Photo by T. Glover
On a visit to Portland, Oregon a few years ago I met Gary Scrutton, his wife, daughter and a grandson. He welcomed us to his garage workshop in Sellwood, a neighborhood in Southeast Portland. Gary’s last endeavor, restoring hot rods, kept him as busy as his former business, making paperweights. He and his lovely wife took time to share their story with me. Afterwards I wrote an article about his life for an online news service. Here’s the story, slightly revised:
As a teenager, Gary Scrutton thought he’d build hot rods, dreaming, as many young people do. But by the time he reached 23, his family of six needed a better income.
Gary served an apprenticeship in the glazier industry. Glaziers cut and fit window glass for residential and commercial use. By age 42, with his family grown, he wanted to try working with glass in new ways. While reading about glass art, paperweights caught his attention, taking his breath away with their beauty. When he watched a paperweight being produced by Clichy of France, he felt as if one of the glass orbits hit him on the head. He became obsessed. He experimented with various colors of glass, studying the chemistry and physics of glass making. Concentrating on the historic time between 1840 and1855, he studied the famous European artists in detail. His boss told him he would never learn the art of making paperweights. Gary took the challenge. He quit his job to develop Parabelle Glass, his new business. Friends and family thought he was crazy.
Gary remained stalwart in his belief he could master the art. He made the glass himself, mixed his own chemicals for perfect color, designed the products and purchased the necessary equipment. Doris, the loving, but worried wife, labored beside him, assuring the bills were paid. Gary gave his first paperweight to his former boss two years after quitting.
Two relatives offered to help him sell the weights. When Larry Selman, the premier dealer for paperweights, discovered Gary’s talent, the rest is history. Doris, his wife, ran the business while Julie, one of his grown children, assisted with the production. They named the company Parabelle Glass. He earned more than a good living.
Back to the Future
Alas, after 14 years of physically demanding work in a heat-filled studio, Gary retired. His work continues to be available through the L.H.Selman studio, now in Chicago, a premier paperweight dealer. When Gary closed his shop, he devoted time to a former passion: he refurbishes hot rods. The fire in his heart for hot rods never died, although he will be remembered in the art world for many generations for his paperweights.
Sadly, Doris Scrutton died in 2013. She and Gary were married for 57 years. He died a few months later in February 2014. I am proud I met his family and him. I am glad I met them, and I am the proud owner of two of his weights.