February 25, 2015
Ama Wertz is a talented weaver who shares her creative passion for the craft with strangers and friends in city of Oakland. Moving from her home away from home in Germany, Wertz has found a new community here that is bonded by the “generosity of spirit [that] is quintessential Oakland.”
Folks always told me: Come to California. I grew up primarily in South Carolina, but my dad was in the military, so I was already a nomad by the time I started middle school. I studied in Germany for many years during college, and it was the first place that truly felt like home. I still get homesick sometimes thinking of those winding streets and the damp smell of cobblestones. Then I met my husband Patrick and California was all he’d known, so he was keen to move back. I resisted for a long time, because it seemed so far from all I’d known. But the first time I visited with him I was hooked, drunk on the bright California flora and sunshine. I like to take photographs and California made it difficult to take a bad one. We hatched and schemed, dreaming of a more laid-back life and lazy days, eager to explore the Sierra. I was working in languages at the time, teaching and translating German occasionally, but I craved a major creative change. I had been spending more time with my mother-in-law, and she’s a true maker, and it was rubbing off on me. I love working with fiber, and I got it in my head I wanted to make rugs, although I had no idea how to weave and I didn’t even own a loom. But I knew right away I would want space to experiment and learn, and Patrick was working from home as well, so finding an apartment big enough to hold us was a concern. Friends tipped us off that Oakland was a good mix of affordable and accessible, with the redwoods right in our backyard. Road trips and camping were high on the list in our new life.
We ended up first in West Oakland, where we loved the industrial feel, diversity, and bright light in our house. I bike a lot, so I found myself commuting around the city, discovering new and hidden gems from my bike seat. I’d bring a map and let myself get lost, taking alternate routes to and from common destinations just so I could learn the streets. I love residential architecture – I can’t count how many times I’ve almost crashed my bike staring at some sweet detail on a house or checking out gorgeous stained glass windows. Cruising around on my bike gives me a more honest look at a place than just what hip restaurants and noteworthy shops are in the area. I’m always discovering little alleyways or traffic island gardens that give me pause and remind me of the ease of summers in college, that dreamy, restful time when it seemed the possibilities were endless. If I’m ever feeling stuck in my creative work, I take a short, rejuvenating walk around the block.
I tell all visitors and family that life in Oakland is so easy – nowadays I find myself venturing out of the city less and less, as more opportunities and cool events pop up in my current neighborhood around Piedmont Avenue. I try to run a few times a week in the stunning Mountain View Cemetery, where I can see the bay in all directions. The shifting light and beautiful grounds provide lots of inspiration and foraging materials for dye projects. Old Oakland is also becoming a destination for me to meet friends for a chat over coffee. I love Swan’s Marketplace because it reminds me of Europe, with its open market and specialized shops (plus I can satisfy my German beer and sausage cravings at Rosamunde). Oakland embraces diversity, mixing creatives and foodies in one place to share space and stories. My neighbor and chef Romney Steele just opened her own restaurant there called The Cook and Her Farmer. She and her partner built part of the restaurant in their yard and it was inspiring to watch it all come together. My landlord invited all of his tenants – nearly 30 people – to get to know her and one another over an amazing dinner the first week she opened. That generosity of spirit is quintessential Oakland. Folks are interested in knowing more about you than just where you work. They’re looking to connect with you over your passions, your goals, where you go for dinner and what you like to do on the weekends. We’ve started a Sunday hiking club and a weaving club with both friends and total strangers, really leaning into the community. It’s funny because in high school I was very into the Bay Area punk scene, and so I thought: Hey, Oakland’s almost as good as living in Berkeley! Lucky for me, Oakland had become that scene, full of energy and possibility. I love seeing new shops next to the old ones that have anchored a neighborhood for years and years. That DIY, punk rock sensibility had migrated south and was very much alive. California doesn’t feel so far away anymore: I’m slowly rebuilding my idea of home.