Almost every year since 2000, Gene and I have travelled from Chicago, where my brother lives, to Minneapolis, to visit my son and family. As paperweight collectors, the road for us does not follow the shortest route, but the more scenic one through Fond du Lac, Oshkosh, and Neenah, Wisconsin. The highlight of this delightful detour is several hours spent at the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass on the shore of Lake Winnebego in Neenah.
From our very first visit, we have enjoyed seeing this lovely old home dedicated to the history of glass, primarily glass paperweights. In addition to the paperweight galleries, there are special temporary exhibits that are ever changing. When we visited just this past June, the Gordon Parks collection of Rick Ayotte paperweights was on display! Next year, it will be something equally breathtaking. In addition to the fascinating glass displays, the museum and its dedicated staff is always eager to welcome and educate visitors, as well as encourage the work of local students and residents. They have built a glass studio which offers classes in flame working and glass fusing for both youth and adults.
On the right, just as visitors enter, is the irresistible Gift Shop! We have purchased numerous paperweights and other gift items from the shop over the years. Just this year, in response to many requests, the gift shop has opened an online store. Simply go to the Shop tab on the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass website, www.bmmglass.com, and shop for one-of-a-kind paperweights, art glass, ornaments, and much more. You will not be disappointed!
Of special interest to us this year was the newly-opened Mabel R. McClanahan Study Gallery, a gift to the museum by Gary and Marge McClanahan in honor of Gary’s mother. Mabel was a Wisconsin native who lived in Appleton for many years and was very active in the community throughout her life. After she retired, she partnered with Gary and Marge as paperweight dealers. The gallery is a testament to Mabel’s interest in paperweights and commitment to education.
The Study Gallery houses nearly 600 paperweights in open-storage drawers and display bookcases. It also contains many books about paperweights and glass art and the 20-foot long conference table features 14 lighted compartments that hold paperweights donated by the McClanahans. Blown glass lamps made by local artists provide lighting over the table. This room is full of bright colors and light, and one of the highlights is a very colorful wall mural made of glass and mixed media, designed by Ricky Bernstein. We were excited to learn about how this mural was designed and created; according to Mr. Bernstein, he worked on this mural for six months. It is made mostly of glass and aluminum, and it was amazing to read his account of its creation and compare the artist’s original drawing to the finished mural.
As always, the Museum staff greeted us warmly and was available to explain the various galleries and give us our very own tour. We always love to see this lovely old home-turned-museum, enjoy the view from the back door, and drive around to see the lake just a block away. We always say, if we lived nearby, we would both be thrilled to be Bergstrom-Mahler volunteers!
Article contributed by Marie Peiter