Chesnik was creating stained glass boxes in the late 1970s when she spotted a kaleidoscope while browsing through an arts store in California. “She liked the concept, but she thought she could do it better, so she took it home, kind of dissected it to see how it works and then made her own version. That was the start of her business,” Greene says. Chesnik was one of the first to design a kaleidoscope using two wheels made with agate stone or stained glass, and then placing them at the end of a gleaming brass tube. “The concept of the wheeled scope was totally different,” Greene says. “There were some people making them, but they were basic—with one wheel—and not very dynamic.”
Thirty years later, Chesnik Scopes remain distinctive with their two-wheel, stained-glass design. “The kaleidoscope community is small . . . if one person steps out of line and copies somebody else, they’re kind of ostracized,” Greene explains. “So it’s really unusual to get copied. Nobody really has made one like ours. We’re unique with the wheeled scope.”
Invented by David Brewster in the early 1800s, kaleidoscopes were mainly considered toys until the 1980s when Chesnik’s design helped transform them into works of art. Although Greene’s sister, Cheryl Koch, is also a kaleidoscope artist, his career path did not initially follow his family’s. When his mother’s wholesale business began taking off, he was attending San Diego State Golf Academy with the intention of becoming a club professional. It wasn’t until he was laid off as a middle manager at Circuit City that he learned how to make his mother’s distinctive wheels.
Designing a wheel is like building a jigsaw puzzle. It requires focus, an instinct for shapes, an eye for color, a steady hand and, of course, unwavering patience. Greene cuts sheets of glass into thousands of pieces of various shapes, and then arranges them in trays according to color. He sifts through the trays searching for the right size and color to complete a wheel. Each wheel is then copper-foiled in a stained glass technique and soldered. No two wheels are exactly the same due to differing shapes, colors, and patterns. He makes five wheels at a time, a laborious process that can take three hours from start to finish. “There’s a lot of prep work. But when I send out an order, there’s that sense of accomplishment, of making something nice.”
There are as many as 45 pieces in the making of a typical kaleidoscope, from the glass to the tube to the mirrors to the washers and pins. At its core, a kaleidoscope is the interaction between mirrors encased in an apparatus and the object on the end. Chesnik Scopes’s wheels create the effect of a miniature stained glass window. Greene favors intense, colorful images, and he is extraordinarily meticulous about the wheels. “They must be weighted correctly. They can’t warble in any way,” he says.
After operating their business in San Diego for 25 years, Greene followed his mother to Georgia, where she continued making kaleidoscopes. He met Suzanne at a trade show, the two embarked on a long-distance courtship, and Greene moved to western Massachusetts. They relocated to Cape Cod in 2009. Greene’s venture into retail last April is admittedly perilous in uncertain economic times. “Sometimes you have to jump in when everyone else is running out,” he says. “Even in a down economy you must have faith in your product. This is what I’m good at. I wanted to make this work.”