On a Friday night this spring, I reported to the inaugural show at Fisher Parrish Gallery, in Bushwick. Some awfully cool looking folks were packed into the small white space. The table was laid with 117 new examples of paperweights. Almost none of them resembled the office accoutrement of last century, when open windows and fans sent paper sailing through reeking cigarette fog. These were objet d’art. They ranged from the purely ironic (a furry outgrowth) to the purely beautiful (chain links encrusted in sherbet crystals). Many were ineffable abstracts, and a few were just satisfying (animal figurines drilled into each other). “My life doesn’t justify a paperweight,” a girlfriend remarked. “My life isn’t settled enough. You don’t buy one until you think you’re not going to move.”
Paperweights had never struck me as markers of stability. But a month later, when I was laid off from the legacy media company where I worked for a print magazine, I surveyed my desk, picked up a stack of our branded notepads and a handle of whiskey and thought, At least I don’t have to lug no paperweight.
Then Saturday came without Saturday’s feel. In a vintage shop, I drifted from taxidermy pheasants to a shelf staged with dusted curio, and there was a Murano blown-glass paperweight. At its center, the softball-size bubble had a clear tubular ring, inside of which was a clear finial shape from which streaks of red sprayed in arches at 360 degrees. The thing was maybe five pounds? My fiancé found me cradling it to my heart. “You’re going to bring that home, aren’t you,” he said, meaning: Did my foolhardy troth to paper in the age of new media know no bounds? The paperweight seemed to englobe our opposed perspectives: he thought it looked like a nasty vortex; I thought it looked like a wine fountain.
In 1495, a historian from Venice remarked, “But consider to whom did it occur to include in a little ball all the sorts of flowers which clothe the meadow in Spring.” He was referring to the glasswork techniques the Romans had picked up from the Egyptians. The results were not paperweights, not least because the bottoms had not yet been shaved flat to prevent rolling. That was an evolution Paul Hollister, the late authority on paperweights, likened to “turn[ing] the Venetian pumpkin into Cinderella’s golden coach.” (As a bonus, grounding the base removed the pontil mark, the scar from a glassblower’s iron rod, and without a belly button, the orb seemed to come into the world by magic.) Read More