Member Richard P. Schimmelpfeng has generously donated his magnificent collection of almost 200 glass paperweights to the New Bedford Museum of Glass! Representing many of the best known contemporary artists, the collection spans two generations of collectors. It was started back in the 1970s by Richard’s father, Harold W. Schimmelpfeng. His garden abutted the garden of Scarsdale, NY, neighbor Paul Jokelson, the leading authority and author in his day on the subject of French glass paperweights. The paperweight collecting bug spread from one garden to the next, and then from father to son.
Each paperweight in the collection presents a fascinating study in craftsmanship, creativity and beauty; a tiny world of its own encapsulated in glass. The glass dome of one example by artist Rick Ayotte shelters a cluster of flowers and powdered blueberries from the ravages of time and also from hungry museum visitors. Nearby a Rick Ayotte robin freezes, startled, caught in the act of feeding a writhing caterpillar to a hungry fledglig . Another beautiful Ayotte weight features scarlet tanagers. A luminescent moon jellyfish floats tranquilly in the column of glass in which artist Richard Satava captured it, a shock of tentacles draping dangerously from its ghostlike body. More than one visitor to the gallery has posed the question, “but how do they manage to place these objects in the glass?” Upon hearing that the objects in question are themselves made of glass, they often respond with exclamations of disbelief.
A paperweight created by Cathy Richardson features a tiny frog sitting amidst a cluster of lily pads. One wrong move and he will jump to the next shelf, where a sculpture created by Debbie Tarsitano modestly wraps a brilliantly colored dahlia in softly sculpted leaves. Several planets designed by Josh Simpson are frozen mid-orbit around an abstract golden paperweight. Located one shelf below is a pastel-colored orchid suspended magically in crystal air by its maker, Victor Trabucco.
It is not only in their clever mimicry of nature, however, that these artists excel. Several abstract paperweights were designed solely to capture and manipulate color and light. Others feature colorful, intricate patterns assembled from tiny millefiori (“thousand flowers”) cane. No minor manipulations of glass are these; each represents years of labor and practice.
Paperweights often appeal as demonstrations of an artist’s glassmaking knowledge, skill and artistry. It follows, naturally, that one of the most rewarding aspects of being a paperweight collector is developing the ability to recognize and appreciate that wonderful virtuosity. And to share it with others.
Asked about his favorite piece, Richard says that he couldn’t possibly choose a single example. He adds, however, that Satava’s jellyfish is especially popular. Judging from the reaction of museum visitors we would have to agree. We encourage everyone to stop by and pick out their own favorites. Then, should the question ever arise, “Is there still a call for paperweights in this digital age?,” we hope the answer will be a resounding “Yes!”
As for Richard Schimmelpfeng, the latest news is that his shelves have gotten lonely without their beautiful paperweights, so he has started to refill them. The collecting adventure continues!