Demystifying Paperweights by Debbie Tarsitano of Debbie Tarsitano Studios

Antique paperweights made in the 19th century captured floral designs, reptiles and millefiori canes in very traditional Victorian styles encased in a solid sphere of clear crystal.

Artists of the 19th century generally produced paperweights in factory settings along with other decorative glass objects. Rarely signed by individual artists, most antique paperweights are attributed to a factory by motif, color palette, canes and shape. Little is known about individual artists who created the work.

In a nineteenth century society with fancy desks and paper, paperweights were functional objects of art. Flowers were a large part of Victorian society and both ladies and gentleman of the time were attracted to fauna and flora. Paperweights were considered fascinating objects of art and conversation pieces in Victorian homes.

Factories producing paperweights were primarily located in France, Italy, Czechoslovakia, America, and China. Factory made paperweights often had similar motifs. Factories would also produce special pieces. These rare designs showcased fantastic capabilities and secret techniques only known to each factory. Today these special pieces bringing staggering auction results.

In the mid 20th century, there was a revival in modern paperweights. At first artists began creating updated versions using glass-working techniques of antique traditions. This revival began alongside the studio art glass movement in America. Individual glass artists opened homegrown studios in garages and basements. The pioneer and dean of the American paperweight revival was Charles Kaziun, of Brockton Massachusetts. Kaziun set new artistic standards and methods for creating paperweights at that time. He worked alone in his own small home studio creating the path that all subsequent contemporary paperweight artists followed.

Contemporary artists making paperweights introduced several differences from the past: (1.) They worked alone or with an assistant in private home studios. (2.) They concentrated on paperweights. (3.) Artists developed individual styles and methods of making the work. (4.) They always signed the artwork and often numbered editions.

In the early years of collecting paperweights, few collectors knew very much about paperweights and even less about how paperweights were made. In 1955 Mr. Paul Jokelson, an avid antique paperweight collector and importer, founded the Paperweight Collectors Association. Mr. Jokelson promoted paperweights and created a forum for educating collectors and where artists like Kaziun could show and sell their new work. Mr. Jokelson published many early books on paperweights; authors followed creating a library of books on paperweights. The PCA continues having bi- annual paperweight conventions.

Today in 2015 many artists all over the world are creating fine paperweights. The finest modern paperweights have made their way into private and museum art collections. Institutions such as The Chicago art Institute, Museum of Fine arts in Boston, The Currier Museum of Art in Manchester N.H. amongst others have modern paperweights on view.

Today’s paperweight artists have stepped beyond the traditional form and are creating new works of contemporary art glass. They truly enjoy their work and continue to be motivated by their love of art.

Collectors love paperweights because, unlike other forms of art, collectors can hold them in their hands and be drawn into a fascinating miniature world.