A visit with Gary and Doris Scrutton of Parabelle Glass brings to mind the time-honored American ideals of self- reliance and know-how. If you think of the pioneering spirit embodied in men like Thomas Edison or the Wright brothers in connection with the Scruttons, you'll be closer to understanding this glass studio.Parabelle is known to collectors as a small studio that produces classically designed millefiori paperweights notable for their clarity and bright colors. Some elements in Parabelle designs, such as their Clichy-type rose canes, are interpretations of recognized classics. Other elements, like their pansy canes, are unique. Enthusiasts who have followed Parabelle's production over the years have probably also noticed that the designs have become more complex and that the output has dropped correspondingly.
Scrutton began his career in glass during the fifties when he took a position as a glazier. Later, he established and ran Fabrille Studios, a stained glass shop that, among other things, designed and constructed windows for churches across the country and created the lamp shades for Farrell's ice cream parlors. In addition to working full time at his "day" jobs, Scrutton and his wife Doris also owned and operated a wholesale flower business from 1972 through 1984. Even though Scrutton lacked hot glass experience when he started setting up the Parabelle shop in space behind the stained glass studio, he feels that there was a natural progression. And maybe, using 20/20 hindsight, it's there for all of us to see. The combination of cutting and fitting glass, the use of color in the stained glass work, and his knowledge of flowers all led to a fascination with millefiori paperweights and how they are made.
The final ingredient that made Scrutton a success was ingenuity. Although he had studied information about materials, tools, and techniques, he had not worked with hot glass or even had the opportunity to watch anyone else work with it! When asked about it now, he just smiles and explains that he was brought up to believe that he was capable of doing anything he set his mind to.
"I was fortunate to be raised in the 40s and 50s, which was an optimistic time," he says. "We were through the Depression, the war was over and we came out the most powerful and richest nation in the world. I remember very well my high school teachers telling me I could be or do anything I wanted if I applied myself. The opportunities seemed unlimited and these must have been the first classes of entrepreneurs. Many of my classmates were very successful as businessmen and have gone on to be millionaires."
Scrutton introduces several innovations into the 1994 collection at this basic level. A number of colors in this year's collection are shades that are unique to Parabelle-created with recipes that Scrutton formulated through years of experimentation.
"Overall, I've increased the richness of all my colors this year," he says. "I am very proud of the newest colors I've developed." These include opaque peppermint pink, fuchsia, amber, magnificent shades of fire engine red and candy apple red, a rich aquamarine and a wonderful deep lilac. Scrutton often employs multiple shades of the same color to create a wonderful effect. In some pieces, it is possible to pick out a dozen different shades of red.
Scrutton also created a new millefiori rose cane for this year's collection. This rose is much more complex to create. "It has a wind-blown appearance, like a real rose," says Scrutton. The glassmaker has also made great strides in his ability to miniaturize canes and keep them crisp. "I like the idea that looking at millefiori is an exploration. Ideally, you should be able to discover something new every time you look at a weight," he says.
When asked, Gary Scrutton tells you that he's a technician with an artistic bent. That tells part of the Parabelle story. You also need to know that Parabelle paperweights are made one at a time by Scrutton with the help of his wife Doris. This is not a manufacturing operation. The only people who have ever worked at the studio are other family members. While Doris is still his regular assistant, she now spends more time with the grandchildren, and less on their paperweight designs.
Each design in Parabelle's 1994 collection will be limited to 10 pieces. This year's selection includes a number of exciting pieces, including a triple weight which is modeled after the famous antique Baccarat pieces. Triple weights are extremely difficult to produce-in fact Parabelle and Rick Ayotte are the only two modern artists to produce this type of weight. Equally amazing are a magnum scattered millefiori on lace weight (diameter 3 1/2"), and the studio's first- ever mushroom weight. This piece, which contains a large central rose surrounded by concentric canes, has no air-ring around the torsade-a fault commonly found in antique mushrooms. Scrutton skillfully incorporates his new colors and rose cane into stunning examples of crown and swirl weights. He has also created a whimsical upright bouquet basket weight with an encased lace handle. One of the most innovative pieces in the collection is a close-packed piedouche with canes that appear so close to the surface of the weight they look as if one could touch them.
Talking to Scrutton face-to-face about where Parabelle has been and where it's going, one sees a real sense of accomplishment in his eyes, especially when he admits that he could not have produced some of this year's collection (like the masterful mushroom bouquet weight) in prior years. And there is a sense of wonder and excitement when he says that he doesn't know yet what he'll be capable of doing for next year's collection. It should be fun to see.
Overture- An overture, or sinfonia, is classically divided into three parts. This "triple" weight is actually three paperweights fused together through a delicate process. An amazing display of skill, each section showcases a classical style of millefiori arrangement: the top weight contains a concentric arrangement of canes, the middle weight contains a scattered arrangement of canes on lace, and the bottom weight contains a close packed arrangement of canes. Master gaffer Gary Scrutton courts the viewer with this virtuoso performance. Signed and dated. Signature cane. Height 4 5/8 ". LE of 10. (PG139)
Fantasia - Fantasia is a musical composition written according to the composer's fancy. This piedouche weight contains a random arrangement of closely packed millefiori canes that come together to form a pleasing composition. Highlighting pansies and roses, an elegant bouquet of millefiori canes sparkles in a red and white stave basket with spiral torsades. Signed and dated. Signature cane. Limited edition of 10. Diameter 3 3/16". (PG137)
Sonata - A sonata is a song developed for a single instrument. The gorgeous millefiori rose at the center of this swirling blue and white pinwheel romances the viewer like the expressive timbre of a solo violin. A beautiful and mesmerizing weight. Signed and dated. Signature cane. Limited edition of 10. Diameter 2 5/8". (PG132)
Counterpoint - A white lace ground creates a delicate counterpoint for brilliant millefiori canes in this magnum weight, which includes arrow canes, roses and a central pansy. The canes stand out like gems against a snow white ground. Signed and dated. Limited edition of 10. Diameter 3 5/8". (PG135)
Crescendo - A pink and white stem swells to a crescendo of millefiori flowers in pink, white, ruby, lilac and cadmium green. This classically-inspired mushroom bouquet, which showcases a large central rose, is arranged inside a spiraling pink and white torsade. Six and one faceting. Signed and dated. Limited edition of 10. Diameter 3 1/8". (PG138)
Allegro - Three blossoms in a lace basket with a pink and white latticinio ribbon twist handle conjure the ritual of flower gathering. Allegro translates from Italian as happiness. Signed and dated. Limited edition of 10. Diameter 2 7/8". (PG136)
Nocturne - This melodious composition evokes the beauty of a field of wildflowers in the moonlight. Scattered complex millefiori light up an opaque cobalt blue ground in this song of the night. Signed and dated. Limited edition of 10. Diameter 2 7/8". (PG130)
Appasionato Stanza Fanfare
In this dazzling chequer weight, brilliant complex canes are separated by blue cables reminiscent of the lines in musical notation. Signed and dated. Limited edition of 10. 2 7/8". (PG134)
A display of regal beauty, this elegant six-color crown is decorated with spiraling twists in pink, white, ruby, lilac, aventurine and Naples yellow around a central pink and green millefiori rose. Pink and white twists are contained in a delicate lace sheathe. Signed and dated. Signature cane. Limited edition of 10. Diameter 3". (PG133)