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
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.
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.
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
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
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