In a return to its roots as an institution with a focus on glass, The Bergstom-Mahler Museum in Neenah, Wisconsin, has changed its name to the "Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass." Effective this past Sunday, September 15, 2013, the name change can be seen as a return to the institution's roots. The museum was founded in 1959 to house the donated paperweight collection of one of its founders, Evangeline Bergstrom, as well as the historic Germanic glass collection of its other founders, Ernst and Carol Mahler. “The name change is an outward sign of how the museum has evolved since its beginning more than 50 years ago,” the museum's executive director Jan Mirenda Smith told the GLASS Quarterly Hot Sheet in a telephone interview. The museum’s rich history and 3,500-object glass collection has played an increasingly important role in the museum’s vision. In the past, the museum shifted to a focus on local contemporary art of a variety of mediums, but by 2011, when the museum’s board of directors indicated that a return to glass-oriented exhibitions would be more aligned with the museum’s resources and programming.
At present, the museum has a glass studio that it uses for both exhibitions and as a space for local artists. It also does community outreach, offering education and demonstrations to locals. What the museum is most famous for; however, is its permanent collections, which include an internationally recognized collection of glass paperweights, the most comprehensive in the world. Smith describes the new vision for the museum as based on the idea of “glass as a continuum.” The museum already has a range of pieces spanning several eras and now it plans on shifting the focus to curating contemporary pieces. Some of the pieces in its currently running exhibition, “Glass Artist of the New North,” were made this year.
There is, of course, a marketing side to the name change. Studies showed that many wanted “glass” to be inherently associated with the museum. They also showed that the museum’s mouthful of a name was just not recognizable to most. The name change and a newfound calling for contemporary glass art may put the museum on the map among contemporary artists, adding to its already solid fan base of paperweight collectors.