When Pedernales Electric Cooperative member Mark Reynolds started making kaleidoscopes, he didn’t realize the emotional impact the optical instruments could have.
Rewind to 1976. Mark, a University of Texas student, was paid a visit by his brother Cary, who wanted to make kaleidoscopes as Christmas gifts. He needed Mark’s help.
Launched in UT’s woodworking shop, the project spawned a full-time business, Kaleidovisions. In 1987, Mark met Carol Gagnon, who’d heard him play guitar in the South Austin shop. When Cary left the business in 1988, Carol became Mark’s business partner. In 1993, she became his partner in life.
The patterns seen in the toys are created by the mirror configuration. Mark cuts three mirrors in shapes, equilaterally or in an isosceles triangle, and tapes them together, evenly or tapered. After the mirrors are assembled, the body, made from fine woods such as mahogany, is built around them. Within the object chamber—a circular acrylic container—Carol uses items such as gemstones and seashells that float in oil, creating ever-changing patterns of color.
The couple’s business has taken them to nearly every state. “We’ll do a dozen shows in a year—and no two shows are alike,” Mark said. “If you want a predictable lifestyle, don’t be an artist.”
The high-quality kaleidoscopes magnify the magic of this simple child’s toy. Peering through the viewfinder and giving the scope a twirl brings forth vibrant colors, spins intricate patterns and lifts one’s spirits.
“We got a letter from a woman in the hospital who was receiving cancer treatment,” Carol said. “A friend had brought her a kaleidoscope as a gift, and she looked at it often. It let her move out of a stressful state into a place where she was only seeing the wonder of the thing instead of the pain of her reality. I believe a lot in the power of a person on the state of their health, and I think she does, too. She swears it saved her life.”
Freelance writer Margaret Buranen lives in Lexington, Kentucky.
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