Discovery: Scrap iron source of pricey sculpture

... another three-day mini-vacation

from Don Norris

Several times each year my wife Lorry and I take off on the spur of the moment for a couple of days, sometimes with no destination in mind at all. I must say that, of all the places we've lived and visited, these mini-vacations go a long way in re-vitalizing one's mind and giving strength to one's aging body.

See that collection of rusty iron? It's ART, closeup. It is fascinating. It is intriguing. It is three dimensional sculpture and you can walk around it to see if the backside is, well, different than the front. You can even touch this art, feel its texture and admire its strength.

We are at a railroad crossing just south of Ashland, New Hampshire. Trouble is, while the train once ran from Boston, up to Canada, the current terminous is Lincolnville/North Woodstock, right at the beginning of the Kancamagus Highway in the White Mountains.

Trouble is, automobiles put the railroad pretty much out of business. Hardly a daily train goes by these days. Maybe a few tourist trains out of North Woodstock.

But back to ART. This magic pile is about six feet tall and sits in a wheel barrow. There are hundreds and hundreds of pieces of Americana in this three-D piece of art. Fascinating is the fact that the artist -- named Bill Bernsen, a bearded chap who owns and works out of the old freight shed adjacent to the original Ashland depot -- that the artist has put all this ancient iron together without the aid of a torch. One has the feeling that his ancient stack of art objects should fall down. But no. No torch, no acetalyne, but he does admit to using u-bolts and a heavy hammer.

Now multiply this single work by several hundred, all created from wrought iron that had served some totally different purpose over the past two centuries. Some people would call it junk, but not me, and certainly not Mr. Bernsen. My point is that he has a freight yard wedged between the forest and the tracks, that houses literally hundreds of "creations". Rusted iron butterflies, dragons from drive chains, monsters from Victorian wrought bedsteads and bannisters, birds, dinosaurs, do-dahs -- all from rusting iron.

Imagination is an important part of Bill Bernsen's work. Not in visualizing a plan for a new piece of art, but putting together the necessary odds and ends so that his idea becomes a real model of what he conceived in his mind. Of course most of his art comes in the color of rust, and some of it looks like some wrought iron black polish has been applied. No paint. Just oxydized iron and steel.

Flying things, things in hoops, standing statues, round things, animals, monsters, creations of the mind, things that look like lawn chairs ... endless creations of Mr. Bernsen's mind. I love it. It's a playland for grownups. It's also a place for peaceful contemplation.

I asked Mr. Bernsen where he gets all his raw material. "At the junkyard," he answered, with no hesitation. I asked him where he gets all his ideas for his rusty creations. He tapped the side of his head with an index finger.

Don't get me wrong. Mr. Bernsen is a sophisticated, even good looking, gentleman. And obviously he loves what he's doing -- creating art by recycling ancient wrought iron.

He welcomes guests, but I suspect he is wary of little ones -- there's a jungle out there, in the freight yard. My final question for Mr. Bernsen was, what are your prices?

Without fussing, he looked at me right in the eye and said. "Five hundred to five thousand."

Well, we urge our Melrose Mirror readers to visit Mr. Bernsen's place. It's on the country road number 132 (Depot Road), just south of Ashland, about two hours up I93 out of Melrose. He has an email address: -- and a website that is dedicated to Chinese beliefs:

I have to admit: The stop at Bill Bernsen's artistic freight yard was a bright highlight of our three-day mini-vacation. Add to that the White Mountains, the endless forests, beautiful rocky rivers -- and this short get-away was delightful.

September 7, 2007

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