Arts Galleries

Toe River Arts Presents Work of William Bernstein in New Exhibit

By Natasha Anderson

The exhibition LIFE ART LIFE / William Bernstein 50 Year Retrospective features the blown glass work and paintings of William Bernstein, an artist who has been at the forefront of the North Carolina studio glass movement for more than 50 years. The show takes place at the Toe River Arts Kokol Gallery in Spruce Pine from Saturday, August 6, through October 9, and in Cary at the Cary Arts Center from November 30 through January 21. Receptions are planned at Toe River Arts on Friday, August 12, and Friday, October 7, from 5–7 p.m. and an artist gallery talk is scheduled there for Friday, August 12, at 4 p.m. Cary Arts Center will host a Meet the Artist Reception on Saturday, December 3, from 2–4 p.m.

Double Glassblowing. William Bernstein, artist.

“Billy Bernstein and his wife, Katie, have been members of Toe River Arts since the ‘70s and have been instrumental in helping to shape our organization,” says exhibition manager Kathryn Andree. “We are honored to coordinate this exhibit and celebrate Billy’s distinguished career.”

Bernstein has lived most of his professional life in the rural Celo community in Yancey County. The exhibition provides viewers an opportunity to imagine a life surrounded by art. As a retrospective, it creates a visual summary of the separate elements of Bernstein’s art over time—his motives, goals and achievements—and captures his ability to work simultaneously in diverse mediums.

“The biggest difference between hot glass and painting is really one of time—glass is an immediate medium, with the piece created in one blowing session whereas a painting allows the artist to return to his work over and over,” says Bernstein. “I often work the same concepts in both glass and painting in an attempt to make the most of each medium’s advantages.”

Approximately 40 sculptural works and 20 wall pieces spanning his career of more than 50 years will be on display. Bernstein’s unique style of incorporating images on glass is mirrored stylistically in his two-dimensional paintings. His work and family life are evident in his art forms that include portraits of the people, pets and environs that surround him.

“I feel I have remained true to my artistic intent which is closely linked to a sort of diary of my experience,” says Bernstein. “It is my hope that viewers of this show will be touched in a positive way by my work and that they might relate my world to experiences in their own.”

The exhibition coincides with the United Nations’ declaration of the Year 2022 as the “Year of Glass,” and the 60th Anniversary of the Studio Glass Movement.

The Toe River Arts Kokol Gallery is at 269 Oak Avenue, Spruce Pine. Learn more at

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