- Associated Press - Friday, January 30, 2015

MANHATTAN, Kan. (AP) - When Maury Berggren was a kid, he was told he’d never be a farmer.

“I had a disease, and they said, ‘You will never be a farmer. You are not going to work that hard,’” Berggren said.

So Berggren started working with his hands. He went to Bethany College, was encouraged to take nine credit hours of art during his junior year without ever having taken art before and went on to teach art at Manhattan High School for 29 years before retiring in 1992, The Manhattan Mercury (https://bit.ly/1uZeMdl ) reports.

Now at 76 years old, he makes his living as a freelance artist creating stained-glass artwork.

Berggren’s work is featured across Kansas in churches, nursing homes and wall hangings. His largest work in Manhattan is the stained glass at Peace Lutheran, which was completed in 1987. Berggren said he did 72 feet of windows at Peace Lutheran that are 8 1/2 feet tall, with glass that is an inch thick. More than 60 volunteers helped him complete the windows.

His most recent project is what he calls his “swingin’ squirrel series,” where stained-glass squirrels are positioned on swings that hang from lead trees.

Berggren displays these creations in handmade wooden frames that he makes from recycled wood. Inside the wooden frame is a border made from recycled glass from “anything I can find,” he said, including wine, beer and olive oil bottles.

If the glass has words permanently etched into it, often times Berggren will use those pieces instead of throwing them out because they add character to the piece.

For the swingin’ squirrels series, first Berggren creates a tree out of recycled lead.

“I take all the scraps of lead that I have and I put them in a ladle and melt it,” he said. He then pours the molten lead onto a frame he created to allow it to harden.

“I cut that lead with a metal shear,” he said. “I cut it into strips in order that it’s going to be the trunk. Then, I beat on it with a hammer until I get some nice thickness to it.”

Berggren held up the tree he was working on. “See how that’s silhouetted? I want the glass to show,” he said.

Then, he uses copper for the branches, splitting the extensions into separate boughs with a hammer until they can’t be split any smaller. For the final touch, he coats the tree with black patina to create a silhouette effect.

For Berggren’s current project, the squirrels are made out of tiny stainedglass chips he has left over from previous projects. He melts a lead frame around the squirrels and solders them onto their swings, made of the same materials.

The swings are suspended from the tree branches by woven copper, and can swing back and forth by the touch of a finger.

The first art class Berggren ever took was during his junior year at Bethany College in Lindsborg. At the time, he was working in a newspaper print shop, but had no idea what he wanted to major in.

“I had been in dramatics,” he said. “I had been in history. I had been in all this stuff. English… I hated everything. My dad said I was probably going to buy the print shop and I was probably going to be a newspaper editor. He said, ‘Why don’t you take a class and see if you can learn anything about color? Maybe you’ll be able to make better letter heads.’”

Berggren loved the art classes, and he said those were the first A’s in college he ever received. It was in through the art department at Bethany College where Berggren met his wife, Bonnie.

“Ever since he was young, he liked to do things with his hands,” she said. “He had rheumatic fever when he was in about the sixth grade, and he had to be home from school for a whole year.

“At that time, the ladies in the church taught him how to crochet because he was so discouraged to have to just sit around.”

Bonnie said Berggren can do just about anything with his hands.

“He loves working with his hands,” she said. “I can break something, and he’ll know how to tear it apart and fix it. It’s just amazing.”

Berggren even fixed his father’s 1950 8N Ford tractor a few years ago, she said.

While Berggren was a teacher at MHS, he taught “every kind of art you can think of,” he said. By the time he retired in 1992, the department had expanded, and he taught ceramics full-time.

“The last year I taught, I had a class so big that they put two classes together at the same time,” he said. “We had about 60 kids in one class with two teachers, and I said that’s too much.”


Information from: The Manhattan (Kan.) Mercury, https://www.themercury.com

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