the scope Jon Greene,
owner of Cape
esoteric art of
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
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
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
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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