One Man's Treasures
story: Jim Dyar
BRUNO TOMAINO TURNS ONE MAN’S JUNK INTO BEAUTIFUL ART
Bruno Tomaino stares at a photo of a burned-out building with no roof and fresh snow lining the base. He raises his eyes.
“That’s how my heart felt … cold and empty,” Tomaino explains.
The photo is from the small town of Roosevelt, Utah. It was what remained of his successful auto repair shop, which burned up on Feb. 10, 1986. The fire started from a lighting fixture.
It was a defining moment for Tomaino, 55, who has run Bruno’s Automotive Specialist at 1618 Sacramento St. in Redding for the past 19 years. He was 33 at the time and had lost everything. Then he kept losing.
The guy he’d been paying insurance to turned out to be a fraud. He owed money on the eight cars that had burned in the shop. Then, to top it all, his wife divorced him and took the couple’s four children with her.
Tomaino fantasized about putting his head underwater in a nearby stream (“where it’s quiet”) and triggering a heavy rock to pin himself down.
But then one day an angel blew into town from the other side of the Wasatch Mountains (Orem, near Provo). Her name was Joyce. A love story began.
They met on May 29, 1987, and were married 14 days later. Tomaino, who had never been creative up to that point, suddenly started acting like some kind of Michelangelo. He cut out a giant heart from the hood of a Chevy. He made engagement rings from cotter pins.
“I didn’t know I inspired him,” says Joyce Tomaino, now his wife of 22 years. “I didn’t know he’d never been making art.”
Tomaino hasn’t stopped creating art from found objects. He uses scrap metal and old parts and welds them into all sorts of things – roses, a wedding cake, seahorses, a mailbox surrounded by flowers. From an old band saw, he envisioned the wings of a peacock. From a file cabinet, he knew how he could craft a miniature piano.
“I try to do something every morning,” Tomaino says. “It’s so relaxing to me. I find myself humming when I’m burning metal. If I can spend an hour every morning, my days are good.”
After doing art, Tomaino gets down to the business of fixing cars. It’s what he’s done since age 16 when he propped a ’59 Rambler on a picnic table in Granada Hills and started tightening transmission bolts. The drive shaft of the car started moving and the picnic table broke. A friend yanked Tomaino from underneath the vehicle, which hit the ground and plowed through the back wall of the family’s garage.
“But I fixed the transmission,” he says, smiling.
Tomaino has always enjoyed repairing cars because of the satisfaction of completing a job, and the riddle of solving what went wrong.
“It’s complicated,” he says. “You get into a car and it could be any one of 800 things.”
Back when he first met Joyce, something else was complicated. He didn’t know how to read or write. Tomaino always had a knack for looking at a picture or a machine and knowing what was wrong with it. But words didn’t make much sense.
After meeting Joyce, he told her about his illiteracy. She told him, “No problem. I’ll teach you.”
“I had him read a Bible scripture to me every morning and that helped,” Joyce says. “Later on, he had a tutor and then I got him Hooked on Phonics. It was a lot of hard work for him, but he was determined. Now he reads pretty darn good. “I’ve always admired him for being humble enough as a grown man to admit that he couldn’t read, and then wanting to learn how.”
Today, Tomaino still reads to his wife every morning. He occasionally reads scriptures at church.
Sometimes he feels like one of his own art pieces - a discarded guy shaped into something special by a lovely woman.
“She’s just been so good,” he says. “She’s everything to me. We’ve been married for 22 years and it feels like we’ve only been married a couple of months. I don’t do anything without talking to her.”
Joyce Tomaino describes it this way:
“I just thought he was one of the nicest men I ever met in my life,” she says. “He’s still just as nice a person as he was when I first met him. I kept waiting for the other half to show up, but it never did. He just kept being that nice man.”
And Tomaino will never forget the fire from ’86. He still looks at pictures of it and, once a year, plays a video that someone shot while the large building was engulfed in flames.
A visitor asks him why.
“I don’t know,” he says. “All I wanted to do was die after that fire. Maybe I do it to remind me to not go into debt. Maybe to remind me that your life can change so quickly.”
With Joyce’s help, Bruno Tomaino rose from the ashes of that fire. Today, it’s their love that continues to burn brightly.