Best Art Gallery: Hidden outpost of the machine age

Cricket Engine Studio & Gallery

Cricket Engine doesn’t attract much walk-in trade. In fact, if it weren’t surrounded by other art spaces — in the 5th Avenue Marina along the Oakland Estuary, on a lonely stretch of the Embarcadero, with the water on one side and railroad tracks and the 880 freeway on the other — you could call it Oakland’s Best-Hidden Gallery. Begun in 1996 as a collective by students and grads of the old California College of Arts and Crafts and woodworkers from Fort Bragg, the studio occupies a former military infirmary, a low-slung wooden building like the rest of the warehouses and light industrial spaces in the neighborhood. Perhaps because of these surroundings, the artwork there has a Machine Age industrial feel, as opposed to the techno-drunk mania of many galleries. It’s the place to go for fine woodworking and metal sculpture, paintings, ceramics, and more. Why “Cricket Engine”? The first artists in the space found two etching plates left behind, one of a steam train engine and one of a grasshopper. “Grasshopper Engine” didn’t exactly sing, so they cheated slightly. Says one gallery artist: “Since we’re by the marina, we sometimes get confused people seeing our sign and asking us if we do boat repairs.” But you know better.

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