By Sherry Misener
Neatly tucked into the corner of Park and Wisconsin avenues across from Riverside Park stands Neenah’s hidden gem: the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass. While the museum is located on city-owned property, the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass is operated by a private foundation who cares for the glass collections, funds museum operations, and maintains the building. Thanks to private and corporate donations, admission to the museum is free.
Although the Bergstrom-Mahler is commonly known as the “paperweight museum”, the museum offers much more—all of it worth discovering. The Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass has four permanent glass collections: the world’s most representative collection of antique and contemporary glass paperweights; an outstanding collection of Germanic drinking vessels dating from 1573; a collection of Victorian-Era glass baskets and a thriving collection of contemporary glass. Jennifer Stevenson, Marketing and Development Director of the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass gives this piece of advice for first-time visitors: “Focus on a few pieces at a time. Visual arts produce a largely internal response in us. If a person tries to take in everything at once, then they’ll miss the reaction of their quiet inner voice.”
The current temporary exhibit at the Bergstrom-Mahler is entitled, “Glass Artists of the NEW North”. The exhibit, whose goal is to meld the interest in innovation in the business community with the creativity and innovation of the artists in Northeast Wisconsin, runs from September 15 through February 16. Of special note is the work of Charles Savoie, a nationally and internationally recognized master glassblower that is based in Ripon, Wisconsin. Savoie has studied with greats like Dale Chihuly and William Gudenwrath. Other exhibiting artists include: Beth Lipman, Michale Meilahn, Deanna Clayton, Keith Clayton, Stephanie Trenchard, Jeremy Popelka, Wes Hunting, Scott Amrhein, Jon Chapman, Thomas Fleming, Wesley Hunting, Beth Wenger Johnstone, Cory Kwakkel, Jenna Larson, Linda Muldoon, Nick Nebel, Kristin Thielking, Keven Brunett, Mary Jo Weidert, Sharon Fujimoto, and Mitch Baker.
Paperweights comprise the primary permanent collection at the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass. Mrs. Evangeline Bergstrom (married to John Nelson Bergstrom), bequeathed 652 pieces in 1958 which went on to become the foundation of a collection that has grown to 3,000 objects and includes garland, facet, overlay, swirl, marbrie and crown weight paperweights to name a few. Mrs. Bergstrom quickly became an expert on antique paperweights, with her favorite being millefiori (Italian for “a thousand flowers”). Her collection of paperweights was highly respected and sought after. Her collection was exhibited at The Art Institute of Chicago in 1939 and Mrs. Bergstrom appeared on a WGN Chicago radio talk show in 1942 after photos of her collection appeared on cover of Hobbies Magazine.
The building where the Bergstrom-Mahler is housed was originally built in 1929. Founders of the museum include Evangeline Bergstom and Carol and Ernst Mahler. In addition to the donation of their Germanic glass collection, Ernst (a chemist and employee of Kimberly-Clark who developed an absorbent cotton material now used in diapers), and Carol Mahler were instrumental in the success of the museum. After Mrs. Bergstrom died in February of 1958 and bestowed her glass collections and her 1929 Tudor home to the City of Neenah, the Mahlers and several other community members worked together to found the museum. On April 5, 1959, the John Nelson Bergstrom Art Center opened to the public. Expansions took place in 1965, 1986, and again in 1997. Bergstrom-Mahler Museum now greets more than 29,000 visitors each year. Currently, an upstairs library and conference room are in the works, with a completion date set for the end of 2013.
The Bergstrom-Mahler is celebrating the season with their Holiday Open house on Saturday, December 7 from 10 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. Patrons ages three years old and up can enjoy the day by creating a glass ornament ($15 fee) or create a handmade card for free. Kids can even go on a scavenger hunt adventure through the museum. Last year’s open house attracted 435 people and the museum staff say that it should be the same or bigger this year.
Jen Stevenson offers one last piece of advice about the museum: “The Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Art is a community gift that was intended to be appreciated by everyone. If you haven’t visited it yet, go and take a look. This is your museum.” To learn more, visit the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass and its enchanting gift shop in-person Tuesday-Saturday, 10:00 a.m.–4:30 p.m. or Sundays 1:00-4:30 p.m. The museum is closed on Sundays and major holidays. You can also find the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass online at Faceook or at www.bergstrom-mahlermuseum.com. For more information on Art Activity Days, please contact Studio Assistant, Dawn Passineau at (920) 751-4658.
Sherry Misener stays involved in the fine arts through freelance writing, design and working for the UW Oshkosh Art Department.