Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

A must-see Wisconsin museum features paperweights, really old glassware & more May 1, 2014

THEY JOKED ABOUT MY SUGGESTION we tour a paperweight museum.

The museum is housed in an historic home (and addition) along the shores of Lake Winnebago across from a park.

The museum is housed in an historic home (and addition) along the shores of Lake Winnebago across from a park.

But they weren’t laughing once we arrived at the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum in Neenah, Wisconsin.

My husband, Randy, checking out a section of paperweights.

My husband, Randy, checking out a section of paperweights.

If I’d done my research rather than simply skimming a website, I could have advised my husband and daughter Miranda that the museum features more than one of the world’s largest collections of antique and contemporary glass paperweights.

Much more.

Examples of the beautiful glassware.

Examples of the beautiful glassware.

This museum and glass studio housed in a 1929 Tudor mansion and addition along the west shore of Lake Winnebago also showcases really old Germanic glassware. We’re talking glass spanning three centuries, the earliest dating to 1573.

This is some aged glassware.

This is some aged glassware.

“Impressed now?” I asked them. And they were.

One of the contemporary sculptures displayed.

One of the contemporary sculptures displayed.

To impress us even more, the museum includes an exhibit of exquisite contemporary glass sculptures, some part of the permanent collection and some on loan. I was allowed to photograph only those pieces that are owned by the museum.

gigantic paperweight

The Super Magnum Piedouche is one of 10 such paperweights created. This one is dated 1973 and weighs 55 pounds.

All through-out our visit, I wondered at the value of the thousands—2,300 objects in the paperweight collection alone—of pieces shown. An inquiry of a museum worker did not elicit a value, although I learned that the museum is currently attempting to purchase a certain contemporary sculpture and still needs to raise $9,000. She didn’t know how much had already been raised. I imagine a lot.

A close-up side view of a paperweight.

A close-up side view of a paperweight.

And to think this all started with Evangeline Bergstrom’s memories of playing with her grandmother’s paperweight.

These paperweights are truly works of art.

These paperweights are truly works of art.

Long story short (and you can read the long story by clicking here), Evangeline’s husband, John Nelson Bergstrom, bequeathed the couple’s home to the city of Neenah with instructions to build a museum upon his wife’s death for her paperweight collection.

In 1959, that museum opened, imprinting the legacy of the Bergstroms (John co-founded the Bergstrom Paper Company with this father) upon this eastern Wisconsin city.

A carved enamel goblet, ca. 1860, Bohemia.

A carved enamel goblet, ca. 1860, Bohemia.

Likewise, another paper industry leader and Neenah native, Ernst Mahler, gifted a glass collection to the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum. In 1994, the museum received the Germanic glassware Mahler had purchased in 1931 in Austria for his wife, Carol.

History and art detailed on glasses.

History and art detailed on glasses.

I found this aged glassware especially intriguing given the detailed scenes on many of the pieces. It’s fabulous art.

Dated 1693. Cheers.

Dated 1693. Cheers.

If only we could have sampled a dark German beer in one of those over-sized glasses…

Bottom line, don’t underestimate the appeal of a paperweight collection even if you, like my daughter, consider paperweights to be rather useless. Those in the Bergstrom collection possess great artistic and historical value well worth viewing, well worth appreciating.

Detailed floral art on glassware.

Detailed floral art on glassware.

Ditto for the other glass art featured in the museum.

Glassware in an array of colors.

Glassware in an array of colors.

FYI: The Bergstrom-Mahler Museum, 165 North Park Avenue, Neenah, is open from 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and from 1 p.m. – 4:30 p.m. Sundays, closed holidays and a few other days.

Admission is, get this, free, although donations are welcome.

mandalas

Fifth and sixth graders at Edison Elementary School in Appleton studied Tibetan Sand Mandalas and then created paper versions, temporarily on display in the lower level of the museum.

At the time of our visit in late March, glass pieces created by students in the Fox Valley area were exhibited. But I was not allowed to photograph these works, some of them mighty impressive.

Annually, the museum’s collection of Victorian glass baskets are also shown, primarily during the spring and summer.

TO VIEW ANOTHER post from the community of Neenah, Wisconsin, click here.

© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling