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Meet Artist and Builder Ben Perrone

There are times to build and times to rest. For artist Ben Perrone, 86 years old is a time to build. To build not only a house to live in but to create an iconic structure (see 133 School Street). Driven by his commitment to the environment, the desire to create a space to hang his art and a studio for creating more, Perrone is one of the unique individuals who calls Buffalo his primary home. No doubt, his building will attract a lot of attention; people may wonder about the person who created the design and had the courage to get it built. I personally think there is something to be learned from someone like Ben. We will all deal with aging, with climate change, with how to live our best lives. Let’s see how Ben is doing it.

Judy Frizlen: Ben, at a time in life when most people slow down, you have decided to take on a big creative project, to build a new living space and studio. What made you decide to build a triangle house; is it the fulfillment of a dream?

Ben: My dreams are crazy, so I hope that’s not it. I admit that it is kind of crazy to build at my age.

JF: How does this project build on other design/construction projects you have done? I know you have built at least one other unique house in your past.

BP: This is the second house I’ve built, the first was many years ago out in the country. It was designed to be solar but that took more money that I had. It was a passive solar house in the end. I think that we never own houses, we are just shepherding them and then they are passed on the next ‘owner’. I may not have much time to spend in this house, but it will be worth it.

JF: You are an artist, sculptor, builder, and teacher. What do you want to learn from this project and teach by doing it?

BP: Building a house is a test of resolve and patience. It is a team project, too. It could not have happened without architect Kevin Connors, or General Contractor David Lanfear. An art project can be like that, too. When I created the War Ongoing project at the Burchfield Penney, it included many others including the gallery’s staff.

JF: How do you keep your creative forces alive or is it the other way around? What’s your creative process? Would you tell us about it?

BP: I wasn’t a unique or talented young person, certainly not creative. That did not start until I went to art school. The sixties were a great time for innovation. We thought at that time, there were no boundaries. Being creative has its pitfalls. We can all fall into the challenges of life like making a living, repeating our successes, or role playing. If we are too successful as artists, what do we learn? Failing big or small teaches us to make the changes that sometime include creativity.

JF: Ben, you know that you look and act about twenty years younger than you are. Do you want to share your secret?

BP: Getting older, as we all do, has no secrets. It is sometimes just dumb luck, somehow skipping some fatal disease or accident. Mostly I credit my genes and never smoking or having an addictive lifestyle. That’s lucky. With some exceptions we shouldn’t be ready for the rocking chair. The rest of our lives are ahead of us.

JF: That’s the spirit! Would you say that you have a mission or purpose that keeps you going?

BP: I never thought I had a mission in life. When I was a young artist, I thought I could possibly become famous. That didn’t last long nor was it important. I think my art is much better than that of many more reputable and ‘successful’ artists, but in the end, we are all dust and nothing will survive. Just take a look at the Grand Canyon if you want to be humbled.

JF: Ben, all I have to say is that you have a lot of wisdom and I appreciate you sharing it with us. If we live our lives well, that’s what we gain and that’s what endures, not a lot of stuff. Do you want to say anything else about anything?

BP: I’ve become interested in the Global Warming threat to all of us. I think we just haven’t learned that we can’t go on with our lifestyles and our insatiable consumption. We are in for a rude awakening and I feel sorry for the generations behind me.

Written by Judith Frizlen

Judith Frizlen

Judith Frizlen is the founder of the Rose Garden Early Childhood Center and author of Words for Parents, Words for Teachers and Caregivers and Unpacking Guilt, a Mother's Journey to Freedom. Books and blogposts are on her website at She is a fan of early childhood, urban architecture and the revitalization of Buffalo.

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