John Conklin displays more than 300 marbles and glass spheres in a lighted curio cabinet in his rural Whitehouse home.
Yes, he's been asked if he's lost his marbles.
No, he hasn't.
John Conklin figures his fascination with glass marbles has three roots: In his first years at Whitehouse Elementary, he rolled them out of a drawstring bag his mother had sewn, for daily shooting matches at recess; as a boy mesmerized by glass blowers at county fairs, he'd beg his mother to buy one of their little pieces; professionally, he designs huge glass furnaces for manufacturers around the world.
More than 300 art marbles on glass shelves in a well-lit curio cabinet boggle the eye, wondrously appearing to be doubled because of the cabinet's mirrored back.
"They're just little microcosms of perfection. You look at them and they look fluid, but they're not," said Mr. Conklin. He's handled so many, he can roll one in his palm and know whether or not it's a perfect sphere.
An octopus sits atop this ocean-themed sphere by Josh Mazet in Conklin's collection.
Created by 75 to 100 artists around the world, they rest on candlesticks, in aperitif glasses, and on tiny round plastic stands. Sibling to the paperweight, their diameters range from a half-inch to 2 1/2 inches. Among his favorites are an elevated group on the top shelf by Brett Young and Larry Zengel; he sees them at shows a few times a year and has visited their Hot House Glass studio in Bowling Green. "We've kind of bonded," he said.
There are rivers of swirls and twists, DNA-like strands, suggestions of filigree. Some encase what look like curling nautilus, sea anemones, or flowers, including an Impressionistic floral piece by Toledo's Shawn Messenger. One is an American flag, some are milky blue-green, or dusted with silver or gold while being fired. There's a pretty series of kimono beads. An apothecary jar nestles whorled and whirled spheres by the Davis brothers of West Virginia.
A few bear messages. One encapsulates what appears to be a jellyfish, but when turned a certain way its tentacles spell out "John" and "Tammy," his wife's name. Inside another are the words "Glass Addiction," each letter fashioned by a different artist. A twin to this is borrowed by marble lovers and taken on trips around the world and photographed.
He's also got some nutty ones: eyeball marbles, a skull, spiders with impossibly thin glass legs. A turquoise octopus splays on top of a marble filled with a clutch of glass octopus eggs; it rests on a wooden burl.
The first art-glass marble Mr. Conklin ever saw was in 2003 at Sauder Village in Archbold, the work of resident glass artist Mark Matthews. He bought one, returned the following year, and bought another.
"I thought he was the only person who made them."
A revelation came in 2005, when the Conklins celebrated their 25th wedding anniversary in Frankenmuth, Mich., and he discovered a caboodle of the beauties. "It was an 'aha!' moment!" he said. The following year, he began participating in an online forum for artists and collectors, and now spends four to five hours a week as moderator of Glass Addiction (glassaddictionforum.com) and interviewing artists for the site.
This spider with a skull by artist Wesley Fleming is among some of the quirkier items in his collection.
In 2008, the Conklins attended a marble show in New Jersey and toured the Corning Museum of Glass on the way. He's knowledgeable about styles, artists, prices, and processes, but wants to maintain a sense of magic about how they're crafted.
"I don't want to know how it's done. It almost ruins the fun of it."
He plans to attend activities at the Glass Art Society's conference June 13-16 in Toledo, honoring 50 years of studio-made glass which was established here.
The kitchen table in their log home in rural Whitehouse holds an old gum-ball dispenser half full of the marbles he played with as a kid -- boulders, shooters, cats eyes, purees.
Like most people who collect, marbles aren't the only objects of his attention. He likes small antiques (old cameras, shot glasses, cigarette boxes and lighters), and molded sculptures by Waterville artist George Carruth. But shiny orbs trump them all.
"It's a nice size to collect. And it's affordable," he said, noting that he's paid between 99 cents and $300 per piece. With luck, some prices will increase over time when an artist becomes better known. He's purchased some for $75 that now command about $300.
"When I first started, I wanted one of everything in the $10 to $20 range. Now I've become more of a connoisseur. I want better ones."
Contact Tahree Lane at email@example.com and 419-724-6075.
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