When the word “art” entered the English language in the Middle Ages, it had a different connotation than it does today. Back then it didn’t carry associations of provocation or shock, but simply referred to a skill that came as the result of learning or practice. By that meaning of the word “art,” Bret Tyler is as much an artist as you’ll ever find.
And, in fact, the craft that he puts into his art is a throwback to those times. Back then art wasn’t meant to be shoved into museums. They were public displays. It was ornate masonry, sculptures of historic and cultural significance. Or, the stained glass that radiated from a cathedral.
And it’s that type of attention to detail and skill that makes Tyler’s artwork so impressive.
“Pretty much everything I do is hand-drawn and hand-cut,” he says, showing off a set of doors he’s working on for a private consignment. “I reverse it out, I draw it out, then I cut it out—there’s probably 10,000 cuts in this thing.”
Although his medium is not one we might typically think about when we think of art—he does a great deal of design work using sand-blasted glass and mirrors—it’s one that lends itself quite well to commercial art. This is perhaps why his work is so ubiquitous around Northern Nevada. It can be seen at the Peppermill, the Atlantis, Mustang, Cantina Los Tres Hombres, as well as in the homes of many local residents.
But, though Tyler’s body of work is so vast, he didn’t set out to be a working artist from the onset.
“I went to school for engineering, with an art minor, and I ended up getting so many art jobs that I just couldn’t do anything else.”
He got into glass accidentally after an old girlfriend taught how to do it, and bailed after they got a job together. At first he was simply doing side jobs while he was working for Young Electric Sign Company, but then he was so overwhelmed with consignments on top of his work schedule, he had to make a decision.
“Pretty much, I got so many side jobs, that I couldn’t keep the normal job, unless I wanted to work 80 hours a week,” he says. “So, I decided to work for myself.”
And, even through it’s a tough economy he has managed to remain quite busy.
“The economy has been so bad that a lot of people come to me, because I don’t nail them,” he says. “I know most of the people I do business with. You know, I was born here. I went to Wooster High. I went to [the University of Nevada, Reno]. I’m a local guy all the way. I’m well rooted in Reno. I pretty much get all my work from word of mouth.”
And that sense of community is a great point of pride for Tyler. The fact that his artwork contributes to the beauty of the community brings him great joy. Perhaps this is why he is also on the Storey County Planning Commission, or why you get a sense of excitement when he talking about work he is doing for a local solar panel company, Sunvelope.
Or, perhaps the excitement comes from the fact that he has managed to do the seemingly simple thing that so many of us hope for, but rarely get to achieve: he has made his life his work. As we maneuver around different sheets of glass that he is working on in his house, it occurs to me that we are not only standing in his living room, but in his shop as well.
“Years ago, I had a shop in town that I worked out of, but I’d sleep there,” says Tyler. “My wife said, ‘either bring your work home, or don’t come home.’”