Alex Gabriel Bernstein’s style is an original fusion of dissimilar elements. He’ll grind steel and let the metallic sparks shower against hot glass, fusing the two in a process that’s now known as “Bernsteining.” Metal mimics stone or wood as light refracts through the mysteriously glowing colors.
“I’m a sculptor who happens to work with glass,” says Bernstein, who cannot remember a time in his life when he wasn’t around the medium. His parents, William and Katherine Bernstein, were pioneers who helped establish the national studio-glass movement, working at Penland School of Craft in the late ’60s.
At first, however, working with glass wasn’t Alex Bernstein’s passion. He earned a degree in psychology at UNCA, and worked second shift in a children’s psychiatric hospital. Then he’d wake up around 6am to go to his other job, as a glassblower’s assistant, a gig that was just a practical way to make money. But with access to a glass studio, he became inspired to experiment with his own concepts and creations, and that was a game changer. He enjoyed it so much, in fact, that it would keep him awake at night, despite his grueling schedule. “I couldn’t sleep,” Bernstein recalls. “I was so excited to get up and go to the studio and see what I could make.”
Although his work at the hospital was rewarding, the pressures at that particular facility were intense. Bernstein thought he’d be happier in a different role, perhaps teaching, and began to explore his options. “One day I literally gathered stacks of applications for Ph.D programs in clinical psych and for MFA programs in art.”
Ultimately, he decided to enter an MFA program at the Rochester Institute of Technology’s School for American Crafts, where his experimentation with glass accelerated. “I found glassblowing limiting in terms of my expression of ideas, because molten glass cools very quickly and the window to work with it is short. I like to have more time to put a piece away and come back to it later and rethink it.”
As soon as he learned casting and carving, Bernstein discovered his true calling. “Other students would do castings that didn’t work out, and I’d dig them out of the trash and carve them. I was excited about figuring out ideas … taking something that was cast aside and making it my own. The glass seemed to glow from inside, and I found it seductive.”
After graduating RIT, Bernstein taught there — and, after that, at The Studio at Corning Museum of Glass (also in New York State), at the Cleveland Institute of Art, and at Penland. He then became the director of the glass department at the Worcester Center for Crafts in Massachusetts.
“Those jobs,” he says, “gave me stability and a paycheck while I continued to learn.” All the while, he actively pursued his career as a working and exhibiting artist, achieving representation in major markets such as New York City. The cumulative experience gave Bernstein a remarkable foundation for launching his studio in 2007 in Asheville, where, ever since, he’s focused full time on his own work, moving from the River Arts District to downtown to remodeling Sharkey’s Pool Hall on Riverside Drive in 2010.
In 2011, his son was born. Bernstein calls fatherhood “the most amazing creation I have ever been a part of, and my proudest accomplishment.” When he’s not in his studio or exploring the woods with his child, Bernstein is usually on his road bike. One of his largest installations was inspired by a cycling trip he took in the Dolomites region of the Italian Alps, although these days, he says, “I’m mostly riding closer to home.”
Alex Bernstein, Asheville. Bernstein’s work is represented locally by Blue Spiral 1 Gallery, 38 Biltmore Ave., bluespiral1.com, and can be found in prestigious collections including at the Corning Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and the Palm Springs Art Museum. See the artist’s website (www.alexbernsteinglass.com) and Instagram account (@alexbernsteinglass) for more information, and check out his YouTube videos (Alex Bernstein Glass).