Sawatsky Sign-Off: The Tin Can Man
Published Wednesday, April 17, 2019 11:39AM PDT
A trio of unique metal birds are perched on Bert's windowsill, a rooster and two swans. Before he reveals why, he holds up his hands. "I still have all my fingers!" he laughs.
Before Bert shows us why that's impressive, he puts out his hand to greet me. But instead of his thumb on top, he points it down. "Grab the thumb and pull down," he instructs with a smile. "That's a dairy farmers hand-shake."
Bert knows all about milking cows. He was born into a farming family, the youngest of four. "Up at five o'clock in the morning," he remembers.
And when you get used to working before and after school, from sun up to sun down, from the time you're six… by the time you turn 65, you don't want to stop. "I had to find something to keep me occupied when it was raining." So when he heard you could turn tin cans into tiny chairs, Bert started cutting. "I was self-taught basically."
In the beginning, he admits, it didn't go well. When he cuts the cans into thin metal strips, their razor sharp edges can slice to the bone. "I had Band-Aids on all my fingers," he recalls with a laugh.
But that didn't stop Bert from making ornate furniture, and did start him listening to what the cans wanted. "You see a tin can," he explains. "And it says it wants to be a swan."
So Bert figured out how to transform the cans into swans. Or when others wanted to be whales, Bert spent hours twisting and turning the strips of tin, until they became an orca. "It's labour intensive," he admits.
Manipulating metal for hours can make the muscles in your hands ache, but Bert perseveres. He credits milking cows at six years old with still having strong hands at 80.
Bert can now answer the call of cans that dream of flying amongst the clouds as intricate biplanes with moving propellers, or unfurling their wings to become bald eagles catching salmon in their claws. "The pleasure of making stuff is basically what it's all about."
Bert says over the past 15 years, he's spent more than 2,000 hours creating countless things. But when I ask what he's most proud of, without hesitation Bert doesn't mention the cans. "My marriage," he says. "Fifty-seven years coming up in December."
His beloved Ursula is the mother of his three sons, and the reason for that trio of birds perched prominently in the front window. Bert says his wife likes roosters, "so I made that for her." And the tin can swans on either side of it – no doubt like real swans – represent a love that lasts a lifetime.