Bob and Elissa Rioux create kaleidoscopes. Not the kind you may have played with as a child, with a cardboard tube that made a sound like dry sand and beads when you moved it.
Look into one of the Riouxes’ kaleidoscopes and you’ll see bright patterns with brilliant clarity. Turn the cylinder effortlessly and silently, and countless exquisite new designs appear, formed by the glass beads, Swarovski crystals, and other tiny pieces inside.
The Riouxes design and make kaleidoscopes that are sold around the world and prized by collectors. Their creations have won first place awards at the National Convention of Kaleidoscopes three times and were included in the National Geographic Society’s exhibit on glass in Washington, D.C. in the 1990s.
In their workshop, the Riouxes create handmade kaleidoscopes using art, stained dichroic glass, high-quality mirrors to avoid distortion, and colorful pieces suspended in glycerin. As glass artists, they are well versed in the properties of glass, sometimes fusing different types for special effects. Some incorporate hand-blown glass; others are trimmed with French brocade ribbon.
How does one become a kaleidoscope maker?
“There was no school for this at the time,” Bob recalls. “All of this was basically trial and error back in the ’80s.”
Bob first created a kaleidoscope as an experiment. “I always liked kaleidoscopes,” he remarked. As they perfected their designs and their kaleidoscopes began to garner more attention than some of their other creations, the couple began to focus on their production.
They mostly create lines of kaleidoscopes that use two, three, or four mirrors. Some use tapered mirrors. “The geometry is what changes it,” explains Bob.
“When I look back at my grades at Bapst, I find that I was pretty good at geometry. But when you’re going to school, you don’t know what you’re going to use it for. It [glass art and kaleidoscope making] found me.”
Bob and Elissa met when she was working as a glass artist making glass and lace picture frames, trays, jewelry, and other objects. Then they began to work together on creating kaleidoscopes.
“I actually have a [stained glass] window in Stephen King’s office in his home,” Bob remarked. “It’s from the book cover of Different Seasons, and it’s just as evil as the book cover.”
Their creations have been sold at a variety of stores; Elissa has sold some of her pieces at Nieman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman, while.
Bob and Elissa’s ’s kaleidoscopes are available at FAO Schwarz and other venues. Currently, they are also available in shops in Maine as well as many galleries in the U.S. and abroad. Bob attended Bapst, along with his siblings Zina ’64, Roger ’65, Larry ’67, Claude ’69, Tommy ’75, and Rhonda ’79.
The Riouxes have made special kaleidoscopes for individuals or to mark special occasions such as weddings. Elissa described a recent piece, created for a California teenager’s birthday, which incorporated her favorite colors as well as designs related to her love of dance. Another, created for President George H.W. Bush, included tiny elements in the cylinder that referenced his wife Barbara’s colorful Keds sneakers, their connection to the Maine coast, a Navy insignia, and even the former president’s dislike of broccoli.
“There’s such a great palette of colors, shapes, and materials to work with,” says Elissa, “so they’re always different.”