There’s no better way to get to the heart of a city than through the people who live there. In “Person of Interest,” we ask local Ann Arborites, clearly in love with their city, to take us on a personal tour and tell us what makes it so special to them. This month, we chatted with Lawrence Fingerle, local artist and Chairman of Fingerle Lumber.
How long have you lived in Ann Arbor?
Lawrence Fingerle: My entire life! At 16, I began my career at Fingerle Lumber Company. My first responsibilities included cleaning the bathrooms and dusting the shelves. I loved those jobs because people benefited from and appreciated my attention to detail. Attention to detail is an important discipline I applied throughout my career. Today, I’m the Chairman of the company, and wherever I go (so to speak), I still grade the bathroom for cleanliness—a habit from the early days that’s hard to kick!
As an artist, can you tell us about your favorite mediums?
I prefer amorphous globs of material that can somehow be transformed into solid objects of beauty. Lately, that’s been molten glass. When I finish a piece and I think it’s beautiful, I get a feeling of personal satisfaction that’s pure magic.
How were you first interested in glassblowing?
For years, I admired the work of widely known glass artists like Dale Chihuly. I found a gem of a studio, Barron Glassworks in Ypsilanti. Annette Barron is a great teacher and a very nice person. She and her team offer a variety of glass art classes. Annette got me hooked on glass—and there’s no cure. Later, I blew glass at the Toledo Museum of Art’s Glass Pavilion. It’s further away, but another gem. It’s a large glass studio inside an amazing glass museum. I completed their advanced glassblowing program and continued to study and blow glass there by renting space in the studio or “Hot Shop” as it’s aptly named.
You are the first person I have ever had the pleasure to meet who makes full-size statues out of soap! Can you tell us about the process?
Usually I like to melt a commercial base of clear soap and add my own secret cosmetic grade colorants and other special ingredients to create an eerily realistic skin tone. Then I cast the frothy brew and later add carving detail as desired. I often embellish with a bit of topical cosmetic paint. The pieces are not meant to be used as cleansing soap, but I like to keep them cosmetic grade anyway. I like mythological statues and human faces. Some of my pieces are a few feet tall.
You are also a local musician. What is the music scene like for you in Ann Arbor?
I play in two rockin’ blues bands, and it’s so much fun. Long ago I figured someone had to be playing in these bands we all see on stage… so why not me? The only problem: I didn’t play an instrument. So I’ve been practicing the guitar for ten years. I play the electric guitar, sing, and write a song now and then. For those who want to pursue it for themselves, I highly recommend the Ann Arbor Music Center. It’s an amazing music school that’s right here in downtown Ann Arbor!
What’s your favorite way to get around?
Lately, it’s been on an experimental solar electric vehicle. I took a three-wheeled triad recumbent and added an electric motor, battery pack, and onboard solar cell array. This vehicle is off the grid! It’s great for riding downtown for dinner. Parking is always available, because it parks on the sidewalk like a bicycle, and it’s all recharged by the last bite of the tiramisu. Great exercise too, as it can also be peddle-powered.
If you could change one thing about Ann Arbor, what would it be?
I’d move the whole city to Florida for the winter and then absolutely move it back in the spring!