Bergstrom-Mahler Museum is a regional art museum with glass-focused programming. The museums has four permanent glass collections: the world's most representative collection of antique and contemporary glass paperweights, a stunning collection of Germanic drinking vessels dating from 1573, a collection of Victorian-Era glass baskets and an ever-growing collection of contemporary glass. The museum also offers a schedule of temporary glass exhibitions as well as studio classes in glass for youth and adults. The museum operates as a private, not for profit, 501(c)3 organization. Since it opened in 1959, museum admission has been free; it relies on private and corporate donations to continue to do so.
It began with playful reminiscing. . .
At the age of ten Evangeline Hoysradt loved to visit her grandmother to play with a paperweight she owned. Searching for matching canes in the millefiori weight, kept her entertained for hours. After the death of her grandmother, that paperweight was the only thing Evangeline wanted to own, but it was taken by other family members before she could express her interest. It was not until a serendipitous event occurred in Evangeline's later years that we would see a weight similar to her grandmother's.
Throughout most of her life Evangeline did not collect paperweights and was not prone to making impromptu visits to antique shows, However, while in Florida in March of 1935, she decided to attend one in St. Petersburg.
There it was, a paperweight very similar to the one she played with as a child was for sale. It was marked with a B and an 1847 date. She purchased the Baccarat weight and one other- what she called a Fowlerton piece, which records indicate was a Whitefriars Inkbottle. These pieces were the beginning of Mrs. Bergstrom's world-renown collection.
A growing collection and level of expertise
Within a short time, Mrs. Evangeline Bergstrom became an expert in antique paperweights. Her collection was exhibited at The Art Institute of Chicago, 1939. Over 200 weights were displayed.Mrs. Bergstrom appeared on a WGN Chicago radio talk show scheduled for November 24, 1942, after photos of her collection appeared on cover of Hobbies Magazine.
Requests continued for showing the Bergstrom collection. These included the Neville Public Museum in 1939, the Milwaukee Art Institute in 1940 and a plea from the Milwaukee Public Museum in 1949. Fan mail poured in as personal letters sent to Mrs. Bergstrom thanking her for sharing the collection with adoring enthusiasts.
By Fall of 1940, pre-publication information was out on Mrs. Bergstrom's self published book on glass paperweights from her collection and research. It was one of the most authoritative references of the time. Accolades from notables Robert Guggenheim requested a replacement copy after a fire. Publishers, authors, collectors and enthusiasts of all types were taken with the beauty of the publication and the manner of its writing. The American Library Association included it among three recommendations for their Christmas gift picks. Accolades also came from other noted collectors: Dorothea Yaeger, with the highest regard for a fine work, and Jennie Sinclair who closed her correspondence with, I hope one day I have the privilege of seeing your fine collection.
Evangeline's husband, John Nelson Bergstrom was able to see his wife rise to this level of expertise, and was instrumental in preserving Evangeline's efforts primarily between 1935 and 1944. He did not live to see the museum to fruition. After his death in 1951, he bequeathed the residence to the City of Neenah and a charge to build a museum after Evangeline passed on. Today, a private foundation cares for the collections, funds museum operations, and maintains the building, while the City of Neenah retains ownership of the property.
Founders fulfill a legacy April 5, 1959 the museum opened to the public.
Museum Founders Evangeline Bergstrom Carol and Ernst Mahler Mayor Carl Loehning Mrs. Jessie K. Clark Mr. and Mrs. S. F. Shattuck Mr. and Mrs. J.C. Kimberly Miss Helen E. Babcock Miss F. Elizabeth Babcock Mrs. H. E. Babcock Mr. Arthur P. Remley
In addition to the donation of their Germanic glass collection, Ernst and Carol Mahler added much to the success of the museum. After Mrs. Bergstrom died in February of 1958 and bequeathed her glass collections and 1929 Tudor home to the City of Neenah, the Mahlers and several other community members worked together to found the museum. On April 5, 1959, the John Nelson Bergstrom Art Center opened to the public. In an effort to meet the needs of its growing public, museum expansions took place in 1965, 1986, and again in 1997. Bergstrom-Mahler Museum now greets more than 29,000 visitors each year. The museum glass collection numbers over 3,500 objects and is revered in glass collection communities worldwide.