BERGSTROM-MAHLER MUSEUM OF GLASS IS A WORK OF ART

A whole museum devoted to bright, shiny objects? That’s my kind of place. I was thrilled to visit to the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass in Neenah, Wisconsin.

The museum, first opened in 1959, houses two world-prominent collections among its 3,500-plus pieces: Antique and contemporary glass paperweights, and Germanic glass drinking vessels. The museum also holds smaller collections of Victorian glass baskets and contemporary art-glass sculpture.


Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass overlooks Lake Winnebago in Neenah, Wisconsin.


Many of the paperweights were collected by the museum’s first visionary, the late Evangeline Bergstrom. Among them are 19th Century orbs crafted by French makers such as Baccarat, St. Louis and Clichy. You’ll also see works by modern-day artists and small but mighty glass factories.

The three major types of paperweights are millefiori, sulphide and flamework. “Millefiori” is the Italian word for “a thousand flowers.” These paperweights are fashioned from thin glass rods called “canes” that can be coated in multiple colors, then cut to reveal the concentric rings. Sulphide refers to clay or porcelain cameos figures encased in glass. With flamework, artists use a gas torch to soften glass rods. Then they stretch and shape the glass into flowers, leaves, animals and other figures.


One of the largest millefiori paperweights ever, this one made by the Saint Louis Factory in 1973 weighs 55 pounds.

The Germanic drinking vessels were mostly compiled by the late Ernst Mahler, an Austrian-born Neenah resident who served as the museum’s first chairman. The collection spans three centuries of glassmaking throughout the northern European region that today encompasses Germany, Austria and Poland. The earliest piece is dated 1573.


Displayed here are ornate Bohemian glass from the 17th and 18th centuries.

The Victorian Era glass baskets, usually exhibited in the spring and summer, are highly ornamental. Depicting the period’s fondness for decorative flourish, these pieces are largely colorful, curvaceous and curlicued.

My favorite part of the museum’s collection is the contemporary glass sculpture. Wisconsin is home to the beginnings of the Studio Art Glass Movement, so it’s only fitting the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass showcases achievements in this art form. Some pieces are realistic and others are abstract, but all are exquisite. The makers are both international and regional artists.


The Studio Art Glass Movement, well-represented at the museum, has beginnings in Wisconsin.
Art glass pendant fixture in the museum’s library.
“Primordial Jump” by Michael Meilahn fashions glass into ears of corn.

Then it was our turn to create. The museum offers activity classes for adults, children and groups. On this day, we made fused glass suncatchers. We sat around a large white table, where a clear glass tile on a styrofoam platen awaited each of us. In the center of the table were dishes of colored glass pieces: confetti; dots; crushed, sugary glass called frit; and “stringers,” which are like thin toothpicks.


To make a fused glass suncatcher, we glued small particles of glass onto a clear tile.

Our assignment was to configure a design on the tile. We could use whatever colors and shapes we wanted, and we glued them into place. Later, the museum artisans would add a hanger and fire the tiles in their kiln. The high heat would melt our designs and fuse them onto the tile.


Dishes of glass particles awaited our creativity.

One member of my group of travel writers made flowers, and another formed the initials of a beloved sports team. I made a freeform pattern to hang in front of my kitchen window. I recently put in a new beige-y, marble-y countertop and beige-y glass backsplash in my kitchen at home, so I chose yellows and golds with purple and burgundy accents.

We wouldn’t see our masterpieces that day–the firing and cooling take too long. Instead, the museum mailed them to us after they were ready. I’m pretty pleased with mine, and it’s a lovely remembrance of the day:


My fused glass suncatcher before it was fired.
My fused glass suncatcher after it was fired.

If you adore unique one-of-a-kind shopping like I do, The Museum Shop features works from more than 165 international glass artists. All are displayed as gorgeously as you’d find in, well, a museum.

Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass is located on the western shore of Lake Winnebago, about 40 miles south of Green Bay and 90 miles north of Milwaukee. Admission as of this writing is free, although donations are appreciated.

Many thanks to the Fox Cities Convention & Visitors Bureau and Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass for hosting my media visit and for use of the feature photograph at the top!

6 thoughts on “BERGSTROM-MAHLER MUSEUM OF GLASS IS A WORK OF ART

  1. What a beautiful collection of glass the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum has on display. I especially loved the window spot overlooking the lake and the Primordial Jump piece. Having the chance to craft a project is such a great way to extend the learning process and gain even greater appreciation for glass making.

    Liked by 1 person

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