The Heart of the Matter · Beryl Brenner

By Louise Irvine

Beryl Brenner is an artist in Brooklyn, NY and she was an art therapist for the Veterans for 40 years. Initially, she was an arts and crafts director at Ft Hamilton Army Base but most of her career was at the VA Medical Center where she worked with Veterans of all ages, races, and religions, experiencing numerous kinds of disabilities and problems. They worked together in a wide variety of media but their favorite was glass art.

I Dream of Peace

At her fused glass classes, Beryl would look across a crowded room and see the Veterans completely at peace and engaged in their creative process. They produced personalized art pieces expressing their innermost thoughts in a serene and safe environment and learned something about themselves in the process. In 2017, Beryl asked the Veterans to visually conceptualize what peace would look like and they had a glass show and panel discussion at the Salmagundi Club, the oldest art club in NYC. In November that year, Brooklyn Public Library acquired a digital archive from the Veteran Affairs’ Creative Art Program and celebrated Beryl’s work in the lives of hundreds of veterans who participated in her Art Therapy program.

My Heart and I

When Beryl first began working with fused glass, she was experiencing turmoil in her personal life with family illnesses and deaths. Her son left home for college and she was struggling to juggle her job as an art therapist with creating her own art. She longed to develop her skills in glassmaking but faced many challenges. Fortunately, her experience as a therapist helped her to understand her own situation and she embarked on a project to explore the Heart as an autobiographical theme. Initially, she was dubious because she thought that hearts were the artistic territory of little girls. She could not have been more wrong. Exploring the subject of Hearts turned out to be far more complex than she could have imagined.

One Person, Many Hearts

As Beryl explains, “The series attempted to analyze the subject from a wide variety of perspectives. The truth is that we think with our heart as much as we think with our brain. After all, when we are in danger our heart pounds. We generally associate Hearts with love and most people long for love. Love can bring us great joy but love can bring us great pain as well. In addition, there are so many different kinds of love besides romantic love. There is the love of country, love for one’s children, love of knowledge, love of work, and self-love amongst others. Glass breaks…Hearts break…it’s all part of living. But the great thing about it all is that we somehow manage to survive because there will always be beautiful glass to admire and beautiful hearts for us to love!”