Art keeps Klein young at heart: Retired professor dabbles in ink, jewelry and walnuts

After retirement from Bowling Green State University in 2004, Tom Klein went a little nutty for art.

The English professor, who also started the residential learning communities at BGSU, had always tinkered with various forms of art.

“I got obsessed with walnuts,” he said with a grin, showing off pegboards of necklaces and other jewelry made of the nuts.

“I take the round walnut and I sand the back,” Klein said.

The result is a face smiling out of the halved walnut; each one is a little different. They’re often accompanied with a paper penned with a nature quote.

Klein’s other art phases have included making glass bead jewelry, bird houses and metal creations. A rainbow of the glass jewelry trinkets adorns another wall of his studio.

Today’s interest is paper and tiles tickled with ink, which contains alcohol. He creates birds, flowers, people — anything that he fancies at the moment. Each one — like the walnuts and glass jewelry — is slightly different, with the way the ink runs and the colors Klein chooses.

Other techniques include blowing through a straw to spread the ink and using a Sharpie for definition.

His creations are hanging around town in the senior center, Gearhart Plumbing Heating and Cooling, WoofGang Dog Daycare and other offices.

“I really feel that this is a climax, bringing all parts of myself together,” Klein said of the ink art. “I started by falling in love with trees. I must have done 20 or 25 different trees. And then it was butterflies.”

He took a two-hour Zoom course through the Toledo Museum of Art to learn the ink technique. He regularly takes classes from the museum, where his wife, Dianne, is a docent.

“Almost any kind of art you can imagine, I took the course.”

The sprawling basement of the home that he shares with Dianne and dog Birdie is Klein’s escape. The vast studio is filled with hundreds of his projects.

Klein taught for 33 years, starting with high school students. He donated all of his glass supplies to Bowling Green High School after he moved on to the ink art.

He’s reluctant to discuss his pedigree, including degrees at Northwestern, Tufts and Harvard. He was born in Chicago and grew up in Boston.

“I got lucky, my father was a very successful businessman,” Klein said.

He had no desire, though, to go into the family business. Klein said he’s always known that education is his calling.

Giving back is a close second.

The Kleins are passionate about the Bowling Green community. They donate to many causes and support several organizations with money and time.

At the beginning of pandemic, Klein handed out 50 of his necklaces to women in his neighborhood and another 100 pieces to hospital workers.

The Kleins met at BGSU and married in 1978. Their son, David, lives in Austin, Texas. They have two grandchildren.

Klein, who is 80, said that his hobbies keep him young at heart and involved.

“I think I can go on doing this as long as God and nature lets me.”