro. Graffiti similar to that found in downtown Oakland covers the walls, and, along with the stage itself, supplies for the show – musical instruments, discoballs and a Hoodslam banner which looms above the stage – are stored in the space where Derek and Dustin have held their lessons for two years.

“It all started because we wanted to train all the time and to better ourselves,” Dustin said. “People have seen that and want to jump in the mix.”

“Stoner U,” he stated intensely, as if on queue. “Home of higher learning.”

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  • Dustin Mehl, known as “Rick Scott Stoner,” pins down Joel Pacheco, known as "Joe Killmeister."
  • Derek Mehl, known as “Scott Rick Stoner,” gets passed a joint during a break from wrestling practice.
  • Dustin Mehl (center) flips Aaron Mitchell, known as "Big B," (left).
  • Dustin Mehl, known as “Rick Scott Stoner,” smokes a blunt before a wrestling practice at Stoner University’s Victory Warehouse in Oakland
  • Students of Stoner U practice taking a kick to the head.
  • From left: Joel Pacheco, Dustin Mehl and Derek Mehl discuss the wrestling routine they are going to do together.
  • Brittany “Ultragirl” Wonder (left) and Christina “The Patron Saint of Filth” von Eerie (right) clothesline each other during their match at Hoodslam.
  • A.J. "Broseph Joe Brody," Kirsch, the announcer of Hoodlam, pours alcohol into the cup of an attendee at the Oakland Metro Operahouse. The wrestling show is a 21 and up event where one of the mottos is "Don't bring you F'n kids."
  • The crowd surrounds the ring while wrestlers perform at Hoodslam.

Throughout the week, Derek, Dustin and the rest of the university host sessions at the warehouse. Tuesday is beginners day, Wednesday is for more intermediate wrestlers and Thursday is match night. Match night is the time when wrestlers experience the most growth as performers.

“You can’t really prepare for wrestling by doing anything but wrestle,” said Aaron Mitchell, a student under the Stoner tutelage for over a year.

Mitchell, 32, has been training to be a professional wrestler since mid-2012 and has bounced around the Bay Area’s different wrestling schools.

“If you want to get into wrestling at all, you have to go through a school,” Mitchell said.

The learning trajectory at Stoner University fits into this philosophy: wrestle, then wrestle some more.

“If they want to go do cardio and run miles, go to the gym,” Derek said. “When you’re here, you go to the ring. We’ll teach you how to wrestle, and that’s it.”

Focusing on wrestling allows the performers to learn at their own pace and grow in the areas most beneficial to their prospective career paths.

“They gear the training to each individual,” said Chris Crotte, 35, a military veteran who travels to the university from Sacramento. “It’s all wrestling.”

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Dustin Mehl, known as “Rick Scott Stoner,” (left) and Derek Mehl, known as “Scott Rick Stoner,” (bottom) work together to slam “Cereal Man.”

Along with being one’s best route to success, being a part of a wrestling school has given this group unity and a sense of inclusion they haven’t found elsewhere. For Crotte, who went through two tours of duty in Afghanistan, “it’s therapeutic. It’s a good outlet: slam things around and get slammed yourself.”

“I never had that acceptance in life,” Crotte said of the camaraderie at Stoner University. “Everyone wants to be a part of something and feel like they’ve earned it.”

Hoodslam’s wrestlers are the main attraction, but there are other characters of the show that are vital to its continued success. The Stoner Brothers and their team hope to contribute to all of it and are providing training for individuals interested in any part of the show, including referees.

During a wrestling match at Hoodslam, the referee plays the part of a semi-involved mediator, but behind the scenes they prepare just like the other performers. They learn the same stunts as their counterparts, such as flying kicks, leg drops, knee drops, moonsaults and shooting stars. A referee knowing all of this, and being able to perform it, is a vital part in the show as it allows them to know when something goes wrong and react accordingly.

For aspiring performers, learning the art of professional wrestling from those that have extensive experience can be the difference in a bad situation. Shane “Wiggles” Wignall, 24, has been training to be a referee at Stoner University since February.

“If you try to train yourself or if you’re working with people who are untrained, you take the chance of hurting someone,” Wignall said.

In addition to finding an outlet and space for camaraderie, the dozen or so students have found mentors in the Stoner Brothers.

“It’s a family atmosphere,” Crotte said. “It’s like being in a room with brothers; it’s my new brotherhood.”

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Brothers Dustin (left) and Derek (right) Mehl celebrate together after slamming one of their opponents during Hoodslam.

This inclusive, inspirational atmosphere creates the sort of learning environment the Stoner Brothers hope will elevate their students to where they strive to be.

“We are highly motivated to make pro wrestlers out of our students,” Dustin said, but the brother’s students are getting so much more out of their experience than that.

“When I’m there in the ring, nothing else matters,” Wignall said. “It doesn’t matter that I missed my deadline at work. It doesn’t matter that I’m late on my rent payment. The only thing that matters right then is what’s happening right in front of me.”

Through the Cracks in the Groove

Photo by James Chan

By Lupita Uribe

[dropcap size=”50px”]W[/dropcap]hen you hear the words “record label,” San Francisco is not the first city that comes to mind –possibly because the commercial record labels are located in the southern region of our golden state. Though San Francisco has never been a mecca for the commercial music industry, according to Jon Bendich a former touring musician, commercial songwriter and current assistant professor at SF State’s Music and Recording Industry program, in the early 2000s the Bay Area was the highest producing region of independent labels.

The Bay Area has inspired and played an important role in past music movements; from its renowned jazz scene in the Fillmore District, to the 924 Gilman punk scene, to being the home of prominent psychedelic rock musicians such as The Grateful Dead. Unlike Los Angeles, the scene is stripped of bright lights, fake tans and auto-tuned musicians, which, while appealing to some, doesn’t exactly scream “showbiz.” Regardless of that, nestled in overpriced rented spaces or functioning straight out of homes, there are independent Bay Area record labels establishing themselves and maintaining business.

San Francisco has historically seen labels come and go with some more short lived than others. One notorious Bay Area record label, 415 Records, was a short-lived independent label that released fundamental records in the genres of new wave and post-punk. Record labels such as Prank Records, 1-2-3-4 GO! Records and Fat Wreck Records found themselves in staff changes and eventually, direction changes where some steered toward more digital music and focusing primarily on distribution. Similarly the evolution of 415 Records was guaranteed to happen; it was just a matter of what form the label would take. In this case, the label was sold in 1989 after an 11-year run, and founding members of 415 Records went on to other independent and mainstream levels of the industry.

The amount of record stores that were open throughout the ‘80s and ‘90s catering to music that ranged from punk to traditional Latin music, were clear indicators of the emergence of labels and the need to distribute. Although mail order was one of the bigger points of access for people to listen to their favorite artists from specific labels like 1-2-3-4 GO! Records opened stores to distribute titles within their label, such as Shannon and the Clams and Nobunny. However, other storefronts, such as the very popular and unique Discolandia, were central hubs for everything Latin, and connected the Mission District community to a variety of artists on local and international labels up until its closing in 2011.

Although San Francisco hasn’t always had a strong label structure for licensing – compared to other major label markets such as New York or LA – it has always had a strong core foundation in creation, production, distribution and performance of music, according to SF State’s Music and Recording Industry Program Director Robert Collins.

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Robert W. Collins shows a sound board used to teach classes in SF State’s College of Extended Learning Tuesday Oct 27. Photo by James Chan

Collins, who spent many years working in the music industry, started off as a music fan simply looking over friends’ contracts with labels. He began working at record labels in his early ‘20s and later went on to be the general manager of underground hip-hop label Ground Control Records. He also managed legendary local rap group Zion I, who have toured the world.

While touring, Collins also noted how San Francisco differed from other markets with its plethora of niche markets like Latin jazz, punk and underground hip-hop. He credits the Bay Area for instilling an “independent hustle” characteristic in local music moguls that carried into other aspects of the industry.

“As you started to move around, and you started to tour, that’s where you would move that independent hustle,” Collins said in reference to how the independent labels and artists had a stronger sense of urgency to make their money without the backing of a major label.

There has also been a shift in the way record labels are established and functioning now, which affects the San Francisco Bay Area. Bendich notes that it is much easier to be a label now. Digitizing music distribution has cut the costs of what is necessary to be a label, making it much more accessible, according to Bendich. He believes modern day record labels cut down on their costs and overhead fees.

[pullquote align=”right”]“You don’t have to have a warehouse to store records, because you don’t have physical records anymore –you’re distributing them digitally.” – Jon Bendich[/pullquote]

“You don’t have to have office space because you don’t have to have a staff to do everything, you can do it all on your computer,” Bendich said. “You don’t have to have a warehouse to store records, because you don’t have physical records anymore –you’re distributing them digitally.”

The absence of physical records also cuts down costs with regards to having a distributor. There is no longer a middle man to get your records sold, therefore you make a more direct profit. In the absence, the record label still acts as the bridge between artists and platforms of digital distribution such as iTunes and Spotify, as well as tying other loose ends and doubling up as an overarching artist manager.

The industry’s new accessibility allows a variety of people to establish their own record label, and not all labels are aiming to hit fame.

Cubby Control Records is based out of San Francisco and was established not for glory, but for hobby. Owner Brian Weaver works as a librarian at the San Francisco Public Library, and established the label as a medium to bring together his previous works and continue having a creative outlet.

“When I was younger I had ideas, or ambitions, that I (was) going to make it big at some point,” Weaver said. “At a certain point I came to realize ‘I’m not making money with this, I probably won’t make any money with this’ so I had to think about a career and stability.”

Weaver has performed in several bands and had a key role in Cubby, a collective of artists and musicians based out of San Francisco, but he does not question his decision to pursue a career as a librarian. He credits his job at the library for allowing his pursuit of his hobby.

“Having a full time job inhibits my ability to work on the label and to make music as much as I would like to,” Weaver said.

With independent labels being at the heart of the San Francisco Bay Area music scene, whether it is as a medium of self expression, desire to create, or desire to make profits, it is expected that niche markets will continue to influence those labels and keep them surviving.

Oakland Opportunity: Chapter 510

Margaret Miller has been working as a volunteer and site coordinator at Chapter 510, an Oakland literacy and writing project, for the past year. Photo by Kate Nevé

 

A group of 10th grade students gather in a room at MetWest High School, located in East Oakland. “Independent work time” is in session. Students are huddled together, or off alone in the corner as they work on writing assignments that range from book reports to critical responses. However, due to Chapter 510, no student truly works alone.

In January of 2014, Chapter 510 project director and founder Janet Heller, and her team of 16 volunteers, began offering one-on-one writing tutoring to MetWest’s freshman class. Now, after a year’s worth of growing in volunteers and resources, Chapter 510 has volunteered a total of 1,000 hours with MetWest’s freshman class.

The summer prior to Chapter 510’s beginning, Heller said she sensed a vital need for a youth-oriented writing organization in Oakland – something that teaches youth how to empower themselves through writing, providing them with resources, such as experienced writers, to enhance their literary skills.

Heller followed her instincts, rallied up a staff and volunteers, and launched Chapter 510.

In addition to tutoring at MetWest, Chapter 510 offers free creative writing and poetry workshops throughout the year to students, ages 5 to 18.

Heller said Chapter 510 is the most ambitious project she has ever ran.

“I feel a strong sense of satisfaction, people are excited about Chapter 510,” Heller says.

Heller chose the name Chapter 510 because the organization is rooted in Oakland, and is considered a chapter of 826 Valencia, a nonprofit organization in the Mission that offers tutoring and writing workshops to youth ages 6 through 18. The program’s funding comes from private donors and partnerships with other foundations, such as the Oakland Public Library and the Philanthropic Ventures Foundation.

Heller decided to partner with MetWest because she was already involved with the school’s mentoring program. When Heller questioned the school’s staff about what areas needed improvement, they said the ninth graders needed the most assistance with writing.

Volunteer Margaret Miller, a recent graduate of Mills College’s Master of Fine Arts program, tutors twice a week at MetWest. In the large sunlit classroom, Miller walks over to one her favorite groups, three 15-year-old girls, and brainstorms with them, helping them discover what they want to write about for their next response paper. The trio decide to write analytical responses to two articles written by feminist authors Roxane Gay and Clementine Ford.

Miller scans the responses for run-on sentences, removes unnecessary commas, and points out when the student’s voice changes from third person to first person. Her advice is taken with no offense by the students, because after a year of volunteering, Miller is no stranger to the class.

“Janet and Margaret are my two favorite volunteers. I like their attitudes and they’re really encouraging,” says Kayla Keith, a 15-year-old sophomore at MetWest.

Miller said tutoring at MetWest presented her with the opportunity to see MetWest students mature as writers, and as individuals. However, gaining the students’ trust took time and consistency.

“I think those first couple of weeks are the hardest,” she said, recalling her first tutoring experiences, “Because they need to know you and know that you’re actually going to continue to show up.”

Laurie Loftus, 47, began volunteering in the fall of 2014. She compared the moment of waiting for a student to choose a volunteer to a girl waiting for a boy to ask her onto the floor at a high school dance.

“You’re just waiting for someone to pick you, you have to drop your ego at the door and not take anything personally,” Loftus says.

Miller said that the combination of race differences and being a stranger also affected students’ decision to open up and trust her. Standing at 5’2″ with light brown eyes, cropped bleach-blonde hair and a light complexion, Miller is the minority at Metwest. Of the 136 students, half are Latino, 30 percent are African-American, 13 percent are Asian-American, and 7 percent are white.

“Students are typically more scared off or skittish at first because they are like, ‘Are you just doing this because you’re white and feel bad?’” Miller says. “And it’s like, ‘No, I actually really like working with you and I’m doing this out of my free time, but not because I feel sorry for you.”

Kayla Keith, a 15-year-old sophomore at MetWest high school and an intern at Chapter 510, poses among the shelves at Pegasus & Pendragon Books, after a reading of recent works from Oakland based youth poets. The poets reading their work have all been featured in the most recent publication of Chapter 510, a book of poems from the Oakland Youth Poet Laureate Program.
Kayla Keith, a 15-year-old sophomore at MetWest high school and an intern at Chapter 510, poses among the shelves at Pegasus & Pendragon Books after a reading of recent works from Oakland-based youth poets. The poets reading their work have all been featured in the most recent publication of Chapter 510, a book of poems from the Oakland Youth Poet Laureate Program. Photo by Helen Tinna

Kayla Keith said that at first she was hesitant to work with the volunteers. Reaching almost 5’10, with brown, shoulder length hair, light brown skin, and brown almond eyes, Keith felt wary about creating a relationship with Miller.

“I was like, ‘Oh great, now I’m going to have other people hounding me to do my work, and now I’m going to actually be productive,” Keith said.

Yet her decision led to her success. After deciding to open up to Heller and Miller, Keith said that her writing abilities and confidence rose. When it was time to complete the writing portion of the California High School Examination Test, Keith was prepared.

“I was like, ‘Oh my god, I am so thankful I have people other than my teacher to help me get ready for this essay. I was on top of the world because I know I did everything right,” Keith says. “I know how to use commas, I know all of these things, and that was all because of Chapter 510 and working with them for a year and a half.”

According to the Chapter 510 first semester evaluation report, 80 percent of students reported feeling more confident with their writing abilities, and 92 percent reported overall improvement in their school work.

Besides advancing MetWest students’ writing, creating mentor-like relationships between the volunteers and students is another byproduct of Chapter 510.

One of Miller’s favorite moments when volunteering was when she explained reverse racism to two male students.

“They were really frustrated how white police officers treated them and they had an adult tell them at some point that they were being racists, and I thought that was a great moment to talk to them about how there’s no such thing as reverse racism,” said Miller.

Miller concedes to the certain advantages she had as a white woman, and in response to her honesty the students opened up.

“They were just totally blown away by the fact that I was willing to have that conversation and acknowledge my own privilege in front of them, not only as a volunteer but as someone that’s white,” said Miller.

Chapter 510’s next move is to reach out and work with an Oakland middle school, but according to Heller the decision on which middle school is still in the works. Another goal of Chapter 510 is to secure a permanent location with programs such as homework assistance for kids K-12. Until then, Chapter 510 will continue to partner with Oakland schools like MetWest, and offer students academic support and mentor-like relationships.

“It really isn’t about some form of resource like a laptop or scholarship that will make the student do the work or walk through an opportunity. It’s about feeling confident, and that’s what we’re bringing to kids,” Heller says.

Game of Drones

Be sure to check out more of this story in this month’s edition of Xpress Magazine! Photos by Drake Newkirk

Teams of builders, college graduates, and hobbyists gathered to fight each other to the death on a large field at Oakland’s Shoreline Park. They’ve come with knowledge of robotics to commandeer aerial drones to fight, or race, one another in a battle of speed and finesse. Their weapons: flying robots, or drones, are still under review by the Federal Aviation Commission. However, that hasn’t stopped Marque Cornblatt from pitting them against one another to fight in an arena-style tournament he calls Game of Drones.

Cornblatt is an SF State alumnus and co-founder of Game of Drones, an Oakland-based company, which launched a successful Kickstarter, early last year that enabled them to purchase a 3D printer to craft prototype parts for an indestructible drone body. The end product is their Hiro airframe, an impact and fire body that weighs less than a pound.

The Kickstarter, which raised $51,143, was a tremendous success and convinced Cornblatt to launch his hardware company with Eli Delia, also a co-founder.

“I like to call myself a garage engineer,” said Cornblatt, as he reflected on his passion for machinery.

YouTube videos posted by Cornblatt’s production company show him and his colleagues attempting to destroy their drone frame by: shooting it with shotgun shells, savagely beating it with a baseball bat, and attempting to set it on fire.

As a student, Cornblatt studied various degrees of machine art, a deviation from contemporary art forms that focused on bold colors and mechanistic forms. What was initially a hobby, the Kickstarter convinced him that drones can be a viable business.

He and Delia are expected to launch an entire product line related to Game of Drones mid-2015. Until then, they’ve been busy contacting the Federal Aviation Administration regarding regulation as well as filing patents for their products.

Back at Shoreline Park, an audience waits for a drone race to start. Randy Parco regularly attends Game of Drones and brought his family to watch him compete in the races. According to Parco, he learned a lot about drone assembly by watching tutorials on YouTube. Similar to how car enthusiasts would modify their cars to obtain peak performance, these YouTube engineers and hobbyists are altering their drones to obtain a competitive edge. Parco equipped his drone with a first-person camera and GPS stabilizers to assist him during the race.

“People are just geeking out on the technology,” Parco said. “You need to learn how to fly or else your drone will land on the White House Lawn.”

DJI, a Chinese-based company, introduced their Phantom drone to the U.S market, which helped paved the way for a mainstream audience to adopt drone flying as a hobby. Unfortunately, their drone was the same one that crashed on White House grounds in early 2015, where an un-named government employee crashed his Phantom drone in a drunken stupor at 3 a.m. Despite it being illegal to fly a model aircraft or drone in the nation’s capital, the pilot was not charged. DJI responded by issuing a firmware update called the “White House Patch” which limits flights above Washington D.C., according to their press release.

Parco said that the White House incident could have been avoided if the pilot treated the drone with some respect. He added that the drone pilots must be passionate about their vehicles, because passion is a key to proper flying.

Parco brought two of his drones, which he learned to create by watching various YouTube instructional videos, to Shoreline Park. With a front row view of the action, strapped with a Fat Shark brand headset, he raced his camera-equipped drone.

“If you’re really into it, you’re going to fall off your chair,” said Parco.

Tinkering away across the field, Frank Aalbers brought both his racing and fighting drone to the event. Aalbers, who works at Pixar as a technical director, started working with drones only half a year ago, had four of his drones on display on a picnic table. His fighting drone, Metallico, or as he called it “El Metallico”, was set to fight in Game of Drones. The rules for the deathmatch are simple: Two drones enter the arena, last one flying wins, and if both drones crash, the first one back in the air is the victor.

The drone arena, also known as the battlecage, consists of a net barrier that prevents the drones from wildly spinning out after clashing into one another. Aalbers, wearing a black conference shirt tucked underneath a pair of ashen-gray pants, is seen smiling as he enters the cage. His drone is equipped with two fixed metal prongs resembling helicopter blades with the words “protect” sharpied on each. This modification gives Metallico a unique look from the other fighters as it cuts through the air.

However, Metallico did not win its first fight, the metal prongs and parts of its rotor were ripped apart by the opponent. Thomas Jacobson is fighting Aalbers with his drone named Spike, which is decorated with numerous sharp metal prongs protruding from its body. Jacobson uses these spikes to his advantage by hovering over the enemy and quickly impaling them by slamming its body towards the ground.

Amy Chen Aalbers came to support her husband Frank.

“He’s 50 years old and he’s acting like a kid again!” screamed Chen, as Aalbers was fighting again in the battlecage, his screams of jolly laughter reverberated through the park.

“Your next pizza, maybe 15 years from now, may be delivered by these guys,” Chen laughed as she discussed the possible impact of drones in the future.

Game of Drones has been featured on numerous news outlets such as Good Morning America and Wired. Cornblatt had no clue that the popularity of Game of Drones would such a spectacle that it would turn out to be. His friend, Edie Sellers, expressed much excitement over the future potential impact of drones.

“This feels like the beginning of the internet,” said Sellers. “It’s like a lemonade stand that exploded! It’s been a hell of a lot of fun.”

According to Sellers, Cornblatt, Delia, and everyone working with Game of Drones, they are searching for ways to cooperate with the FAA in establishing drone safety awareness. Sellers referred to drone regulation as uncharted territory, and factored in the potential impact Game of Drones will have in establishing safety regulations. Coincidentally, the FAA posted updated drone safety guidelines that same day, she noted.

As the sun was setting, Cornblatt and Sellers expressed excitement for next month’s Game of Drones.

“We’re only going to have more spectators every single time!” stated Sellers as she smiled and gazed at the park.

Cornblatt had recently returned from New York to videotape a segment on Good Morning America in which he flew and showcased his drones to millions of viewers across the   country.

“Our next phase is getting investment capital to expand past our initial Kickstarter campaign,” said Cornblatt.

Until then, he and his company will continue facilitating Game of Drones events as well as working with other various drone organizations to build the foundation for proper drone etiquette and regulations.

Oakland welcomes new art gallery

The first group show at Good Mother gallery, Tired Hands, brought out the largest crowd for an art reception I’ve ever seen in SF or Oakland. As I approached the gallery I could see from the end of the block that the crowd was stretching past the neighboring storefronts and off of the sidewalk.

On Friday, January 29th, Oakland welcomed the newest edition of art spaces in the downtown cluster of art galleries. The grand opening reception of Good Mother gallery featured the work of over 50 artists in the Bay Area and beyond.

The crowd inside felt like a packed club or bar, with a live DJ playing from the second floor balcony and drinks being handed out at the front desk. Behind the front desk were shelves with zines, prints, tee shirts for sale, resembling a kiosk. Wall to wall was arranged with art, from paintings, illustrations, photographs, prints, and sculptures. The crowd slowing made their way through the first floor seeing both walls of work and up the staircase featuring a mural to the second floor to find more prints and paintings.  The crowd was buzzing. People were taking photos of themselves and their friends. Featured artists and their supporters were chatting about the work and Good Mother Gallery.

A crowd fills Good Mother gallery at the reception of 'Tired Hands' on Friday January 29, 2015. (Derek Macario/Xpress Magazine)
A crowd fills Good Mother gallery at the reception of ‘Tired Hands’ on Friday January 29, 2015. (Derek Macario/Xpress Magazine)

In the past fews years the Oakland art scene has been growing rapidly, particularly around 15th street near the downtown area. As with Le QuiVive gallery establishing a growing following and drawing in large crowds. Other galleries that have opened last year include Mary Weather Apparel and Naming Gallery, and have been magnetic to the community. These galleries have been spaces for the public to come together, and have been attracting much of the younger crowd that has been scarcer in San Francisco.

Owners of Good Mother gallery, Ian Jethmal, Calvin Wong, and Jared Jethmal before the inaugural reception and grand opening , on Friday January 29, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Brock Brake)
Owners of Good Mother gallery, Ian Jethmal, Calvin Wong, and Jared Jethmal before the inaugural reception and grand opening , on Friday January 29, 2015. (Photo courtesy of Brock Brake)

The Jethmal Brothers, Jared and Ian, and a friend, Calvin Wong, are the owners of Good Mother Gallery. They have been working in the San Francisco and Oakland art scene for the last few years while also attending art schools, at Academy of the Arts and SFAI.

Today is the last day to view ‘Tired Hands’ at Good Mother Gallery and they will be having having a closing reception starting at 7pm with music by Divisions and Laureen Zouai.

I spoke with The Jethmal Brothers about their experience so far with Good Mother.  I’ll be referring to myself, Derek, as D, Jared as J, and Ian as I.

Derek: Opening a gallery in Oakland has been on your radar for some time now, what attracts you to Oakland as a place for art. Were you guys ever really considering SF, or not?

Jared: Oakland is an epicenter for art right now in my eyes, its just lucky that we happen to live here. People travel here from all over the world to here specifically for the art scene. The shit is everywhere, from inside gallery walls to directly in your face all over the Oakland streets and pretty much everywhere in between. Opening in San Francisco was considered but just not a possibility due to high rent prices, and more strict city codes and what not.

SFSU senior printmaking student, Ryan Whelan, next to his work at the reception of 'Tired Hands' at Good Mother, on  January 29, 2015. (Derek Macario/ Xpress Magazine)
SFSU senior printmaking student, Ryan Whelan, next to his work at the reception of ‘Tired Hands’ at Good Mother, on January 29, 2015. (Derek Macario/ Xpress Magazine)

D: You have a good relationship with the other galleries nearby, do yo wish you were closer or it doesn’t make that big a different to not be on 15th?

J: The few block difference doesn’t really affect us in anyway but stretches out the ‘art walk’ I guess you could say. The block we are currently on has a ton of rad stuff going on, and they’ve been more than welcoming. So we’re more than happy where we are.

D: What has the support been like from your network of relationships with artists, other galleries and your neighbors? What kind of help and advice have really worked for Good Mother?

J: All of our homies, our families, and homies of homies have been incredibly helpful. There’s a huge web of people I could list and it would probably take hours. Everyone on the 15th St block and our entire neighborhood in general has been super supportive from the very gate. They’ve been super welcoming and ultimately were just hyped to be a part of that community.

D: For Ian, you are still in school right now, how are you handling that on top of all the work getting the gallery ready and running? And how does that even feel, to have a gallery but still be in school?

Ian: I actually just graduated from the Academy of Art about a week before the shows opening. Balancing school, work, and renovations were hectic to say the least. Even though it was tough, but I pretty much knew the major goal I was striving for was opening this space, so the majority of my time went in that direction. As far as my thoughts on owning a gallery right now… I couldn’t really tell you how I feel about it. I wanna say stoked but thats a huge understatement. I’m just grateful in so many ways and to so many people and I’m just still in awe of all this work we’ve been putting in finally coming together.

D: Jared, you were doing some curating last year, how do go about your selection. What are some of the things you look at in work that you like? And why?

J: I guess I have a weird curating style, I love doing group shows. More specifically I love doing group shows without themes. I like giving artists full creative freedom. I choose the artist, being a fan of their work, and knowing fully what they bring to the table will be sick. Art is so subjective though, that I am a fan of what I am a fan of, and thats who I choose to exhibit. That may not come across the same to some people.

D: Tired Hands is featuring works from some well known established and emerging artists from the Bay Area, like APEX, Meryl Pataky, Chad Hasegawa, Aaron Kai, among others who you’ve worked with before in different ways. But what about some other artists many people haven’t heard much about, like Michelle Fleck and Ryan Whelan, how did you come across some of these artists and decide to include them?

J: We chose the artists that we are all huge fans of, whether they are ‘established’ or not was not so much a factor in curating the show. And that is kind of the intention with our gallery, to show artists with notoriety paired with artists with maybe lesser notoriety, who are just as talented and deserve the attention. That was the idea behind that and what well continue to do in future exhibits.

SFSU alumni, Michelle Fleck, next to her painting at the reception of 'Tired Hands' at Good Mother, on January 29, 2015. (Derek Macario/ Xpress Magazine)
SFSU alumni, Michelle Fleck, next to her painting at the reception of ‘Tired Hands’ at Good Mother, on January 29, 2015. (Derek Macario/ Xpress Magazine)

D: 50 plus artists is a big line up, I sometimes feel when group shows get too big I don’t get to really see the art, but instead just skip over either artists I’m not familiar with or art that doesn’t stand out. Especially if a majority of the works are small. How do you guys feel about other big group shows you’ve seen and what will be in Tired Hands?

J:  I can see that, when there’s a ton of work up you tend to skip over things that don’t immediately catch your eye. With Tired Hands we tried to touch on a lot of different styles, from fine art, to illustration, to graffiti, etc. So that there is something for fans of each genre. In my opinion, all the work is so good that you won’t want to skip over anything.

Art work featured in 'Tired Hands' at Good Mother gallery, on Friday January 29, 2015. (Derek Macario/Xpress Magazine)
Art work featured in ‘Tired Hands’ at Good Mother gallery, on Friday January 29, 2015. (Derek Macario/Xpress Magazine)

D: Oakland seems to be a place where there is a lot of room, and I feel like that allows for different communities come together and interact. How do you guys like the community out there? What are some moments you’ve really enjoyed in Oakland?

J: Yeah, definitely, Oakland is a very diverse place and that allows for a lot of different crowds to interact. Thats what makes Oakland so sick. It’s has a very, very communal vibe which I think is kind of the main difference between it and San Francisco. As far as moments I enjoy in Oakland, uhm, the late night taco truck sesh on the other side of the lake was a frequent.

Guests check out the art  featured in 'Tired Hands' at Good Mother gallery, on Friday January 29, 2015. (Derek Macario/Xpress Magazine)
Guests check out the art featured in ‘Tired Hands’ at Good Mother gallery, on Friday January 29, 2015. (Derek Macario/Xpress Magazine)

D: What else does Good Mother have planned for the near future?

J: Good Mother’s future plans are pretty much keep pumping out good shows for people to look forward to. Show the community a lot of really good art. That’s our main goal right now so that’s what you can expect for the next couple years. Who know’s what’ll happen. We got a couple pop up shows (music shows, a zine fest, etc)  coming through the month of February while ‘Tired Hands’ is on display. After that we will be having another big group show on the First Friday of March so stay posted for that.

Good Mother’s next opening is on Friday March 6 for the group show ‘2’.

Good Mother gallery is located at 408 13 St, Oakland.

@goodmothergallery

Rapper “The Jacka” Shot And Killed in Oakland

The Jacka was reportedly shot and killed this morning in Oakland. Photo from The Contra Costa Times.

A Bay Area rap veteran was shot and killed in an apparent shooting in East Oakland Monday night, KPIX-TV reported. KPIX 5 Reporter Christin Ayers confirms that the victim was 37-year-old Dominic Newton, who went by the stage name “The Jacka.”

According to CBS San Francisco witnesses said they heard several shots fired around 8:15 p.m. on MacArthur Boulevard and 94th Avenue.

The gunman is still unidentified. According to Mercury News, the Police and Crime Stoppers are offering as much as $20,000 reward or information leading to the arrest of the killer. Anyone with information may call police at 510-238-3821 or Crime Stoppers at 510-777-8572.

The American rapper got his start in Pittsburg with his first group Mob Figz, whose first album ’C-Bo’s Mob Figaz was released in 1999, according to AllMusic. In the early years of his career, he was influenced by local heroes such as C-BO, Mac Dre, and Too Short.

According to AllMusic, he launched his solo career in 2001 with a self-titled album. His second album, The Jack Artist, appeared in 2005, followed by a series of mixtapes and street level releases. In 2008 he won Ozone Magazine’s Patiently Waiting: California award.

In early 2010, The Jacka released his most recent album, Broad Daylight. He ran his own record label, called Artist Records.

According to iMesh Box, Newton converted to Islam in an early age and changed his name to Shaheed Akbar. He was born to teenage parents and raised in a hip hop culture, iMesh Box reports:

“I spent so many years in the studio just making songs, I really practice my craft. I make good music and a lot of these cats just do it because they wanna be famous. When they got the ball they dropped it because they’re not as raw as people was making them out to be, you know? I always had to prove myself and I never had anybody to just hand me anything, I was always putting in that work.”

The Jacka was 37-years-old. A rapper gone to soon. #TheJacka

 

 

“Paw-sing” to de-stress

Latin Studies major Jessica Jimenez, 20, pets a 5-year-old German Shepard therapy dog named Maggie at during a SF State Student Health Services event on campus. (Sara Gobets/ Xpress Magazine)
Latin Studies major Jessica Jimenez, 20, pets a 5-year-old German Shepard therapy dog named Maggie at during a SF State Student Health Services event on campus. (Sara Gobets/ Xpress Magazine)

The sidewalks surrounding the corner of 29th and Broadway in Oakland are packed with curious passersby peeping in through large floor-length windows. They peek into a cat’s paradise: scratch pads, various cat trees, teaser cat toys, and shiny frill ball toys are laid out around the room. Nine friendly cats of differing breeds and ages are spread out in the cat zone; one receiving belly rubs from a child as it’s stretched out on a lounge chair, another sits on a man’s lap. Smiles radiate from all but one person during the grand opening of America’s first cat café. She stands in the middle of the room overwhelmed by emotions. As tears begin to roll down her cheeks, she whispers to Cat Man Adam Myatt and says, “It makes me so sad that they don’t have a home.”

Upon entering Cat Town Café and Adoption Center, it looks like your average corner coffee shop. Dark-roast coffee is dripping at the counter with a wide array of cat-shaped cookies to accompany them. Cat postcards and cat pillows are available to purchase and watercolor cat portraits by artist Megan Lynn Knott decorate the walls. Through a set of double doors, the space transforms into a cat lover’s dream where you can hug, pet, and talk to fuzzy feline friends. The themed café, which opened its doors on October 25th, was created to free up some space at the already busy Oakland shelter and aid in helping find displaced cats a home.

The cat café trend, made popular in Japan since the early 2000s, is catered to urban dwellers that may not have the ability to have their own animal at their homes. Instead, they attend these cafés to escape from their busy metropolitan lifestyle and lounge in a welcoming space with free-roaming cats.

KitTea, San Francisco’s very own version of a cat café is soon set to open in Hayes Valley. The idea for the café was thought up when Courtney Hatt, a tech startup worker, found herself stressed and uncomfortable in a busy café. During that visit, she encountered an article about Japan’s cat cafés and thought the therapeutic oasis would be a perfect addition to San Francisco culture.

KitTea will be an onsite adoption center for about ten friendly cats at a time, as well as a zen tea house with sustainable teas from a partnered Japanese Farm. Hatt describes the cafe as a “cat friendly spa.”

Hatt recalls her own experience with an unintended session of animal therapy. Lying down with her chest so tight that she could hardly breathe; she was having a panic attack. Almost instantly, like a radar was sent to her cat, it hopped up on her chest at the exact moment of struggle. Listening and concentrating to the cat’s steady purr led her back to a healthy breath and moment of relaxation. She believes in the beneficial properties that can come from cat interaction. “A purr and/or clear appreciation of touch, gives me a sense of peace and love from deep within,” says Hatt.

Daniel “DQ” Quagliozzi, cat behaviorist, contacted KitTea, upon hearing of their launch, to provide insight on creating a social atmosphere for cats and humans. Quagliozzi believes that KitTea will be a valuable community resource due to the stress and anxiety that humans can get caught up in.

“Cats help us slow down and live in the moment, because that’s what they do,” says Quagliozzi about their ability to help us de-stress. “The human and animal bond alone is a very powerful thing,” he expresses.

The first contemporary setting of animal assisted therapy occurred in the early 1960s, when a child psychologist discovered the benefits of animal interaction by pure accident. Boris Levinson, considered the founder of animal assisted therapy, would bring his dog Jingles into therapy sessions with a disturbed uncommunicative child. Having the dog in session, allowed for the child’s defenses to soften, which, in turn, allowed Levinson to initiate therapy. Upon the breakthrough, Levinson began to do extensive research on the subject and coined the term animal therapy in 1964.

Now, animal therapy is used worldwide to treat various mental health issues including: stress, anxiety, grief, loneliness, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), according to Christine Morley, health educator at SF State. For the last couple months, she has been working with the San Francisco SPCA and Therapy Dogs International to bring therapy dogs to campus on frequent basis.

“Students experience stress all semester long. I thought it would be a really great service to have them come more often because you have stress from the first day of classes until the end of classes,” says Morley.

The sessions are offered as an effort to promote overall wellness on campus including proper sleep and stress relief. Anywhere from two to four dogs and their owners will come to campus for an hour-long session. The sessions are typically held in the garden area on top of the Student Health Center on the SF State campus. Any student can walk up to hug, pet, and cuddle with the dogs for as long as they please.

On a recent Tuesday, Shelley Fineman brought her longhaired German Shepherd Maggie for a campus visit. The event attracted seventy-one students and campus staff, providing them with a stress-free break away from exams, research papers, and classes. Maggie, a retired search and rescue dog, was dressed with a red handkerchief around her neck and a yellow triangle-shaped tag that read “I am a therapy dog” for easy identification. Students smiled and giggled as they encountered the energetic pup. A student ran up saying “I’ve been waiting for this my whole life” as she bent down to hug Maggie.

Although not enough research on animal therapy has been done to determine a direct correlation between an increase in mental health and the interaction with animals, various studies show that it will decrease stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline. The contact with animals will also increase healthy hormones like oxytocin, dopamine, and endorphins that promote happiness.

“Being in the presence of a dog can be calming. You’re body comes to a neutral state of calmness and less stress,” says Morley. She believes the recent recognition of bringing therapy animals to college campuses is due to realizing something has to be done about how stressed college students can get.

The simple act of petting an animal can elicit a relaxation response that can lower blood pressure and anxiety, according to Morley. Cat cafés or visits with therapy dogs are being used as ways to decrease stress. “It’s an easy way to go and get your cat-snuggle fix in and not worry about anything,” she says about the cafés.

Like Hatt, Quagliozzi is intrigued about the benefits of animal interaction and hopes to see cafés of its kind everywhere.

KitTea anticipates an end of the year opening in San Francisco and other cities across America hope to follow suit. Meow Parlour in New York has a tentative December 15th opening date and The Cat Café in San Diego is working on their space.

The ever-expanding cat culture in America has helped promote the openings of the cafés, but perhaps it’s the free therapy that will keep them around.

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  • Bryce, the cat, naps on top of a cat tree on Saturday, during the Cat Town Cafe and Adoption Center grand opening. (Lissette Vargas/ Xpress Magazine)
  • Coffee mugs with Cat Town Cafe and Adoption Center’s logo are displayed for sale. (Lissette Vargas/ Xpress Magazine)
  • Crowds gather at the window to peer into the grand opening of America’s first cat cafe in Oakland on Saturday. BOTTOM: (Left to Right) Zach Melamed, 20, Andrew Wong, 20, and Kelcey Dibernardo, 22, pet a 5-year-old German Shepard therapy dog named Maggie at during a SF State Student Health Services event on campus. (Sara Gobets/ Xpress Magazine)

 

Fleetwood Mac delivers an unforgettable show at Oracle Arena

The view of the Fleetwood Mac concert from the upper level seating at Oakland's Oracle Area.
The view of the Fleetwood Mac concert from the upper level seating at Oakland’s Oracle Area.

Harmony and sentiment filled the Oracle Arena as the recently reunited Fleetwood Mac took the stage Wednesday night. With Christine McVie back behind the keyboard with her low,melodic voice, this On With The Show Tour marks the first time she has appeared on stage with the band since their 1998 The Dance Tour.

Kicking off with “The Chain,” Fleetwood Mac quickly brought the crowd—almost exclusively partiers of the ’70s and ’80s with a few younger generation fans sprinkled in—to a world separated from the storm and gloom outside, filled instead with collective nostalgia and free-spirited roars.

Doused in wicked-looking layers of black, Stevie Nicks began the ongoing theme of emotional, and at moments cheesy, commentary about the band’s history and excitement towards McVie’s return. All of the bandmates, also including Lindsey Buckingham on guitar, John McVie on bass and Mick Fleetwood on drums, took their turns throughout the night to commemorate the group’s ability to prevail through the good and the bad, Christine referring to her “long lost family.”

Nicks, who spent the most mic time talking about the past, at one point spoke about starting out in San Francisco, going to the Velvet Underground where huge names such as Janis Joplin got their stage outfits, knowing one day she would be able to shop there too, which segued into “Gypsy,” featuring lyrics about the shop. She also dedicated her song “Landslide” to her first boyfriend whom she dated while attending Atherton High School.

Fleetwood Mac at performs at Oracle Arena for their On With The Show Tour.
Fleetwood Mac at performs at Oracle Arena for their On With The Show Tour.

Each and every song was belted out by the audience, with a noticeably loud reaction to “Go Your Own Way,” with Buckingham’s and Nick’s beautiful harmonizing behind McVie’s lead. Even from the very last row in the arena fans got the experience they paid for, each part and band member sounding even better than on the recorded versions blasting in the car on the way there.

The choice of stage background had some room for curiosity, changing each song between moving images of raindrops, windmills and at one point of people stuck in a storm. It could be argued a psychedelic-esque feel was intended, but it ended up being more weird and distracting, especially since the majority of the crowd has long since ended their experimental days.

The band played a near two and a half hour set with little breaks in between. As anticipated the crowd barely had to cry out for a number of encores, the highlight of them featuring Fleetwood’s impressive drum solo complemented by his cackling laughs and indiscernible chants.

Fleetwood Mac’s songs are as good as they were when first produced, and without a doubt, will outlive everyone in attendance. Although the band has gone through a range of members, these five bring out the best of it all. The talent and bond between them will hopefully be gracing stages across the world for many years to come.

The Bay Area can look forward to another visit from the legendary band, scheduled again at the Oracle Arena on April 7th of next year, where audiences will hopefully hear songs from their newest album set to be released in 2015.

Caught in the crossfire of Ferguson Protests

On New Year’s Day in 2009, twenty-two-year-old Oscar Grant was shot and killed by a BART police officer at Fruitvale station. On February 26, 2012, just shy of his seventeenth birthday, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Florida. On Aug. 6, eighteen-year-old Michael Brown was shot and killed by a Ferguson, Missouri police officer.

These occurrences took place in different cities across the US, but they all shared one too many similarities. Those killed, were unarmed Black men and their shooters were White males.

In Grant’s case, BART Police Officer Johannes Mehserle was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in county jail. In Martin’s case, Neighborhood Watch George Zimmerman was charged with second-degree murder and shortly proved not guilty. After a grand jury hearing to determine whether a crime was committed in Brown’s shooting, the jury agreed not to indict Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson.

Following each case, both peaceful and violent protests erupted when the demonstrators demanded justice for those killed. The movement #BlackLivesMatter sparked after Zimmerman’s 2012 acquittal as a call to action against racism.

According to a study done by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, in 2012 at least three-hundred-thirteen African Americans were killed by police officers, security guards, or self-appointed vigilantes. The study highlighted the militarization and brutality coming from law enforcement against black people.

On Nov. 24, when the announcement of Ferguson’s twelve-member grand jury’s decision not to indict Officer Wilson made headline news across media platforms, nationwide protests flared.

I happened to be stuck in the unexpected crossfire in two different cities last week, in Downtown Los Angeles, while I was visiting my family for Thanksgiving, and in Oakland, on my way home from the airport.

Last Tuesday, I took a trip downtown to my favorite museum, The California Science Center, which I always make an effort to visit on nearly every trip home. Little did I know that a short distance away in Leimert Park, protesters began marching down Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in my direction shouting, “Hands up, don’t shoot.”

la protest

Later that evening, protestors would downpour on the 101-freeway, blocking traffic in both directions, and lead demonstrations in various areas across the city. That day, nearly two hundred people would be arrested by the Los Angeles Police Department, according to Chief Charlie Beck. Arrests were made on multiple violations of disturbing the peace, one assault on a police officer and a handful of curfew violations.

Peaceful protests, vandalism, looting, and rioting began within moments of the announcement to not indict Wilson and this ongoing series of protests show no signs of ending anytime soon even after his resignation from the force. Each day, an impactful protest is highlighted in lieu of justice for Brown.

On Friday Nov. 28 my plane landed in the Oakland International Airport at 10:40 a.m. I quickly picked up my bags from the baggage claim carousel and jetted to the new AirBart service that takes you from the airport to the Oakland Coliseum BART Station. I ran from the drop off point to a BART train headed to San Francisco. I did not run fast enough and missed it. As I waited at the station an announcement came through the speakers that said, “…delays system wide due to civil unrest at West Oakland Station.”

I along with the rest of the holiday travelers with confused looks on our faces boarded the next BART train, unknowing of what was actually going on. The train conductor made it clear that he didn’t know what was going on either and that we would have to get off at Lake Merritt Station.

In the meantime I opened up my Twitter feed and was shocked by what I found. At approximately 10:45 a.m., five minutes after I landed, demonstrators dressed in shirts that read #BlackLivesMatter chained themselves to BART trains at West Oakland Station. BART service was halted to and from San Francisco.

bart shut down

 

Their purpose was to interrupt black Friday commerce, specifically to say that Black lives matter in wake of the court decision in Ferguson, according to an interview with Protester Mollie Costello by NBC.

As I waited outside of Lake Merritt Station with an overstuffed suitcase in hand, sun baring down on my shoulders and my phone with eight percent battery life, I debated whether to pay for a $50 Lyft ride home. My other option was to try my luck at hopping on a bus, in a part of town I am unfamiliar with, and a phone that would die in the next fifteen minutes.

Partially because I am cheap, I decided to wait with the hundreds of stressed out commuters and give them a listening ear. Some complained of being late to work or meeting up with friends, others worried of missing Black Friday sales.

Two hours later the announcement was made that trains were resuming and the look of worry melted off of people’s faces. As the large mass of people stood waiting downstairs for the train to approach, fourteen people in handcuffs chanting, “Black lives matter,” being led by police made their way up the station stairs.

That is when it hit me. The week before while watching Jon Stewart’s film Rosewater that showed footage of the citizen’s revolt against the Iranian government, I thought to myself, “Why can’t anything like that ever happen here?” Where a group of people standing up together and fighting for something powerful and in turn creating awareness towards something meaningful. Right before my eyes, it was happening. A tear fell from my eyes as I witnessed fourteen individuals in handcuffs walk past me, chanting and still showing signs of hope. They were fighting for the justice of one man, a man they did not know, for the betterment of an entire race and nation.

lake merrit vid

good

In that moment, I remembered those from earlier in the day complaining of their ruined Black Friday plans and the negligent anger and stress they felt. That sense of anger, fear, and confusion was only a fraction compared to the families, friends, and community members who witnessed someone they loved be killed by someone whose job is to protect them.

ruined bf

haha ruined

Later that evening, demonstrators broke down police barricades to protest on San Francisco’s Union Square during Macy’s tree lighting ceremony. The protest quickly escalated into a violent one; police were verbally harassed, windows were broken, stores were looted and shoppers were locked inside stores. The San Francisco Police Department announced that there were seventy-nine arrests that night. A total of five cops were wounded during the protest when passersby threw rocks and bottles, according to police chief Greg Suhr.

After watching countless of videos of the protest that night, I noticed the hate that they had against the policemen. Protestors shouted in their faces, spit in their direction and went as far as throwing things at them. Putting all cops in one category and treating them like they are all the same. This beat down on law enforcement contradicts their message to end stereotypes and racial profiling.

Just like not every cop is the same and not every person is the same, not every protest is the same. Tuesday, hundreds of protesters around the county participated in a walk out in support of Ferguson. They walked out of jobs and schools at 12:01 p.m. central time, the same time Brown was shot last month.

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Will these righteous acts make a difference? Perhaps it is too early to tell, but the nationwide gatherings are inspiring and are bringing people from all walks of life together to fight for a purpose.

Hand forged and handmade, a look into the world’s oldest art form

A hand torch is just one of the many tools used by contemporary jewelry and metal artists.  (Lissette Vargas/ Xpress Magazine)
A hand torch is just one of the many tools used by contemporary jewelry and metal artists. (Lissette Vargas/ Xpress Magazine)

It starts off as a flat copper disk. A steady stream of blue and purple fire bursts out of the blowtorch in her hand, melting the solid metal she holds up with tongs. With a heavy hammer she pounds the disk that is slowly forming into a bowl.

Dale Beevers, 39, is on her first day on the job at The Crucible’s Fall Open House on Sept. 13. About two years ago she took a moment to reflect back on her life, she looked around and realized she was not completely happy. Beevers ditched her job in the corporate world to enroll in the Jewelry and Metal Arts program at The Academy of Art. She had been interested in the field since her undergraduate degree in anthropology where she was exposed to wearable forms of art. “It was an immediate fit, it felt like coming home,” she says about the smooth transition.

The program offers industrial art students the opportunity to make a career out of their love for wearable art, as listed on their website. Careers in the discipline include: digital jewelry designer, jewelry instructor, technical designer, and 3D jewelry designer.

After getting her Master’s of fine art degree in Jewelry, Beevers decided to teach at The Crucible in West Oakland and follow the old tradition of metalsmithing where apprentices continue to teach the trade. After volunteering in the ceramics department for two years she has now moved up to a teaching assistant position.

Demonstrating the art of metalsmithing to onlookers, she pounds the metal bowl in a circular motion over and over again, waiting until it reaches perfection. “[The metal is] malleable, it’s easy to get out of shape,” she explains as she continues to strike away.

Beevers’ current body of work incorporates wood and more natural materials, creating mixed media art. Her craft style reflects narrative story telling. Her favorite piece she has created is a sterling silver bracelet that represents female identity and expression. The piece was created by taking selfies of happy moments with her and her daughter, then enameling the images onto the bracelet.

Tricia Weiner is the other woman leading demonstrations in the metalsmithing studio. She teaches casting at The Crucible. Her specialty lies in cast iron wings were she transforms metal into textured butterfly wings inspired by nature. The small delicate bumblebee wings made of bronze and sterling silver hang from a sparking chain across the chest and form a unique and elegant piece of wearable art.

Each wing, sold on her website T.Becker Jewelry and by retailers in the bay area like Presh Collective, is one of kind. Some of the wings are set with hand-cut gemstones or made from a variety of metals to ensure uniqueness in every set of wings.

Weiner’s love for metalsmithing began in college while she was attending a fine arts school in New York. She vividly remembers a metalsmithing teacher say to her, “You don’t realize your love and passion for the art until you see the metal move.” At the time, she didn’t know what that meant, but it all came clear when she formed her first bowl. “When [the flat disk] took the shape of a bowl, I was ecstatic,” she recalls. And ever since that moment, she has had to have her hands in metal in some shape or form.

After her art training she began working in jewelry shops where she continued her training and was taught perfectionism. Now she refines a design at least three times before completion, ensuring each selling piece is perfect. Although the handmade technique can be grueling, she feels that mass producing jewelry takes the specialness away from the pieces. She takes pride in having her hands work in on each and every piece in her collection.

Unique hand-crafted fine jewelry is a continuing rising trend in the bay area. The art is taught in various independent schools where you can learn to create your own jewelry.

Try your hand at jewelry making at the following locations:

The Crucible – 1260 7th St. West Oakland

Jewelry Three-Hour Taster $135

 

Sharon Art Studio – 300 Bowling Green Dr. San Francisco

Basic Jewelry and Metal Arts $208

 

Revere Academy of Jewelry Arts – 785 Market St. San Francisco

Jewelry Making 101 $225

 

 

Sticker Stealer

 John R. Henifin places new stickers on his shirt from local graffiti artist he admires. (Daniel Porter/ Xpress Magazine)
John R. Henifin places new stickers on his shirt from local graffiti artist he admires. (Daniel Porter/ Xpress Magazine)

Passersby walk their dogs and examine their phones as the wind blows, paying no mind to the man climbing up a streetlight in the middle of a busy sidewalk. One leg supported by the base, one arm hugging around the length of the pole, the Oakland resident scrapes and peels off a compilation of sticker art, previously placed on the metal signs directing pedestrians to public transportation near the intersection of Telegraph Avenue and 40th Street.

It is ten o’clock on Saturday morning and John R. Henifin sits at the MacArthur BART Station in Oakland, sipping a cup of coffee, earbuds blasting the Pixies, getting hyped for an afternoon of scavenging. The weather is warmer than usual and John takes off his brown Abercrombie fleece and heads out from the station. Within ten feet, he hands me his jacket; he has found his first canvas to empty.

The tall, green streetlight, filled from top to bottom with stickers of various sizes, is a storyboard of Bay Area art; a collection of political statements, advertisements, and personal messages. By the time we turn the corner, Henifin’s small blue v-neck is covered from front to back in the neighborhood taggers’ work.

“If someone likes my sticker enough to want to have it for their own collection, I think that is great,” says Danville sticker artist Mar Preclaro, twenty-three, who began putting up her stickers four years ago. “I liken street art to sand painting—both are beautiful and impermanent. For every piece that is scrubbed off or painted over, more appear to replace it. It reminds me that nothing in life is set in stone and if you want to leave a mark on the world, so to speak, you have to put in effort and be persistent.”

As we cross the street, the wind blows one of the stickers off Henifin’s shirt; it flies away and he dashes to catch up to it in the middle of the busy road, as the flashing red hand counts down the seconds. Able to grab the tag, he looks up and runs to the sidewalk, barely escaping the line of honking horns from disgruntled drivers.

This is just another day of collecting stickers for the twenty-seven-year-old. He carries his small, black satchel filled with razor blades, a multi-colored striped scarf, and a stack of four-by-six-inch hard fliers that he has collected from local coffee shops. His nails un-groomed, each one long enough to slide under the thin material he encounters, and already filled with dirt from collecting on his way to our meeting spot.

When there is no more space to fill on his upper body, he stops and puts all that he has gathered so far onto the back and fronts of the thick, glossy fliers. He does this to initially keep each piece in place without ruining them. The gloss takes the adhesiveness off the stickers and allows for an easier process when later placing them into the newest pages of his neatly organized binder collection, in which he will stack next to the excess of other binders on his floor-to-ceiling bookshelf at home.

“I often spend more time putting the stickers carefully into binders than I do removing them,” says Henifin. “On average, [I spend] twenty hours a week collecting and thirty hours a week sorting. Some days I will just grab a dozen or so on my way somewhere while other days I go out with a purpose and collect dozens.”

Since starting in 2009, Henifin has gotten the act of peeling and scraping stickers down to a science. He can tell how long a sticker has been posted there, what material it is made of, and whether or not he can get it off without it falling apart. His experience has given him the unique skill of knowing exactly when and where to look for stickers; finding them behind masses of plants, inside United States postal drop-off mailboxes, and one of his favorites – the large garbage can beneath the stairs at the MacArthur BART Station.

He calls himself the “Sticker Stealer,” a perfect illustration of what he has become, accumulating tens of thousands of stickers, creating his own archive of street art in the confines of his small apartment in Lake Merritt. His years of efforts are organized in binders by each month, a timeline of both consistency and change of artists who spend their days producing and printing masses of stickers to put on view. Henifin collects in Oakland, San Francisco, and anywhere he finds himself where stickers catch his eye.

“When I feel like I am ready and have enough, I will put it on display somewhere other than just online, hopefully touring it to different cities where people do not usually get to see Bay Area art,” says Henifin. “People often only think about what is in the here and now, but I am thinking this collection will be a lot more interesting in thirty plus years.”

Although Henifin enjoys collecting and saving stickers, his hobby stems from a sense of duty to himself and his community. He used to walk the same path to college every day and became annoyed by all of the pointless graffiti he would see and took it upon himself to clean it up. He also does other neighborhood cleanup like gardening, picking up garbage, and clearing water drains so that rain does not flood the streets. He has cleaned up abandoned properties and has gotten other neighbors to help with the gardening process too.

“I clean up the neighborhoods because of the positive response from the people that live in those neighborhoods, especially the business owners,” says Henifin. “I also like going to areas that I know will get tagged again because I feel it gives room for new blood and otherwise I watch it get layered, weathered, or discarded completely. With this, I get to help out my city and myself.”

Henifin keeps a razor blade on hand at all times and is always on the lookout for new sticker art pieces. A lot of the stickers are quite easy to get off of typical places that people post them: city street lights, stop signs, parking meters, and mailboxes. He gets the easy ones off first and then moves on to the harder-to-get pieces, trying never to spend more than a few seconds on each one, unless it is one he really wants.

As I ponder the reasons why anyone would waste their time collecting some of the less impressive pieces of work, Henifin explains the importance of getting a little bit of everything to show an honest reflection of all that is being put up in the neighborhood. Even the one-by-two-inch tags that give the impression of an elementary school kid attempting to graffiti his own name are found in this collection.

“I think people that put up stickers know that their art will not be there forever,” says Richmond sticker artist Andrew Snook. “By John collecting stickers, they have a chance of being preserved for a long time.”

We stop at a community mailbox outside of an apartment complex in West Oakland, a newly covered spot that Henifin had just recently cleared off himself. As he examines and peels, he offers stories of his encounters with the cops while out lifting stickers. Yet to be arrested, he has been followed and accused of placing bombs, defacing public property, and getting high, none of which held any evidence of truth. He has been physically thrown to the ground, had his property taken and broken, and been accused of lying on more than one occasion. After all this, he still continues with more passion and motivation than he ever thought he could have for such a trivial thing.

“I do not want artists to get discouraged just because there is someone like me out there who wants to share it with other cities, cultures, and decades too,” says Henifin. “Keep in mind that one person can easily put up more stickers in a day than I could take down, and I cannot go out every day.”

A native of Washington, Henifin came to the Bay Area in 2009. He has experienced months of homelessness, couch crashing, and has battled with fibromyalgia, a chronic musculoskeletal condition that causes pain and fatigue among other crippling symptoms, since 2003. As he climbs fences and paces down the busy streets, you would never guess he spent many years walking with a cane or that he was experiencing pain every minute of the day. He credits physical therapy, chiropractic care, and his loving dog, who literally stumbled into his lap one day out in the city, for his ability to walk without assistance now. He and his husband, a manager at a local 7-Eleven, have created a comfortable life in the Bay together. Although his partner does not approve of trekking through spider webs and grimy alleyways just to get a sticker, he has grown accustomed to Henifin frequently having to catch up while the two are out and about.

“I have always had collections, but this is the only one I have ever had that was really unique and not driven by money completely,” says Henifin. “I grew up collecting postage stamps, and then graduated to figurines and coins, but those all got expensive fast. Stickers has been the only hobby that I can do continuously without spending all of my cash.”

John R. Henifin organizes the stickers, he has collected, in the appropriate binder from local graffiti artist he admires. (Daniel Porter/ Xpress Magazine)
John R. Henifin organizes the stickers, he has collected, in the appropriate binder from local graffiti artist he admires. (Daniel Porter/ Xpress Magazine)

Henifin’s pursuits have led him to meet local artists and recognize those visiting the area, including one who approached him on BART: “This guy [sticker artist] saw me drawing on stickers and told me to look him up on Tumblr, now I cannot go anywhere in Oakland or San Francisco without seeing WasteFace [art pieces],” says Henifin. “Every sticker is really a gateway to a million more.”

As we pass a row of parking meters, a prime location for stickers, Henifin notices a tag of a small raccoon character. He identifies that the artist is from Seattle, whose work he has seen during visits to Washington. Being able to point out and tell me all about a sticker and the person who created it is an ongoing theme of the day.

His stories are endless, and his knowledge about sticker art and ability to identify almost every sticker that he sees is quite remarkable to watch. In a few hours, I become part of a culture, a world outside of my own, dedicated to a respect and understanding of this type of art’s purpose. We spend five hours on one ten-block radius alone without a dull moment or lack of art to hoard.

“Collections like John’s are good because people often walk past graffiti and think that it is a lower form of art or that it is not real art because it is not in a museum or because they think it makes the town look dirty,” says Preclaro. “But when they see them laid out neatly in front of them they start to notice details and look at it in a new light.”

As we near the end of our trail, a man sitting in his car starts to yell out at Henifin. He asks, judgmentally, what he is doing and why is doing it. Henifin explains his hobby kindly to the man and hands him one of his cards with his information and website on it. Henifin wishes the man a good day, despite his obnoxious laughing as we head toward the 19th Street Station. We wait for the train to take us back to where we started, and Henifin is still on the look out for more stickers, grabbing close to twenty more by the time the train arrives.

Along with collecting the stickers, Henifin makes and puts up his own stickers and has done dozens of collaborations, which he gives away to friends and strangers. He also trades and accepts “donations” in the form of stickers. There is no special underlying meaning in what he does and holds no greater reason for doing it other than for the sake of representing and saving art. Every day, artists spend their time producing art for no profit, for no gain, but solely to create. Instead of being criticized or seen as offensive, Henifin just wants it to be appreciated and remembered.

“Once it is presented in a different way, as art versus noise all over the street, people see it in a positive light and it changes the art completely,” says Henifin.

 

Find out more at stickerstealer.com

 

Girl on Fire

Mackenzie O'Brien teaches a blacksmithing class at the Crucible in Oakland Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. (Ryan Leibrich / Xpress Magazine)
Mackenzie O’Brien teaches a blacksmithing class at the Crucible in Oakland Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. (Ryan Leibrich / Xpress Magazine)

During the Iron Age, blacksmiths rapidly moved up the ranks of society due to their important role in village survival. They worked with the fire from a two thousand degree forge to pound iron into working tools needed for a thriving village. Three thousand five hundred years later, the blacksmithing technique remains unaltered. With just fire and a hammer, you can create anything from a tiny delicate ring to an im- mense iron gate and just about everything in between.

The first thing you notice when you enter the studio tucked in the far back corner at the Crucible, an industrial arts center in West Oakland, is that it is loud. It is impossible to talk to the person standing next to you due to the constant buzz of the flaming furnace that echoes across the room. The hammer’s heavy impact with metal vibrates through the air, ringing in your ears. Three forges emit blazing heat with fire so bright that it is almost blinding. Large fans blow at the entranceway in an attempt to cool down the room’s rising temperature that approaches one hundred degrees.

Sweat drips down the face of the only female blacksmith in the room as she rhythmically strikes away at the red-hot steel she holds against the anvil. She is short in stature, with a wavy, grown-out pixie cut. Her petite frame is dressed in heavy work boots, jeans, and an oversized red shirt that reads ‘“fire safety” across the back. Her eyes peer through large safety goggles and her hands are engulfed by a pair of heavy-duty gloves. With each blow from her hammer, hot embers fly in every direction with the ability to burn through anything that crosses their path. This space is better known as “the Smithy” to the artists and students that come here to craft, create, and collaborate.

Here at the Crucible’s Fall Open House, the space is packed with people of all ages peeking into various studios where artists are demonstrating their craft. The event is an open invitation for curious onlookers to step into the massive warehouse and experience the industrial art classes offered. Past the glass blowers, a sultry fire-eater is on stage as the audience stands in awe. The smell of bacon is intoxicating as it sizzles in a handmade cast iron skillet in the middle of the warehouse.

In the Smithy, Marielle Hsu demonstrates the forging of a spoon. It starts off as a flat, sliver steel rod, and after a couple minutes in the forge, tongs are used to retrieve the bar on fire. Bearing a pulsating orange tip, she places the piece of steel directly perpendicular to the anvil. She quickly pounds the metal with a purpose, altering its shape, causing it to bend. In less than two minutes the metal is too cool to work with and is placed back into the fiery inferno.

Taught in Blacksmithing I, spoons are created with a technique called “upsetting,” where the metal is made thicker on one end by shortening the opposite end. The result
is a massive thick black spoon not typically seen in a kitchen dishware set, and will most likely end up as a paperweight.

“I think the biggest eye opener is how much heat a piece of metal will hold, even when it looks cool,” Hsu says about the dangers of blacksmithing. The metal can reach up to about two thousand seven hundred degrees before it even begins to melt. Blacksmiths take extra precautions when it comes to fire safety due to iron’s ability to retain heat even after it loses its red-hot shade. With protective eye-gear and heavy-duty gloves, Hsu uses tongs to carry the piece of hot iron around the studio.

“Instinct is to move things with your hands and it takes a lot of remembering to practice using the tongs,” Hsu explains.

Hsu grew up around her parents’ jewelry studio, where they worked with cold metal. Occasionally, they would visit their blacksmith friend, Glen Horr, who made tools for metalsmiths. Hsu remembers visiting the studio inside a huge open farm in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia as a child. Her interest in blacksmithing sprung due to her attraction to the open forge.

“It was so different from the other art experiences that I’d had,” says Hsu. “It was dirty in a different way than painting, and painting can be really messy.” She still contacts Horr when she is having trouble with a technique. “Many skills are really difficult to teach; they involve a lot of muscle memory,” she says.

When Hsu moved to San Francisco seven years ago, she began looking for an interesting place to volunteer. When she walked into the Crucible, she knew she had found where she wanted to be. She spent her childhood around artists, so the place felt like a piece of home. She began volunteering in the office and eventually a spot opened up in the fire safety department, which she thought sounded cool. Hsu was able to trade her volunteer points for blacksmithing classes at the Crucible, where she learned various techniques.

Smaller and less confident than the burly bearded men usually associated with blacksmithing, Hsu first enrolled in a one-weekend women’s workshop, where she was able to gain confidence in the art. By enrolling in the women’s class, she was surrounded by women who were there to learn, instead of men who typically came to show off. There, she was able to submerge in an environment where it was okay to be unsure of herself. She compares this experience to her co-ed Blacksmithing II class where “elements of machismo” were clearly present.

“These guys had heavy hammers, five to six pounds and I’m over here with my two to three pound hammer,” she says about the innate sense of competition. “It’s a very different atmosphere to be in a class with twenty-something-year-old guys figuring out where they stand within the social continuum.”

Mackenzie O'Brien shows students a blacksmithing technique at her class at the Crucible in Oakland Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. (Ryan Leibrich / Xpress Magazine)
Mackenzie O’Brien shows students a blacksmithing technique at her class at the Crucible in Oakland Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. (Ryan Leibrich / Xpress Magazine)

Although female blacksmiths date back to the Iron Age, they are less frequently talked about, and not typically associated with the trade. In 1882, Hattie Graham became Sudbury, Massachusetts’ first female blacksmith against protests from men and women alike. She went on to advocate the right for women to vote and hold office along with the town’s male citizens. Today, the role of a blacksmith is still male-dominated, but women in the industrial arts are changing that.

Carla Hall, an instructor at the Crucible, created the Woman’s Blacksmithing class along with another female welder. The class was created to adhere to the demands of female students who wanted an environment that was more encouraging and less competitive than the co-ed classes. Their goal was to teach in an environment that was more welcoming for the woman interested in the industrial art classes. She recalls her own prejudices faced as a woman in an industry where her male counterparts lacked the be- lief that she was skilled to do physical labor.

Hall got involved at the Crucible during its founding years in 2000, and was drawn in by their philosophy to create an accessible community for the arts. Her involvement with blacksmithing developed from her attraction to fire and the ability to use it as an artistic tool.

Growing up in the humid climate of North Carolina, she developed a need for heat. Her first experience manipulating metal came in college where she observed its raw process. She was captivated by the organic textures created through blacksmithing, and knew she had found her passion. Hall’s business, Carla Hall Metal Design, revolves around a contemporary smith model where she merges skills including cold working, welding, woodworking, and cast iron.

Hall’s unique style is highly influenced by Japanese folk culture’s simple structure. Occasionally, she steps out of this realm to create out-of-this-world architectural objects. Her latest project is a whimsical, mechanical bird gate created for a resident in Napa. The project merged various mediums including blacksmithing, welding, cast iron, and redwood. It was designed in a steampunk fashion to reflect the client’s appreciation for bones and bugs.

Appearing as if it was pulled off the set of Tim Burton’s “Nightmare Before Christmas,” the gate takes the shape of a skeletal bird wing with bird skulls forming the door pulls. Gears big and small, textured metal, and redwood lumber from the world’s tallest trees are some of the unique elements incorporated in the gate. The massive two- panel driveway gate took four months to construct with the collaboration from three assistants. Mackenzie O’Brien, who served as an assistant on the gate project, says about Hall, “She’s a very talented metal worker and I learned a lot from her over the past year.”

O’Brien’s story begins at her kitchen table, when she first tried incorporating heat in jewelry making. “I sat there trying to heat a piece of metal with a lighter and then I thought, ‘this isn’t working. I need to learn how to blacksmith.’”

In North Carolina, she enrolled in a folk school where she exchanged work on the farm for blacksmithing classes. She then applied for an internship on a farm in Wis- consin. “I was in Amish territory; resources were more traditional and people didn’t have access to electricity,” says O’Brien.

She was intrigued by the chemistry behind the changing molecular structure of the steel contracting and expanding upon modification in temperature. That is when she really started to fall in love with blacksmithing. “It blew my mind, I was becoming obsessed with it.”

Her passion for the art was able to fuel her drive despite stereotypes in blacksmithing. Hephaestus, the Greek god of blacksmiths and craftsmen, is portrayed as a strong white man, an image that is difficult to shatter. She remembers walking into shops, fearing people would not take her seriously. “It’s important to show people there is something beyond that stereotype.”

It is not glamorous – it is hard; you get hot and dirty. But blacksmithing is not all about strength; it is about hammer control. “If you’re efficient and detailed, you can do things in less time and don’t have to wear your body out,” says O’Brien.

O’Brien has been a part of a wave of women who are involved in and teach in the industrial arts. She was the first woman ever to teach machine shop at Laney College in Oakland. For the past year, she has been a blacksmithing instructor at the Crucible. “We’re trying to change the historical demographic,” says O’Brien. “The Crucible seems really ahead of its time.”

Back at the Smithy, Hsu’s spoon changes colors as she continues to work. It fades from gray to orange to yellow and back to gray again. Hot ash begins to gather at her feet, resembling the freshly fallen snow during the winter months in her hometown. She hopes to go back this Christmas to spend time at the forge where it all began.

 

HOW TO GET INVOLVED IN THE ART OF SMITHING

The Crucible Arts Education Center

1260 7th St.Oakland, CA 94607

Three-Hour Blacksmithing Taster

Saturday December 6 & 7

$135

The Pilgrim Soul Forge

450 West Atlantic Ave. Alameda, CA 94501

Basic Intermediate Blacksmithing

Flexible Scheduling for 15-hour course

$375