Hot Rods and Hot Glass

Introduction

Parabelle Glass Paperweight

Parabelle Paperweight-Gary Scrutton

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:

A Glazier

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.

Sweet Success

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.

Addendum

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Paperweights: An Uncommon Hobby

paperweights

Photo by Ruth Glover

 

When I went to my first paperweight meeting, I didn’t know how addicted I would become to my uncommon hobby. Paperweight history and glass technology fascinate me.

Do you know hobbies are healthy for us? Do you work all the time? I’m not trying to persuade you to collect paperweights but to discover an endeavor that will bring you together with others where you meet people with similar passions. I had no idea, when I went to my first paperweight meeting, the complexity of the art.

I’m a card-carrying member of an organization for paperweight enthusiasts, but I must depend on people in my Paperweight Collectors Association of Texas for their vast knowledge. Although I’ve learned a tremendous amount, my knowledge fits in a coffee cup or maybe a thimble. Now I’m sharing my “coffee cup” with you.

Our meetings include presentations from dealers and artists. The added plus, we meet new friends who love to travel, chat, and dine together. The meetings are devoted to helping the group understand the complexity of the art. Let’s start with the basics.

Antique Paperweights

According to research, glass making began in the Middle East as long ago as 4000 BC. But let’s concentrate on more recent progress.

In an online history of paperweights, the author mentions Pietro Bigaglia, from Venice, Italy, who brought the first known paperweight to a meeting in Austria in 1845. The leaders at the St. Louis Glass Manufacturing Company in France began creating similar paperweights. Soon Baccarat, another French glass manufacturing company in France, followed. The antique paperweights often cost much more than the newer weights.

Perhaps a paperweight catches your eye in an antiques store. The price tag is $1500. Is it a good investment? If you watch the Antiques Road Show, you discover antiques can improve their value and others, not so much. For paperweights, it depends on the quality of the actual piece: pristine clarity of color, success of the artist, shape, and finish. Paperweight popularity rises and declines with the economy.

Emerging Artists

paperweight

A MacNaught Paperweight

Since the 1940s American paperweight makers blossomed with methods to differentiate themselves. We call them “emerging” artists. Several styles include the millefiori or lamp work methods.

 Millefiori

Millefiori (a thousand flowers) involves heating, cooling and cutting glass rods or canes. The artist inserts beautifully coordinated colorful canes in concentric patterns. Canes may look like tiny flowers, especially the rose canes. A scramble appears as it sounds: the small pieces of glass, which look a little like Christmas candy, are mixed and covered in clear glass.

Lamp Work, Flame Work and Torch Work

Ken Rosenfeld’s lamp work, for example, shows the most brilliant hues of both fruit and flowers encased in glass clearer than icy, mountain water. Although a tiny bouquet may look like straw, the entire paperweight is glass. According to one of the most respected paperweight authorities, Art Elder:

“Lamp work originated as a product of sculpting glass using the heat of a whale-oil lamp normally, used for reading. Flame work and torch work, modern terms, originated when glass became sculpted with modern fuels and torches.”

The Un-Ending Story

As the Chinese become better with their manufacturing of paperweights, the novice enthusiast must be careful to avoid purchasing counterfeits. I am not “hung up”

on paperweight values when I add to my collection. A dear friend recognized my addiction and gave me an inexpensive, Chinese weight with a pink flower, which I treasure. I love the paperweight I bought at the Corning Glass Museum  gift shop created by The Glass Eye manufacturing firm in Seattle. It reminds me of a Monet painting. In Dallas the Carlyn Galerie carries the Glass Eye brand (GES on the bottom) and other less famous artists. If you are looking for an exquisite, reasonably priced object for a gift, check out retail gift shops. You may find a heart-shaped paperweight to bring joy to a friend. Kittrell/Riffkind Art Glass offers an array of art glass, including paperweights by emerging artists. Google “art glass near me” and you may find an unexpected treasure.

Click on the Paperweight Collectors of Texas website for information about our next meeting in Houston in early March. Another website for detail is the Paperweight Collectors Association, the national organization for people with a crazy affinity for paperweights as a serious art form. And if you are in an antiques store, be sure to look for paperweights. You may find a rare treasure.

A “Retirement” Career in Art Glass

 

 

paperweight makers

Dick Moile & Kathy Poeppel at work.

Dick wrote research papers and treated cancer patients with brain tumors as a neurosurgeon in Houston. His reputation for expert treatment for brain cancer caused many sleepless nights.  Kathy, his wife, worked as a nurse and physician’s assistant. In 1995 the chance to retire became reality for Dick Moiel and Kathy Poeppel. Since they collected art glass and paperweights, they explored the process of glass art.

The road to their “retirement career” fell into place. They never expected the rich rewards which followed. They built Houston Glass Studio, where they purchased tools and a furnace, dubbed “the glory hole.” Their studio resembles a laboratory for creativity, sometimes referred to as a “hot shop.” In summer, the furnace is off. No longer do they wear sterile clothing in medical facilities but dress in old clothes and suffer from the heat from October through April as they produce an abundance of glass art.

The Interview

I asked Kathy to comment on their “career change” when I attended their Open House:

paperweights

Which one did I take home?

  1. What are the key elements in your successful career change?

We haven’t approached glass art as a career.  Dick retired from his Neurosurgery practice because it was time to step back from the stress.  Glass filled the void which followed.  We took time to explore.  The whole process of learning and making was invigorating.

  1. What advice would you give to others in transition to a career in the arts?

Keep it a labor of love. 

  1. What was the most challenging aspect of the career transition?

Trading the confidence and comfortable expertise of a seasoned professional for the humbling, anxious, thrilling opportunities only the total novice can know. 

  1. Did you have mentors who helped you learn the trade at the beginning of your studies?

Once we stumbled onto the path of glass there was no difficulty finding talented teachers. Studio ownership offered unlimited access to glass and the opportunity to practice.   Otherwise gaining the skills and understanding of glass as a material would have been a slower process.  

  1. Your resumes show extensive education.

We are professional students: between us we took over 50 classes, at eight schools from 30 different glass artists.  Learning in a class environment is essential. Glassblowing is a collaborative process. Watching and talking about glass encourages the hands-on experience.  With glass it is possible to learn from someone else’s mistakes.

  1. Are the classes expensive?

Tuition for a 1 week class will run $500-$1000 plus travel, room and board. 

art glass

Astounding “basket weave” glass creations.

 

Education and Scholarships

If you are considering a career change you need to hone your skills with specialized training. Universities offer short term classes, conferences and hands-on skill training.

A quick internet search for scholarships lists programs for new and experienced career growth. The premier place to study glass making is Corning Museum of Glass in Corning, New York with world-renowned instructors. Corning offers scholarships.

I belong to the Paperweight Collectors Association of Texas, which provides an annual scholarship to improve the processes for creating paperweights.

Be resourceful in looking for support to improve your chance for less stress and new friends. Research the type of art you find fascinating. Who knows? You may be the next emerging artist with a second or third career.

Take to heart what Kathy says. No career change is easy, but by “keeping it a labor of love,” you find new satisfaction in the world of work.

Their studio is open by appointment during the year with special hours and an Open House in December. Be sure to visit their Houston Studio Glass website  for details.

 

 

 

A Passion for People and Paperweights

              A CAREER CHANGE OF NECESSITY

paperweight

A MacNaught Paperweight

Will Pitt, like many graduating seniors, figured on a lifetime of work with Ford Motor Company. His degree in Mechanical Engineering form Lawrence Technological University helped him move from the automotive industry to aerospace in California. When aerospace nosedived in the late 1980s, he moved to Massachusetts, hoping for another technical job. Didn’t happen. He needed a different career.

An Alternative to Mechanical Engineering

A friend of his who owned an antique store offered Will a temporary job while he looked for work. Will’s background in corporate settings helped grow his friend’s business. He encouraged his friend to attend shows, improve his advertising and use auctions as an outlet; the business thrived. When his business partner encouraged him to dive into a specialty, he chose paperweights.

“I always liked selling the glass, more than other items. Paperweights became a logical choice as I loved the technology behind the product as much as the beauty of the artistry.” He talked with the artists, read and studied many books about the history and technical aspects of the craft. He was hooked.  He started his own business in 1994.

His self-employment created the opportunity to travel all over the world. When he visited Europe, he found his path into the countryside, forming relationships with artists and buyers. In 1996 he developed his website, which shows the artistry of old masters of paperweights and introduces the public to emerging artists from the U.S. and other destinations. World renown artists like Rick Ayotte, Ken Rosenfeld and Debbie Tarsitano are his friends and business associates. They are the artists. He sells their paperweights.

Attracting New Members

When I interviewed Will, we talked about the dwindling membership issues with paperweight collectors. We can find cheap paperweights, even at Walmart, but the antique paperweights can fetch as much or more than $50,000. The manufactured (made in quantities) can cost from under $10 to $100.

Well known paperweight artists can command anywhere from $200 to thousands of dollars. Some make glass jewelry and other art glass. Paperweight artists often break many works-in-process before completing one to sell. The lampwork, which entails tiny pieces of colored glass encased in the clear glass balls takes hours and hours of tedious work. Buying a paperweight is like buying an oil painting from  a famous or emerging painter. The weight anyone purchases from a well-known artist will undoubtedly appreciate. Novice paperweight collectors must read the history and comprehend the value. They need to attend the meetings and watch for bargains when they are out for a Sunday drive for a stop at a flea market or antique store.

Next Meeting

The next meeting of the Paperweight Collectors Association of Texas is in Fort Worth on 10/17, 10/18 & 10/19. The Texas group likes to dine together on Friday evening, enjoy the meeting on Saturday and extent the stay to Sunday for a visit to a member’s home to see his or her collection or to visit a tourist site in the area.

My addiction started with curiosity about a weight I inherited. I’ve developed the same passion for paperweights as Will Pitt, but I don’t sell them.

If you like glass, I urge you to attend the upcoming meeting. Will Pitt will be visiting dealer, bringing his lovely orbs to sell. Damon MacNaught, winner of the PCATX.org scholarship will be the speaker, telling about new methods he learned at the Corning School of Glass. Please visit PCATX.org for additional information.

A Chance To Meet The Artists

blue paperweight

Completed totally with glass by Mayauel Ward

I accidentally saw a post on Facebook from Mayauel Ward, a paperweight artist from California who makes glass art and paperweights. He mentioned casually he would be at the Bayou City Art Fair in Houston on March 27 through March 29. Since my husband and I would be visiting relatives in Houston, maybe we could go. Little did I realize the size of this art bonanza. As I researched online, I discovered over 450 artists would attend. The location, convenient in Memorial Park near downtown Houston, is a beautifully treed area. The day would be hot and parking, a problem. I became determined to attend. Fortunately, Mayauel posted the number of his booth, as finding him in the midst of 449 others, would be daunting.

Paperweights

I collect paperweights. How that happened is another story, but I love them and belong to the Paperweight Collectors Association of Texas. When our non-profit organization meets, an artist and a paperweight dealer attend, so we can whet our passion for education about paperweights, usually going home with glass balls wrapped carefully by the attending dealer.

Mayauel has not yet visited our group. This was my chance to meet him and hear his story. Plus, I’d check as many other artists’ booths as possible, although with family members hovering near, doting over other booths was not practical.

Bayou City Art Fair

Since I ran late, the three of us arrived an hour after the gates opened. By this time we had to walk a million miles to the entrance. My feet hurt and the weather became horridly humid and hot. We trudged forward to find Mayauel’s booth. I picked up a number of business cards in the other glass art booths, but once I found his booth, I didn’t need to go farther. I found two phenomenally gorgeous weights, reasonably priced. I wanted to hear more about his journey into paperweight making but with the heat, the waiting son and grand-son, Mayauel and I didn’t talk long. Plus, many customers waited to talk with him and buy his art treasures.

Mayauel Ward

You can read about his journey on his website. He’s been an artist most of his life, working in places where he trained with experts to improve his creativity. He started his own business in 1988, often visiting art fairs. Be sure to visit his website at www.mayauelglass.com to see, not only paperweights but his fabulous, colorful vases and other items. Read about his career from surfer dude to incredibly talented glass artist on his website.

Advice

Never be late to art fairs, if parking is a problem. Know which artists you want to visit beforehand or you may waste time searching for him or her. Artists enjoy meeting and talking with you. You may not have to travel to places like California or Vermont to discover the latest, most fascinating artists. The next big art fair in the Dallas area is Cottonwood Art Festival in Richardson, Texas May 2-3.

Don’t wait until the scorching temperatures of summer to visit the local art fairs. Go now. If you wait a minute in Texas, the weather may no longer be conducive for your fun!

Addition Information

Or…attend the next meeting of the Paperweight Collectors Association of Texas to meet other crazy collectors, like me! See www.pcatx.org for details.

My Article Went Global

Volunteering

paperweight

A MacNaught Paperweight

I’m elated! An article I wrote in May 2014 went global this week. Volunteering to Preserve Paperweight History  was published in the Paperweight Collectors Association newsletter this week. Originally I wrote the article for the Paperweight Collectors Association of Texas newsletter. Someone in the national organization read it and contacted the PCA-
Texas newsletter coordinator to ask if the national organization could re-print it. Members of PCA are paperweight collectors and artists all over the world.

The national group meets this year in Tacoma from 4/29-5/2. Click on their website for details.

Our Texas group meets 2/5-2/7 in Houston. Check their website for details. Check my website to read my “global” re-gifting to you, as I originally posted the article on my website to encourage you to volunteer.

Volunteering to Preserve Paperweight History

 

Volunteer work impacts you and the world in many ways. 

MacNaught paperweight picTwo paperweight artists, Damon MacNaught and Jim Brown, both from Middle Tennessee, are working together to help create a gift of paperweights to a nearby art program to preserve history.  At our last PCA-Texas meeting Damon shared his history and his passion for paperweights.  He recounted a success story about acquiring the Kolbe Collection for CumberlandUniversity in Lebanon, Tennessee, assuring publicity for the world of paperweights.

The Kolbe Collection

Bill and Ruth Kolbe of Madison, Tennessee were avid paperweight collectors, members of the Tennessee Paperweights Group in the early part of the century.   Last year Damon, while perusing documentation about paperweights, found a telephone number for Bill, who had been president of the Tennessee PCA.  On a whim, he decided to see how they were doing.  When he called, Ruth answered with the news that Bill died in 2007.  She was packing boxes to move.  Naturally, his question was, “What will you do with your collection?”  Ruth was struggling with the issue and urged Damon to visit for a possible donation to a local university.  She didn’t have a clue how to arrange the gift.

Damon called his friend Jim Brown, well known for his paperweights, as he felt sure, Jim would want to assist with decisions and identifications about the possible donation.  Jim, who lives near Damon, has encouraged Damon in his emerging career.

Prior to his death Bill shared with Ruth that he wanted to donate 50 weights from the collection locally.  Damon suggested  Cumberland University in nearby Lebanon, Tennessee, as he teaches art at the school and knew the people to contact.  Damon and Jim wanted the selections to provide historical perspective, showing antiques, modern and emerging artistry.  Damon and Jim established the value of the 47 weights at $20,000.  Coordination took time and effort.  The appraisal, donation terms and documentation are duly recorded for posterity.

University Approval

The university readily agreed to display the paperweights with dignity by adding glass shelving in the Heidel Fine Arts Building for all to enjoy.  The collection will help preserve history and serve as an educational tool for art students to consider paperweights as a medium.  The school and Damon are consulting with Nashville Displays and the Bergstrom-Malher Museum in Neehnah, Wisconsin to assure security and beauty create an extraordinary experience with educational value for the public.  From antique Baccarats to modern artists, including Parabelles, a Drew Eblehare and others, paperweight history will be enhanced.

The Future

Andrew Najarian, a friend and colleague of Damon’s, attended our paperweight meeting in Fredericksburg, Texas.  Andrew studied glass and glass cutting, becoming the next Ed Poore in the process.  Andrew and Damon are a dynamite duo.  Their faceted paperweights rival some of the old masters in beauty. And with their outgoing personalities, they are bound to be around our passion for paperweights for a long time.

You can see Damon’s Youtube video and become a “friend” of both of Andrew and Damon on Facebook. Damon was the recipient of a PCA-TX scholarship where he attended classes with Victor Trabucco at  the Corning Museum of Glass last year. You can learn more about Damon on his website at www.dmacnaught.com.  Their volunteer efforts preserve history, while getting to know people across the world.

What are you doing to promote your industry or business through volunteering?  

This article was published in the May 2014 edition of The Paperweight, the newsletter of PCA TX, and is reprinted with permission of the author, Ruth Glover.