November 09, 1981 12:00 PM

Iwan Pestalozzi may have the hands of a machinist but he has the soul of an artist and the mind of a philosopher. “Why always construct machines that produce something?” he says. “Imagine building a machine that produces only soap bubbles. It is really absurd, because the machine produces nothing. The bubbles burst and nothing is left. It is only a beautiful experience and a memory that lingers.”

Pestalozzi, 43, a Swiss sculptor, has brought the fantasy to its ultimate fruition with a bubble blower that, as far as anyone can determine, has produced both the longest soap bubble ever (nearly 10 feet) and the largest (almost three feet in diameter). Pestalozzi took six months to build the machine, which is pink and red and powered by a hand crank. It employs an eight-inch-diameter ring that automatically dips up a film of soapy liquid, then passes in front of air from a fan. This is the latest of nine bubble makers that he has built in the last eight years. The others, all different, have been sold for as little as $1,800. He has been offered $15,000 for the current model.

Pestalozzi, who was born in Glarus, southeast of Zurich, has created some 50 other iron sculptures at his studio in the village of Binz. Among them are works titled Applause Machine, Abdication Machine for Hypocrites and Legacy Hunters (it shot tear gas) and Depression Decompressor, which featured music, a cuckoo bird and a small bubble maker. Local art critics haven’t always been impressed, but Pestalozzi shrugs them off: “I don’t get mad when people call me a circus clown. I work that way because I’m happy, and I’m happy because I work that way.” He has sold his work to art collectors, museums, banks and even the Zurich Stock Exchange. His larger creations have brought as much as $40,000.

He lives comfortably now with his wife, Bianca, a onetime commercial artist, but until about 15 years ago he had to drive taxis, wait tables and work as a gardener to get by. His hopes for the future include building a bubble machine you can ride like a bicycle and exhibiting his creations in big cities all over the world. “The bubble machine has something going for it,” he says. “People become cheerful, and perhaps it is, in a certain sense, peace-giving. It would be fantastic to blow bubbles on Red Square in Moscow.”

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