Designer and Craftsman

Thus began a succession of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs that developed Walburg’s innate talents into proficient abilities that would ultimately become essential components of his artistic oeuvre: “changing jobs as many times as I did I [ultimately] found ‘what I wanted to be,’” he wrote. He began by pumping gas and then moved to the Van Bebber Brothers machine shop, where he was able to practice some of the skills he had picked up in his high school metal shop classes. For a year and a half—in what he was to later describe as the most important educational experience of his life—he took on jobs requiring sheet metal forming, rolling, bending, welding, grinding, lathe work, and whatever else needed doing, learning techniques on the job that would later serve him well. While he was working full time at the machine shop during the day, he also worked part time for architect Charles J. Woodbury on evenings and weekends, drafting floor plans, elevations, and the like. The fine quality of his line drawings, further enhanced by his high school drafting experience, revealed an adeptness that, revisited in later years, would become an important component in the development of his sculpture.

Next Walburg took a job working for a land surveyor in Sebastopol, making maps and working as a “rod and chain” man in the field—a field that ranged over large swaths of the northern and eastern Bay Area—while still commuting from Petaluma. Between the house work and his other two jobs, he had no time to further his increasing personal interest in art and design.

Through his former boss Woodbury he learned of a job at Fluor Products Company, Inc., one of the Bay Area’s largest contractors. Builders of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge among other huge projects, they were particularly well known for constructing oil refineries from bare ground to full-on production for clients such as Standard Oil. Fluor had great need for the now-developed skills that Walburg could bring to the table. He worked there as a Designer B from November, 1959 through July, 1960, and then later, from March, 1961 to July, 1962, as a Designer A, doing material take-off, design drafting, and structural drafting. With an innate ability to visualize and depict a three-dimensional object in two dimensions, as well as a  admirable line quality, he honed his sketching and drafting skills on varied detail projects.

During his second stint at Fluor, a co-worker who had taught high school encouraged him to return to school to acquire a teaching credential. This friend thought Walburg would be an excellent match for the construction technology program that he had been hired into at Sacramento City College, and Walburg, always interested in “casting a wide net” to expand his skills and his opportunities, decided to do so.

Trying to maximize his time, during the summer he took a ceramics class. This class, in which students learned how to throw clay and make functional vessels, was taught by Charles “Bud” McKee. Well-known as a good teacher and a positive influence on promising art students, McKee was a friend of Robert Arneson, who by then was already teaching at the University of California-Davis. With this class, clay “got into [his] veins” and completely shifted Walburg’s career objectives.