Frank and Janet Higgins Kaleidoscopes
We aim to create high quality instruments, which will produce spectacular images while at the same time being pleasing externally. They are designed to last a lifetime. As our output is not large, they will remain rarities.
We are reintroducing UK to a craft not seen since the early nineteenth century when Sir David Brewster invented the Kaleidoscope. His creations enjoyed great popularity as one of a class of “Philosophical Instruments” through the nineteenth, but persisted only as childrens’ toys through most of the twentieth century
How we got here
We started creating kaleidoscopes in the late 1990’s. We had run a small stained glass studio, making windows, lamps and decorative items, since the mid-1980’s; by coincidence, we had christened the studio “Kaleidoscope Stained Glass”. It was more than 10 years later that we discovered Contemporary Kaleidoscopes. This was while visiting USA where there had been a renaissance of interest in the subject and there were many good craftspeople making interesting instruments, several hundred serious collectors and several retailers specialising in kaleidoscopes.
We brought a few kaleidoscopes home as presents; these were turned wood or metal-tube-bodied, but we wondered if we could turn our glass working skills in that direction. At that point we could find no one in the UK making kaleidoscopes, so we had to work out the complex optical aspects for ourselves. Frank’s ancient degrees in Physics and Maths helped. When it came to designing the image-making elements, Janet's background as a colour scientist in the textile industry proved invaluable. People showed a lot of interest in this new work and within a few years, we had wound down our conventional stained glass work to concentrate on design and creation of kaleidoscopes. Twenty years on, we are still the only makers of “serious” kaleidoscopes in the country. We have so far made between 3 and 4000 of them. Our work, in the collections of enthusiasts around the world, has won awards, most recently at an exhibition in USA to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the invention of the Kaleidoscope.
We keep in touch with the kaleidoscope community through membership of the USA-based Brewster Kaleidoscope Society and through an online discussion group of well over 700 Kaleidoscope builders, collectors and general aficionados - "The Kaleidoscope Builders' Knowledge Base" - of which Frank is Group Owner and Moderator.
What we love about creating Kaleidoscopes
It starts with the almost magical-seeming way that any kaleidoscope will create a harmonious, beautiful image from a random arrangement of elements. Then there is the blending of art and science involved in design, coupled with the opportunity to deploy a range of glass working skills – fusing, flameworking, glassblowing, stained-glass construction and precision mirror work. Finally, there is the almost universal delight and “Wow” reaction from people encountering our work for the first time.