Suburban sanctuary

Jun 15, 2005 at 12:00 am
Bernardo Puzzuoli
3701 Metro Parkway, Sterling Heights

Bernardo Puzzuoli does not seem like a friendly man at first. When asked for a tour of his backyard, he seems suspicious and then annoyed. Finally he narrows his eyes, and grumbling comes from the vicinity of his moving beard, which looks like it belongs on a WWF wrestler. "I'll be out in a minute. Meet me out back." In two minutes he's walking out of his house with a photo album overstuffed like a bloated accordion, and sits down under a gorgeous homemade trellis. Five minutes into the conversation, he's showing off an old photo of his bare, buff and bronzed young body in tight shorts, upon which he has glued a recent head shot. Ten minutes later, he's dancing the steps he claims to have invented, called La K. Changa, "about a donkey kicking the mosquitoes off his ankles."

Puzzuoli and his wife Charlotte visited Hawaii more than a decade ago, and he was influenced by the local craft tradition. Many of his painted wood totems, which are sprinkled throughout his manicured yard on two parcels of land, look Polynesian. Some of them look like fertility goddesses. He carves hermaphrodites, mermaids, morel mushrooms, a man and his muchacha at the altar and even Charlotte's ex, who unsuccessfully tried to sue him for it. When Puzzuoli's wife died of cancer in 1989, he made a canopy in his backyard as a memorial to her and buried her dogs there. The landscaping expanded, and he began digging ponds that he calls "fish condominiums," building wood and straw umbrellas, and weaving trees by fastening pipes to branches and bending them like pretzels. Bowling balls hang from several trees, shaping the stubborn ones, and the colorful globes can also be spotted resting on fencing and in rock beds. And he incorporates cheap miniature statues of Greek and Hindu gods and goddesses bought at nurseries.

Puzzuoli isn't as prolific as he used to be, or like some other artists. He can't offer that much because his neighbors and Sterling Heights officials make him get rid of it, saying it distracts drivers on 16 Mile Road. But the garden will be gone soon anyway. There's a for-sale sign on his front lawn, and he plans to leave it all behind.

Send comments to [email protected]