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Sunday, July 25, 2021

Profile: Molly Moritzburke

Student artist and Bike Barn mechanic finds ways to combine her passions

Molly Moritzburke, a fourth-year mechanical engineering major, might be a familiar face at the Bike Barn. As manager of the campus-favorite repair shop, she is either running the register, training new mechanics or getting her hands greasy in the workshop.

“I started working here when I was a sophomore,” Moritzburke said. “I have been into mountain biking for a really long time. When I got to Davis, I didn’t really have an outlet for that. I thought that working on bikes would be a good alternative to riding bikes.”

Moritzburke is not only mechanically minded in terms of academics and bikes, she’s also an artist by nature.

“I have always been really into art as a kid, and thought I wanted to be an artist and go into art as a major,” Moritzburke said. “I screen print T-shirts for myself and friends now, and I do mostly acrylic painting. After a certain point I became interested in science and engineering as well, and I decided that would be a more fitting career path for me. But I still keep art in my life.”

Specifically, she sustains her artistic talent through the art she does for the Bike Barn. Moritzburke illustrates the quirky promotional signs that decorate the repair shop, from aggressive turkeys to Freddie Mercury.

“I usually update them twice a quarter, following the seasons and what’s going on in the area,” Moritzburke said. “It’s fun for me to have an artistic outlet at work, but it also provides information and attracts customers. The Freddie Mercury one was on UC Davis Snaps, and I’ve had people comment on my signs in the store.”

Beyond illustration, Moritzburke has begun to paint bikes — her two seemingly-unrelated passions intertwining even more directly. Using acrylic paint and a clear coating to finish, Moritzburke creates intricate, abstract designs on various bikes for friends and family.

“When you paint a bike, you have to start from a blank slate,” Moritzburke said. “My aunt had this old bike that the paint was coming off of, so she had all the paint taken off and base coated blue. She told me to do whatever I wanted on it. I don’t usually have an idea before I start. I’ll paint just blocks of color on the bike and then it will develop from there.”

While her practice is unaffiliated with the Bike Barn, polishing her mechanical dexterity at work has aided the hands-on skills necessary in her personal artistic venture.

“Working [at the Bike Barn] gave me the skills to do a lot of things that are necessary to painting bikes — how to take apart bikes, what materials I need to use to make it possible to paint a bike,” Moritzburke said. “Usually you have to take apart the bike completely to paint it, because you don’t want to get paint on any of the threaded surfaces. To strip the paint off the bike, I use a drill with a steel-wool like material attachment or just hand scrub it.”

The Bike Barn then becomes a setting for repairs, tune ups and creativity alike.  

“I think the Bike Barn pulls on a lot of my interests: art, engineering and bikes,” Moritzburke said. “Those are the main things I think about on a daily basis. It’s been interesting to see how these things fit in together. The inspiring thing has been finding that meshing.”

Moritzburke isn’t the only employee who participates in the Bike Barn’s aesthetic possibilities. Other employees collectively contribute to the artistic energy of the shop, playing off the physical space that attracted them initially.

“There’s always good music playing, our space is really eclectic,” Moritzburke said. “You don’t come in here and think that it’s clean or organized. But it is a space that draws in a lot of creative employees. We have musicians and graphic designers and more. It makes it a really interesting place to work, and we try to hire people who would enjoy working in this environment. I think that draws in those types of people naturally.”

A long table lives within the mechanic-only area of the Bike Barn, where workers discuss and hangout to the tune of hammers, loud music and sparks flying. Creativity, in this case, finds a home in a rather unlikely space, yet simultaneously and ironically, without surprise. For Moritzburke, “it’s more than about working on bikes.”

Written by: Caroline Rutten — arts@theaggie.org

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