An incandescent secret

On an overcast Tuesday evening, Michael Creger maneuvers around four students clad in shiny silver suits that resemble costumes from a low-budget science fiction movie.

On an overcast Tuesday evening, Michael Creger maneuvers around four students clad in shiny silver suits that resemble costumes from a low-budget science fiction movie.

They are in a room on the second floor of Neuberger Hall that contains one of Portland State’s best-kept secrets: A fully functioning foundry right in the heart of campus.

The incandescent heat of molten bronze at 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit creates an eerie glow in the darkened room, and Creger, an adjunct professor, directs his charges to take a deep breath before they pour the liquid metal into carefully formed molds.

After some last-minute instructions, the pour goes smoothly, and soon Creger and his students will be off for a round of beers, somewhat of a post-pour tradition.

“I appreciate that he’s teaching art and craft,” said Rosalind Jackson, a junior. “He’s pretty amazing. He asks great questions.”

Since 1996, Creger has helped oversee the foundry and has been teaching the artistic craft of metal work to enthusiastic students like the ones who just completed their first pour for Introduction to Casting and Welding Tuesday.

Now in his eleventh year at PSU, Creger took a circuitous route to his current position at the university.

Creger, 52, grew up in Eastern Oregon, originally hailing from Haines and later moving to Pendleton. He said that in his early years, art was far from a priority.

“I wasn’t into art much at all. I dropped out of college and worked in factories for 20 years,” Creger said. “I decided I didn’t want people telling me what to do. If you’re an artist, nobody tells you what to do.”

Intent on pursuing a new career, Creger moved to Portland in 1989 and enrolled in the Pacific Northwest College of Art (PNCA) and earned a bachelor’s degree.

“It was a bit of a culture shock. I grew up in a redneck cowboy town. I didn’t assume I’d like it,” said Creger. “After six months, I knew I wouldn’t go back. I really felt at home in Portland. I felt invigorated and more alive than I had the previous 35 years of my life.”

By 1995, he was a PSU grad with a master’s degree in fine arts, and just a year later he was teaching classes at the university.

“I’m as passionate about teaching as I am about making art,” Creger said. “I didn’t expect to like teaching, but within about the first quarter I taught I knew this would be part of my life.”

And so, in relative anonymity, Creger teaches sculpting and metalworking classes right above the main area of Neuberger Hall. His students, who range from complete metalworking neophytes to a woman who has known Creger since his days at PNCA, all note his enthusiasm for art and the passion he teaches with.

“I’ve known Michael since he was a student at PNCA,” said Paige Lambert, who holds a master’s degree in international business and who discovered that metalworking was her true passion. “He started teaching everywhere. He really gives you the feeling you can do it. He’ll help you make your idea happen.”

Dominic Marchese, a senior, is taking Creger’s Intro to Casting and Welding class, and was on hand to see his first project come to fruition.

“It’s actually my first art class,” Marchese said. “It’s a good one. Michael is very dedicated to what he does. He’s totally thrilled when he’s pouring metal. He makes it fun for everybody. He’s really critical on art. He wants us to do really good work.”

Creger said he sees art as an opportunity to explore philosophical questions and presses his students to look inside themselves.

“What does it mean to be a human being? What does it mean to be in the Pacific Northwest in the early 21st century? I try to get them to figure out where their own point of view comes from,” he said.

There are plans to move the foundry from Room 229 in Neuberger to Shattuck Hall sometime during 2008.

Creger said part of the reason for a move is logistical. Classes are scheduled at night because metalworking creates a lot of noise, and there is no freight elevator to move heavy objects such as metal and sand.

“It’s not uncommon that I bring 1,000 pounds of sand up here,” Creger said. “It is a bit problematic working in this space.”

Despite those issues, Creger is happy to be teaching a craft he loves.

“If I made a million dollars, teaching would still be a part of my life,” he said. “It feeds a part of me that nothing else does.”