134 Toledo, OH: Glass Houses, A Different Way

Bernie's place was on a deserted street, next to a shuttered diner sided in rough-cut paneling painted lime green. His studio turned out to be a walled off section of the second floor in a former factory. Sunlight leeched through a yellowed safety glass window onto chipping linoleum tiles. Long work tables between heavy machinery held up what were presumably examples of his work: iron balls suspended in glass squares, metal rods bent around each other or piercing other forms. "My sculptures have real simple exteriors, and the difficult part is the internal workings. This one here, the simplest looking one? That's not easy to float that ball in there.

"I learned about making things from all the factories in the neighborhood. The guy who lived around the corner, he was a geologist. He spurred an interest in science with me. And his son was my science teacher in grade school. That's all right here in this little factory town. Have you ever seen the movie The Deer Hunter? That's what this neighborhood was like. It was one of the most ethnically rich communities in all of Toledo. The immigrant population all settled here.

"I went to high school right down the street. Then I went to San Diego State art school. I got my Master's on the G.I. Bill." [Not his words, but his tone and age told me he was in Viet Nam.] "Then I graduated and decided to come back. Family ties are real strong.

"That's about a three-thousand-dollar wheel," he said flicking a thumb at a pedestal on which he could rotate his sculptures while working on them. "I got it for a hundred and fifty dollars from a factory going out of business. It was the factory that my father worked in. My family worked in the glass industry here for three generations. I'm the fourth. But I'm doing it in a different way."

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