34-39_ND10_Lifes Canvas

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					                                                                     life’s canvas
the scope                                                                                                         Jon Greene,



of innovation
                                                                                                                  owner of Cape
                                                                                                                  Kaleidoscopes,
                                                                                                                  learned the
                                                                                                                  esoteric art of
                                                                                                                  kaleidoscopes
                                                                                                                  from his mother.




                                                      Far from simple playthings, these Cape-made
                                                            kaleidoscopes are true works of art.
                                                                          Jon Greene sometimes sits on a bench
                                                                          outside Cape Kaleidoscopes—his business in Mashpee Com-
                                                                          mons—and listens to the skeptical reactions of people strolling
                                                                          past the corner store. “They’ll look and say, ‘Are you kidding?’”
                                                                          he laughs. “People have a hard time conceptualizing a store
                                                                          that sells only kaleidoscopes. They’ll ask, ‘You can make a liv-
                                                                          ing doing this?’”
                                                                            In the world of kaleidoscopes, Greene is considered one of
                                                                          its finest artists. He modestly boasts that no one knows more
                                                                          about kaleidoscopes before his wife, Suzanne, playfully inter-
                                                                          jects. “Except for your mom.”
                                                                            Greene’s mother, Janice Chesnik, began making kaleido-
                                                                          scopes in 1980. With the exception of occasional retail art and
                                                                          craft fairs, her unique “Chesnik Scopes” were available only
                                                                          through galleries until Greene opened Cape Kaleidoscopes


                                                                         by rob duca | photography by dan cutrona
34   december 2010   www.capecodlife.com   www.capecodlife.com                                                     cAPe cOd LIFe        35
                                                     life’s canvas




                                                                                           last April. Greene began making kaleidoscopes in 1990 and took over the business in 2007. His
                                                                                           mother still works for him four or five days a month, he says.
                                                                                              Chesnik was creating stained glass boxes in the late 1970s when she spotted a kaleidoscope
                                                                                           while browsing through an arts store in California. “She liked the concept, but she thought she
                                                                                           could do it better, so she took it home, kind of dissected it to see how it works and then made
                                                                                                                                                                                                         Depending on the
                                                                                           her own version. That was the start of her business,” Greene says. Chesnik was one of the first to hands that hold it, a
                                                                                           design a kaleidoscope using two wheels made with agate stone or stained glass, and then plac- kaleidoscope can be
                                                                                           ing them at the end of a gleaming brass tube. “The concept of the wheeled scope was totally a toy or a work of
                                                                                           different,” Greene says. “There were some people making them, but they were basic—with one
                                                                                                                                                                                                         art—or both.
                                                                                           wheel—and not very dynamic.”
                                                                                              Thirty years later, Chesnik Scopes remain distinctive with their two-wheel, stained-glass de-
                                                                                           sign. “The kaleidoscope community is small . . . if one person steps out of line and copies some-
                                                                                           body else, they’re kind of ostracized,” Greene explains. “So it’s really unusual to get copied.
                                                                                           Nobody really has made one like ours. We’re unique with the wheeled scope.”
                                                                                              Invented by David Brewster in the early 1800s, kaleidoscopes were mainly considered toys
                                                                                           until the 1980s when Chesnik’s design helped transform them into works of art. Although Greene’s
The two-wheeled designs first pioneered by                                                 sister, Cheryl Koch, is also a kaleidoscope artist, his career path did not initially follow his family’s.
Janice Chesnik are captivating, yet rarely if ever
                                                                                           When his mother’s wholesale business began taking off, he was attending San Diego State Golf
imitated.
                                                                                           Academy with the intention of becoming a club professional. It wasn’t until he was laid off as a
                                                                                           middle manager at Circuit City that he learned how to make his mother’s distinctive wheels.

36   december 2010                                                   www.capecodlife.com   www.capecodlife.com                                                                                          cAPe cOd LIFe       37
                            life’s canvas                                                                              life’s canvas

                              Designing a wheel is like building a jigsaw puzzle. It requires focus,          Chesnik Scopes to cancer research-
                            an instinct for shapes, an eye for color, a steady hand and, of course, un-       ers for 10 years.
                            wavering patience. Greene cuts sheets of glass into thousands of pieces              Still, kaleidoscopes are not for ev-
                            of various shapes, and then arranges them in trays according to color. He         eryone. Greene says it’s fascinating
                            sifts through the trays searching for the right size and color to complete a      to watch couples interact when they
                            wheel. Each wheel is then copper-foiled in a stained glass technique and          walk into his store. Often, one person
                            soldered. No two wheels are exactly the same due to differing shapes,             will excitedly peer into kaleidoscope
                            colors, and patterns. He makes five wheels at a time, a laborious process         after kaleidoscope, marveling at the
                            that can take three hours from start to finish. “There’s a lot of prep work.      colors and remembering back to a toy
                            But when I send out an order, there’s that sense of accomplishment, of            kaleidoscope from their youth. Oth-
                            making something nice.”                                                           ers will stand back, hands in pockets,
                              There are as many as 45 pieces in the making of a typical kaleido-              wondering what all the fuss is about.
                            scope, from the glass to the tube to the mirrors to the washers and pins.         “It’s personality-driven. We have an
                            At its core, a kaleidoscope is the interaction between mirrors encased            expression: You don’t pick the kalei-
                            in an apparatus and the object on the end. Chesnik Scopes’s wheels                doscope, it picks you,” Greene says.
                            create the effect of a miniature stained glass window. Greene favors in-          “We call it interactive art. For some
                            tense, colorful images, and he is extraordinarily meticulous about the            people, it’s a toy. For others, it’s art.”
                            wheels. “They must be weighted correctly. They can’t warble in any way,”             After decades working in whole-
                            he says.                                                                          sale and laboring alone in his studio,
                              After operating their business in San Diego for 25 years, Greene fol-           Greene relishes spending a couple of
                            lowed his mother to Georgia, where she continued making kaleido-                  days each week talking with custom-
                            scopes. He met Suzanne at a trade show, the two embarked on a long-               ers and making wheels in the store.
                            distance courtship, and Greene moved to western Massachusetts. They               The store motto is “Come and play,”
                            relocated to Cape Cod in 2009. Greene’s venture into retail last April is         and it’s a slogan Jon and Suzanne
                            admittedly perilous in uncertain economic times. “Sometimes you have              take very seriously. “We have people
                            to jump in when everyone else is running out,” he says. “Even in a down           come in with children and the first
                            economy you must have faith in your product. This is what I’m good at. I          thing the parent will say is ‘Don’t
                            wanted to make this work.”                                                        touch anything!’” Suzanne says. “We
                              Today, Greene’s store features kaleidoscopes of various designs from            encourage you to touch. We want
                            nearly 25 artists. In addition, there are highly popular toy kaleidoscopes        customers to interact with the kalei-
                            that sell for as little as $3, handcrafted glass jewelry, glass marbles, and      doscopes. That’s the fun.”
                            books about creating kaleidoscopic images on quilts, using various                   Then there are the kaleidoscope
                            fabrics and techniques. Then there is Greene’s own company, Chesnik               collectors who slip into his store and
                            Scopes, whose designs are credited as perfections of the wheeled ka-              spot Jon, the artist, patiently search-
                            leidoscope, with brass tubes placed on a wooden stand or pedestal,                ing for just the right piece of cut glass
                            wheels of dichroic glass, and Brazilian agate stone or millifiori (“thousand      that will fit into a new wheel for a
Cape Kaleidoscopes, the     flowers”) glass. The results are dazzling, constantly changing patterns of        future kaleidoscope. “When I come
Mashpee Commons shop        vivid colors that Greene says create a “wow” factor. These kaleidoscopes          here, I get to talk to people about
run by Jon and his wife,    are carried in more than 100 galleries and shipped across the United              kaleidoscopes,” he says. “It kind of
Suzanne, features pieces    States, Canada, and Japan. Pieces range in price from $140 to $400.               reinforces everything I believe.”
from close to 25 artists.
                              “(Chesnik Scopes) just stand out from the crowd. The quality, the viv-
                            idness of the colors, it just sparkles and comes to life. To me, they’re the      Rob Duca is a freelance writer living in
                            van Gogh of kaleidoscopes,” says Lois Myers, co-founder and executive             Plymouth.
                            director of the Kaleidoscopes of Hope Foundation, which has awarded

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