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Dr. Bahr Paperweight Display

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Dr. Carman Bloedow Bahr, born in Middletown, OH in 1931, was a medical doctor of internal medicine, specializing in diabetes and endocrinology—the branch of medicine associated with the study of endocrine glands and hormones. A graduate of the Ohio State University Medical School and a Miami University alumna, Dr. Bahr not only cared about her medical research, but also about the future of medicine. When she passed away in July 2008, one of her wishes was to give the Miami University premedical program, and the students associated, a gift of a scholarship. The funds for the Dr. Carman Bloedow Bahr M.D. Premedical Scholarship was to be gifted to the Miami University premedical program under one condition: that Miami accepted Dr. Bahr’s extensive paperweight collection and stores them somewhere safe, never to be sold.

While only about 30 paperweights are displayed at the Mallory-Wilson center located on the first floor inside Pearson Hall, the collection ranges well into the hundreds. The rest of the collection is located in the Miami University Art Museum, where when the paperweights were first gifted. When they were first gifted, there was an exhibition at the Art Museum displaying 75 of the paperweights within the collection. The exhibition not only displayed some of Dr. Bahr’s gift, but the Museum also invited the rest of the Bloedow (Dr. Bahr’s maiden name) and Bahr family to witness and experience the exhibition, as well as communicate with the Miami University staff about how best this institution can pay respectful homage to their beloved family member.

According to the curator at the Miami University Art Museum there isn’t any large correlation between each paperweight within the collection. But from the pieces on display in Pearson, they seem to at least have some small similarities. Although paperweights can come in different shapes and sizes, Dr. Bahr’s collection seems to consist of all rather spherical (or close to) paperweights all range from dates between the 1960s and beyond. The collection seems to have an array of designs; everything from stripes, to intricate patterns, to floral.

Although glass paperweights themselves are not much of anything more than a shelf ornament or collectible item in the 21st century, that wasn’t always so. Invented around the 1840s in Vienna, Austria by a man named Pietro Bigaglia, paperweights were used for a variety of things. To the upper-class, paperweights were a means of ornamentation; to the glass-making industry, they were a way to perfect old glass-blowing techniques such as flameworking, filigree, and millefiori; to everyone, they were a way to hold down the stacks of paper in people’s homes.

Around the 1860s, immigrant European glassmakers traveled to America, bringing with them their newfound interest in these paperweights and their encouragement for the American glassmaking industry to follow in their footsteps. Moving forward 100 years into the 1960s, the American glass industry relocated outside of factories and into the studios of artists; along with that, university art programs began to teach the skill of glassblowing. This newfound way of thinking about the skills and techniques of glassblowing brought about large forms of artistic expression for the paperweight industry.