HOUSTON, TX (Aug. 4, 2011) – Burton D. Reckles inserted a pair of thin metal tongs into a smoky glass bottle and gingerly manipulated a miniaturized ship, prodding its intricate series of wires and sails as he attempted to extract it from the bottle.
Sugar Land artist Burton Reckles with some of his glass-encased miniatures. Photo by Daniel Cadis
The ship is a prop that the 75-year-old Sugar Land artist uses during his demonstrations of the ancient art of constructing minute ships inside of bottles, which he has expanded to include a number of Holocaust-themed pieces. He will bring his latest Holocaust piece, “Eulogy,” which serves as a memorial to three of his relatives who were murdered at the German concentration camp Buchenwald, and discuss its meanings at a special presentation, “Eulogy: A Holocaust Art Piece,” on Thursday, Sept. 1, 2011, beginning promptly at 6:30 p.m. in the Albert and Ethel Herzstein Theater at the Museum’s Morgan Family Center, 5401 Caroline St., in Houston’s Museum District. Admission is free, but seating is limited, and advanced registration is requested. Visit www.hmh.org/RegisterEvent.aspx to RSVP online.
His presentation is part of the Museum’s First Thursdays program, with the Museum open for extended hours on the first Thursday of every month. The Museum will remain open from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. for Members at the Sponsor Level and above. For questions about membership or First Thursdays, please call Member Services at 713-527-1640 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reckles, who spent 100 hours constructing “Eulogy,” discovered the old nautical art of building ships in a bottle more than 25 years ago. The lifelong model builder shifted from constructing large-scale models of ships, some of which would take him more than 2,000 hours to complete, to the much more miniscule ships in glass bottles after his wife, Ryva, complained about the models taking up too much space in their house.
“She told me, ‘You have two choices here: Either build smaller models or buy a larger house,’” Reckles said with a smile as he reclined on the modern gray couch in the couple’s Sugar Land home. “I chose smaller models.”
A retired advertising executive, Reckles devotes much of his time — as much as 10 hours a day — to constructing the meticulous works of art, each consisting of hundreds of pieces of wood, string, canvas and other materials.
His works have been featured in museums and exhibits around the world; one of his pieces is housed in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, which has called his work “modern American Maritime art.
The father of two is also passionate about educating the public on the horrors of the Holocaust, and he uses his talent to practice the unique art of memorializing the victims of the Holocaust through artworks within bottles.
He began creating vivid Holocaust pieces after his long-time friend, Eileen Reed, a docent at Holocaust Museum Houston who once lived near the Reckles in Chicago, suggested that he create miniatures related to the mass murder and antisemitism. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and Yad Vashem, the official Israeli Holocaust museum, recognize him as the only artist who works in this medium, said Reckles, who is one of about 100 practitioners of the dying art form in the United States.
“It’s a unique opportunity to tell the story of the Holocaust,” he said.
His latest Holocaust piece, “Eulogy,” honors the great-grandmother and two great-aunts who were murdered by the Nazis during the 20th century’s largest genocide. Buchenwald, the camp where they were interned, was one of the largest concentration camps within Germany and was the first camp liberated by the Allies at the conclusion of World War II. For more than 50,000 of those interned at the camp, their rescuers simply came too late.
The camp’s crematorium, with its looming gray and black chimney, still stands near Weimar, Germany. “Eulogy,” a recreation of the crematorium, depicts the black-and-white photos of his three relatives as they disappear into the chimney’s black, billowing smoke.
“There is no gravestone, no plot to put a stone on,” Reckles said of his deceased relatives. “To me, this is how I can memorialize them.”
Holocaust Museum Houston is dedicated to educating people about the Holocaust, remembering the 6 million Jews and other innocent victims and honoring the survivors' legacy. Using the lessons of the Holocaust and other genocides, the Museum teaches the dangers of hatred, prejudice and apathy.
Holocaust Museum Houston is free and open to the public and is located in Houston’s Museum District at 5401 Caroline St., Houston, TX 77004.
For more information about the Museum, call 713-942-8000 or visit www.hmh.org.