THEY JOKED ABOUT MY SUGGESTION we tour a paperweight museum.
But they weren’t laughing once we arrived at the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum in Neenah, Wisconsin.
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.
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.
“Impressed now?” I asked them. And they were.
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.
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.
And to think this all started with Evangeline Bergstrom’s memories of playing with her grandmother’s paperweight.
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.
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.
I found this aged glassware especially intriguing given the detailed scenes on many of the pieces. It’s fabulous art.
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.
Ditto for the other glass art featured in the museum.
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.
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.
© Copyright 2014 Audrey Kletscher Helbling