Bruno Hirzel Exhibition Opening Reception: Jan. 23, 3pm - 5pm
I was born in Switzerland in 1941. Our family came to the United States in 1952, as my father was seeking the American dream. We were sponsored by my father’s uncle.
My dad was Werner Hirzel, who had the world’s largest one man band. He was in the Guinness Book of World Records, with 53 instruments that he made. He appeared on all the major T.V. shows, including Johnny Carson and Rowan and Martin Laugh-in. He also played for the Queen of England on two occasions. He stood 4 foot 8 inches tall. Of course, he stood a lot taller in my eyes.
We boarded a train to Holland, where we then took a Holland American steamship liner across the Atlantic to New York. I distinctly remember seeing the Statue of Liberty as we were coming into Ellis Island.
From New York, we boarded a greyhound bus destined to San Diego, California. It was quite a long ride, stopping only to eat two or three times a day. It was a three day trip, broken up with some entertainment my Dad and I provided with our Swiss accordions. Some guy got up and passed the hat for donations. Needless to say, we had no clue about the value of any money. We spoke no English at that time. We spoke High German, Swiss Dutch and Italian.
After arriving in San Diego, I attended a Catholic School for a year or so. Shortly after, we moved a little further south to a place called Chula Vista, where I attended Junior High and Senior High School. My art career started there, where I painted my first oil painting, which is still with me.
During High School summer break, I landed a summer job at San Diego Gas and Electric Company in their art and display department. I learned a lot about lettering and setting up displays at different locations.
After graduating from High School, I enlisted in the U.S. Airforce for a duration of four years. During that time I worked as a fireman in the Fire Department. It gave me an
opportunity to enter some art contests during events like “Fire Prevention Week,” which I won. One of my superiors then hired me to paint posters relating to fire safety and prevention. I had a lot of fun doing that. It wasn’t like working at all, just fun and relaxing. Just what art should be!
In 1964, my job in the Air Force brought me to Alpena, Michigan to finish my four year stint, at which time I met my wife Shirley, and we married a year later. In 1965, I began to work for a company as an iron worker, erecting the new raw grind building at Huron Portland Cement Company. Later that year, I was employed by H.P.C. At that time, getting laid off almost every year was not uncommon. There was a time when I was laid off for almost one year.
During that layoff time, I managed to pain a couple of my most prized paintings. Passing time painting “oil” during the day time, I played guitar at night with a local band called the “Electras.” That helped a lot by putting some food on the table and keeping the wolves away from the door. Shirley and I had three children, Kelly, Mike and Sherri. Later we had three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
After about 3 years at the Cement Plant, an opportunity arose to work in the Public School System as a janitor. A full time job meant a lot at that time. I stayed at that job for roughly 3 years, upon which another job opportunity arose at Fletcher Paper Mill. The wages were better and I was told that there would be no layoffs. Guess what? I got laid off in less than 30 days! Tire of the layoffs, my wife Shirley said, “You always wanted to start a sign shop. This might be the time to do it.” It was 1972. That’s exactly what we did.
Starting a business was slower than we would have liked, so I decided to knock out a few paintings, mostly pallet knife, which I could get out fairly quickly. As a matter of fact, I managed to sell every painting I painted. I don’t know exactly how many, but it was a fair amount. Back in the ‘70’s ---not too bad!
Once my sign business took off, I had no more time to paint pictures. Business took up all of my time and Shirley’s, as well. It was a total team effort. For over 40 years, there was not time for my passion of painting pictures, until my retirement in late 2014. Now, thank God, I’ve been given the time and gift to continue my painting. And after the passing of my wife Shirley recently, in October 2015, after 50 years of marriage, my painting has served as spiritual therapy in my time of grieving. And it has given new and different inspiration to my paintings.
Never having had the time to go to a school that teaches art, I feel immensely blessed to have been given the gift of blessing others who see and appreciate some of the things that I see and feel in my paintings.