Like the artwork he creates, Robert Bloom has a grandness about him that even a wheelchair couldn’t diminish.
At 69, he maneuvers the chair around a large wooden table inside an old garage in Ringwood. The chair keeps pace with the quick flow of his words as he eagerly shows off his latest work.
“This one knocks me out,” he says, puffing on a cigarette as he slides a sheet off a round piece of black antique glass decorated with at least 30 different shades of glass rock.
He smiles as he looks it over, pauses briefly to take it in.
“This is what I am. It’s what I do,” he says. “The last time I did it, I was standing up.”
And then he’s off again, going to another corner of the garage, revealing another piece, this one made of stainless steel and PVC piping.
Paralyzed at age 58, Bloom will tell you that he let the injury sidetrack him for awhile as he went through rehabilitation, rebuilt his life. He lived with one of his four children, Tobias Bloom of Prophetstown, before moving into Walden Oaks in Woodstock about six years ago, where he lives on Social Security.
A vascular malformation caused the paralysis. A congenital disease, the malformation, or mass, had formed on his spinal chord.
Because of his carpentry work, Bloom had suffered from back pain for years. His doctor had told him he would need surgery for discs that were bulging. But on Christmas Day in 1999, the painin his left side became excruciating.
He called his doctor, who told him to go to the hospital.
When he tried to stand, he couldn’t. Tests revealed the mass.
Bloom was transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, where he spent six weeks followed by months of rehabilitation.
Before his paralysis, Bloom was known for his custom furniture, a couple of his pieces even purchased by Joan Collins.
“Ya know, that actress,” he says.
But in the wheelchair, he was unable to make the type of furniture he used to with Bloom Furniture – end tables, pedestals, mirrors – “masterpieces,” says his son, Tobias.
Still, he refused to see the wheelchair as limiting, calling it merely an “inconvenience.” Doctors told him he would never walk again, never move his legs, he says as he pulls himself to a standing position, holding onto the table.
“It’s amazing what you can do when what goes on between your ears is right,” he says. “You want to get it done, you get it done. That’s all there is to it.”
After what he calls “the injury,” he told himself to focus on what he could do, not what he couldn’t, to get back to his artwork.
“He’s bigger than life,” Tobias says. “It’s just that he has so much drive for his work. He loves it so much. The passion for it has never gone out. ... He always would say ‘I hate sitting around like a bump on a log.’ ”
Along with his tenacity, Robert Bloom’s creativity never ceased.
He never stopped drawing, something he’s done since he was a child.
So about a year ago, he decided to turn some of those drawings into actual pieces of artwork, driving himself in a lift-equipped jeep to the garage where he regularly works.
“I’ve got so many drawings to keep me busy until I’m 180,” he says.
He does the artwork from his chair at the table, using various materials, rocks, glue, pieces of plywood kept on a rolling caddy he can maneuver.
Once the heavily layered works are done, he can’t move them. Some weigh at least 80 pounds. Family and friends help put them on display.
For now, they sit in the Ringwood garage, but Blooms hopes to sell them eventually.
Either way, he’ll keep creating.
“It burns, dear,” he says. “The fire still burns, and that’s the truth.”