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A Reflection on the Universe


 April 20 – 26, 2008

At John C. Campbell Folk School

Brasstown, North Carolina

I have had a lifelong fascination with kaleidoscopes.  Over the years, I have purchased

a few expensive and some inexpensive kids toy kaleidoscopes.  The professionally

made kaleidoscopes are generally expensive, attractive in appearance and very

 interesting to look through.  While on an Elderhostel program in North Carolina,

I discovered that the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC offered

courses in the design and building of Kaleidoscopes.  My interest was instantly

drawn to attending one of these kaleidoscope classes.  I was able to sign up for a

basic class beginning on April 20th.  It was a life changing experience

for me, now I could build kaleidoscopes!


 This Elderhostel program explored the mysteries and magic of kaleidoscopes.  The course

outline indicates that  skills learned will range from basic glass cutting to decorative brass

etching, intricate glass stringers to complex mirror configurations, gaining proficiency in all

aspects in the aspects of Kaleidoscope construction.  There will be an emphasis on the

aesthetics of both interior and exteriors, as well as creative and whimsical approaches to

kaleidoscope design. 

Our instructor was Scott Cole, internationally known maker of Kaleidoscopes.


 This building housed the dining hall on the second floor

and the school's craft  shop on the lower level.


Heading to the dining hall for lunch.  Note the large farm

bell on the left of the photo that summoned the students

to meals.  It was rung each time so we could know that

we should enter the dining room.


The jewelry studio where our class was held.  It was very

well equipped for kaleidoscope making.

 The kaleidoscope studio.


 Busy kaleidoscope artists in action.


Scott Cole explaining the methods used in kaleidoscope

design and manufacture.


 Who said that you can't teach an old retiree new tricks!


Kathy Zachery with her new kaleidoscope covered with birch bark.

A last look at the jewelry studio where we made our kaleidoscopes.  Scott is standing by

to help answer questions.

My finished kaleidoscopes!  The two on the left will be

completed when I add photos inside the plastic bodies. 

The photos will cover the mirrors.


Our class kaleidoscope display at the school's end of

week exhibition.  My two kaleidoscopes that were displayed

were the standing brass one on the right side of the picture

and the blue box car next to the standing kaleidoscope.  

I made a total of eleven various size kaleidoscopes

during the week.  The exhibit of student projects is part of the

closing activities for each week’s class activities.

 It was a wonderful week.  Great new friends and

new skills learned. 

The Campbell Folk School was joy to be at for this

kaleidoscope experience.  They also fed us well and there

were many alternative activities to participate in.

The other people attending the kaleidoscope session were terrific.


I attended a second kaleidoscope workshop at the Campbell Folk school the

 week of September 7th.  The instructor, Sheryl Koch, was another

 internationally known kaleidoscope designer and builder.  She brought

several different interpretations to our kaleidoscope efforts.  I was the only

 repeat student and it was fun to become acquainted with other persons

 interested in kaleidoscope design and building.

Finished kaleidoscopes

Kaleidoscope magic using dried flowers placed between

two glass circles.  The edges are finished with copper foil.

The Kaleidoscope was invented in 1816 by David Brewster.

Originally known to the ancient Greeks, the kaleidoscope  was reinvented

by Sir David Brewster in 1816 while conducting experiments on light polarization;

Brewster patented it in 1817. His initial design was a tube with pairs of mirrors at

one end, and pairs of translucent disks at the other, and beads between the two.

Initially intended as a science tool, the kaleidoscope was quickly copied as a toy.

Brewster believed he would make money from his popular invention; however,

a fault in the wording of his patent allowed others to copy his invention.

In America, Charles Bush popularized the kaleidoscope. Today, these early

products often sell for over $1,000.  Art and Craft Galleries often carry a few, while

others specialize in them and carry dozens of different types from

different artists and craftspeople.

Kaleidoscopes are related to hyperbolic geometry.



The following photos show several kaleidoscopes that I have designed and built.

These three wooden kaleidoscopes were made from commercial kits

I purchased and then finished.  The wood grain gives

these kaleidoscopes an attractive appearance.

This kaleidoscope uses a glass wand for its magic imagery. 

The kaleidoscope is turned to allow the beads in the wand

to move gracefully down the wand in front of the mirrors.

This kaleidoscope uses a glass marble for its magic imagery.

A typical kaleidoscope except for a clear acrylic body which

allows the builder to incorporate a photo in the kaleidoscope.

The use of brass in making kaleidoscopes makes for a

rich appearance for the finished scope.


The magic used in a kaleidoscope can allow for a variety of

possible colorful images.  Above, I used dried flowers to

create beautiful muted images.

This kaleidoscope illustrates the fun items that

can be used to create magic imagery.


Another style of scope is called the teleidoscope.  The teleidoscope

uses a half or full clear plastic ball to create the magic

imagery that can be found everywhere one looks. 

Teleidoscopes have no moving parts to highlight their magic. 

You must turn the whole teleidoscope in order to create

the magical imagery.  They are especially effective

 in a garden with many colorful flowers in bloom. 

This Teleidoscope features an acrylic cylinder body

with family photos showing.

Illustrated  below are an application of a teleidoscope station for children. 

These four teleidoscopes focus on a Lazy Susan where

colorful objects are placed.  The Lazy Susan is turned so that the

colorful images can be seen from its movement.  This four

teleidoscope set up was build for the Tuscaloosa Children's

Hands On Museum ( CHOM ).  They have created a new

Kaleidoscope and Teleidoscope Exhibit for children to

experience the magic of kaleidoscopes.

This is a single Teleidoscope I build for my grandchildren. 

They have had many hours of fun looking at the magic around them.


Once you have ventured down the path of kaleidoscope building,

you begin to look for all kinds of materials that can be used to make scopes. 

Dollar stores, toy shops, hardware stores and flea markets all are fertile

stops for the kaleidoscope builder.  Friends have made kaleidoscopes

from flashlights, birch bark, plastic soda bottles and PVC pipe. 

More about PVC pipes later.   I happened to have a Rock Island Railroad

HO gauge box car hanging around since my days of living in

Council Bluffs, Iowa.  I took this box car  with me to the workshop

at the Campbell School.  I approached Scott Cole about whether this

could be made into a kaleidoscope.  After a little thought and study

he said to me "why not!"  Below is my first HO Gauge Box Car Kaleidoscope!

I added track and a piece of road bed to make the kaleidoscope

more realistic.  It turned out to be an eye grabber.  At the

kaleidoscope class everyone including visitors wanted to

check it out and often exclaimed "cool" when looking

through the box car. 

Following are just a few of the box cars I have built. 

Some have been sold and other were used as gifts.


This fall I was able to obtain two HO gauge diesel

locomotives.  They were good candidates to

become kaleidoscopes. 

If interested in obtaining a Box Car or Locomotive kaleidoscope

(or any other style of handmade kaleidoscope)

for your collection contact me via e-mail at:



PCV pipes and fittings are great vehicles to make kaleidoscopes. 

The very first kaleidoscope I made at the Campbell School was an eight

inch PVC pipe model.  Scott Cole used this type of pipe structure

to educate the class in the basics of kaleidoscope design and building. 

As I have become more experienced in kaleidoscope design

and building, I return more and more to my original

PCV pipe design.  Recently, I designed and build over twenty

PCV kaleidoscopes for the Children's Hands on Museum. 

They are the key part of a lighted tower of kaleidoscopes for

kids of all sizes.  In making these kaleidoscopes I use all

plastic parts so they are very kid safe and are almost

impossible to break.  I have sold several to parents who

want this type of toy for their young kids.

This is a classic designed PCV pipe and fitting kaleidoscope.

I have decorated it with the emblems of the University

of Alabama Championship Football team.


Feel free to address inquiries to Dr. John E. Jones at