Archive for Wednesday, February 23, 2000

Marvelous Marbles

Moon Marble Co. mesmerizes children of all ages

February 23, 2000

One might say Bruce Breslow, owner of Moon Marble Co. in Bonner Springs, is a man inspired by necessity.

"I made wooden toys that needed marbles," he said. "All we could find were the green cat eyes like you see at Wal-Mart."

But by arriving at his furniture refinishing shop each morning at 3 and working at it for six hours, Breslow learned the art of marblemaking so he could fashion exactly the marbles he needed.

He sees marbles as the answer to a past he had been seeking.

"I was looking for something nostalgic to do for my whole life," Breslow said. "And I always knew I'd do something nostalgic someday I just didn't know it would be marbles."

But marbles it is.

Each week, 150 to 300 children tour Moon Marble and watch Breslow turn slender sticks of glass into smooth spheres. As he turns the fragile rods of glass over a torch, his massive frame, bushy mustache and booming voice seem out of step with the delicate work he is doing. But children, seemingly breathless, watch to see his next move, strain to hear his next word.

Within minutes he has created a multi-colored marble right before their eyes.

Learning to make marbles was no easy task, he said.

He called marble manufacturers to find out how.

"They made them for a living and nobody wanted to cut loose with information," Breslow said. "But from everybody I did learn a little something."

Then his wife gave him a torch. He clamped it to his worktable and went to work.

The process Breslow uses for making marbles is more than 1,000 years old, he said.

He started by melting different kinds of glass, using scrap stained glass, pieces of bottles.

"But the marbles kept blowing up," he said.

As the different kinds of glasses cooled at different temperatures, they cracked. Now, he uses Italian glass for each marble with consistent results.

He stylizes his marbles, and says one of his best-sellers is what he's named the "Alien Marble."

Breslow now attends marblemaker conventions each year and said he was recently paid a high compliment by a well-known maker who said, "Yours are round," which means, Breslow said, "They roll good."

There's no rocket science to making round marbles, he said. "You just eyeball it."

The game of marbles is like life, he said.

"Playing marbles is not an easy thing to do. You have to learn to concentrate and knuckle down which is the official way to shoot a marble, knuckling down," Breslow said. "But it's also clearing your head, concentrating on the task at hand, giving it 100 percent playing for keeps another marble term. Things that we often forget about. It's a skill that has been neglected it's not to replace Nintendo, but it's in addition to it."

He pauses, leans back in the chair, and adds, "Pretty heavy, huh."

His philosophy may indeed seem heavy at times, but the atmosphere in his store is pure lightness.

The 9,000-square-foot building that long ago housed a potato washing system sits beside the railroad tracks. Only a small sign near the door on the corner of the front modestly announces the location of Moon Marble.

He likens his shop to a tent in the desert.

"From the outside it looks plain, but when you enter, all of a sudden it's like the Taj Mahal," Breslow said.

Upon entering, more than 200 clear canisters full of colorful marbles reflect the afternoon sunlight. Shelves are loaded with metal wind-up toys, as well as handmade wooden toys. Many of the toys are old-fashioned, such as a wooden receptacle for tiddly winks, wooden pickup sticks and kaleidoscopes fashioned from various materials.

It is here, says Linda Sproules, Linwood, a business partner of Breslow's, that employees run to rescue marbles that sometimes slide off glass shelves when freight trains rumble by.

About a third of the building contains the toy shop, and the rest, for now, holds a furniture stripping, refinishing and refurbishing business that Breslow started in 1984 and moved to this location about nine years ago.

He opened the toy store and marble company three years ago. Business is growing, he said.

"Our sales increased over the last year," he said. "People remembered us and came back and did their holiday shopping."

Sproules says it is Breslow who draws customers.

"It's his inborn showmanship," Sproules said. "He loves to tell stories and talk it's his nature. If it were somebody else making marbles, they wouldn't enjoy it as much. He puts on a show."

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