Glass Grapes

An LDS friend showed me his shot glass collection recently, glowing with pride as he pointed to the Nauvoo Temple glass that sits front and center. The shot glasses reflect his travels and hobbies, and don’t appear to be used for imbibing hard liquor. I wondered at the irony of his prominent display, musing about possible reactions from the Home Teachers or his in-laws.

But I have to admit that I was also a bit jealous. Because I rather enjoy Mormon kitsch.
In a prominent space in my own living room, I have my grandma’s purple glass grapes–perhaps a better reminder of my heritage than the many LDS tomes that grace the nearby bookshelves.

So am I alone in my fondness for such oddities? Or do you like them, too? If so, what types of kitsch have you collected over the years and do you display it prominently in your home?

13 comments

  1. Rory says:

    I don’t know that I collect Mormon oddities. Mormon related books, to some extent, but that’s about it.

    I do, however, collect shot glasses like your friend. Places I’ve been, events I’ve attended. I chose the shot glass because they are fairly common and they take up less space than a beer stein. ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. JaneAnne says:

    That’s funny that you would post that just now, Jana. My mom and her siblings recently moved my grandmother into assisted living, and over Thanksgiving weekend we were divvying up as many of the smaller items in her house as we could get people to take. My uncle’s wife had already snatched the purple glass grape set (they sat on the side table in grandma’s purple dining room), but my aunt managed to find me a clear set in reasonably good condition–a few grapes that need to be rewired. They’ll be taking a place of honor in my own dining room very shortly!

  3. paula says:

    We were unable to find my grandma’s glass grapes when she died, but I do have her grapemaking supplies– a few unused Christmas balls (which were the molds), and wire, wire cutters, some dried up resin and colors. A few years ago, we made them for our Rocky Mountain Retreat in Colorado, and I did the research on how to make them. Oddly enough, the info all came from men– one was the owner of Zims in SLC. I think women were too embarrassed to admit they knew how. One of those men said the grapes were so popular because they were a legitimate way for Mormon women to get high off the fumes.

    I have a few photos from the grape making session on line. They were scanned off someone else’s scrapbook pages, so the photos are cut kind of funny:
    http://homepage.mac.com/sootica/PhotoAlbum7.html

    Chieko Okazaki was there, but didn’t make any– she just walked around watching, and laughing at us. The pouring part is the worst, and I’m sorry we have no photos of it. We were doing this about midnight, in the crafts building of the camp we use, and the room was thick with fumes. The security guard walked in, a female security guard, who thought we had lost our minds, but understood, totally, I’m sure, when we explained.

    One of the women who made them actually has four generations of grapes. Her great grandmother’s, grandmother’s, mother’s, and now her very own.

  4. Jana says:

    I had no idea that glass grapes involved such labor and chemicals. What were those RS sisters thinking?? Paula the pictures are so cool–thanks for the link!

    I find that I curse my glass grapes whenever I dust. They are impossble to keep clean–too many surfaces/grooves/etc. Any advice from those who have glass grapes on display?

  5. paula says:

    The grapes are really quite a project. Just a piddly little bunch of 24 or so takes about 3 hours, not including the cooling/hardening time. To make them, you get resin from a skateboard shop, and the colors you want, and the chemical that makes the resin harden, then mix it. We didn’t know that the resin would dissolve styrofoam and unfortunately we had gotten styrofoam cups to mix the colors in. So we had to work REALLY fast so the cups wouldn’t dissolve. (My husband’s a chemist and was quite unimpressed with me when he heard what we’d done.) The fumes are really strong, and the stuff gets quite hot. We got our fingers covered with sticky resin, and then read the fine print on the can, which said we needed turpentine to clean it off. Since it was midnight, near Granby, CO, getting turpentine seemed like a long shot, but the security guard who wandered in went and got us some from the maintenance shop. After the stuff is mixed, you pour it into Christmas ornaments and then stick the copper wires in before it hardens. You have to work pretty quickly, even if your cup isn’t dissolving in your hands. We also learned the hard way that breaking off the Christmas ornaments from the hardened resin is a bit dangerous. We should have had towels to wrap over them to keep the glass from flying too much. Then you drill holes in a suitable piece of wood for a stem, and wire them to the stem. I lived in Tucson at the time, and had collected a nice bunch of wood to use, then managed to drive off and leave it home– so you can see the whole process was a near-debacle. We scrounged for wood around our cabin, and decided it was a nice memento that way, but not as cool looking as my iron wood and mesquite.

    I have a couple of bunches of grapes that I bought back in the day when they still showed up at the DI occasionally. I don’t have any good ideas for keeping them clean. Mine aren’t out anymore, due to space limitations mostly.

  6. manaen says:

    Thanks for the reminder. For decades the set of blue and green glass grapes my mother made back when were a center point in my parents’ home. She died last June — I wonder where those grapes went.

  7. Tom Grover says:

    Were the grapes a common RS project of a past generation? I don’t recall any matriarchs in my tribe having them.

    Shot glasses… started collecting them when I was 14, much to the alarm of my parents. I now have several hundred, much to the chagrin of my wife.

    Odd pieces in the living room? Hmmmm. I have a Sunstone next to a resin Chinese dragon next to a 2 foot Christmas nutracker rendered in the image of the Utah Jazz’s Anrei Kirilenko (a REALLY cool freebie from a Jazz game last year).

  8. Jana says:

    I think the grapes were largely done in the 60s. Now because I wasn’t even born yet, someone else may have to confirm my assertion. ๐Ÿ™‚

    My grandma (raising kids in the 50s & 60s) had several sets but my mother (raising kids in the 70s and 80s) didn’t have any.

    So Tom, do you use your shot glasses or just display them? How many Mormon-themed shot glasses are in your collection?

  9. paula says:

    My guess on the grapes was that they were a huge fad around 1968. I’d say they probably died out by about 1970. I don’t remember anyone actually making them. I just remember them appearing about 1968, suddenly, in everyone’s house. I would have been about 8 or so. I could be wrong on the guess. My friend who remembers them vividly is about the same age, but it sounds as though his grandmother was very into them– and he has a hanging bunch of them made into a lamp.

  10. Tom Grover says:

    Jana,

    In two years I have learned that marriage is the art of comprimise and the shot glasses are on display in the privacy of the bedroom. ๐Ÿ˜‰ My wife is quite a gracious woman with something that she finds so incredibly tacky.

    I don’t have any LDS themed shotglasses, but that would be the absolute COOLEST! They would have to go on display in the living room as a conversation piece for at least a couple of weeks. Maybe we could talk Dan Wotherspoon and Company to make some available at the next Symposium as a souvenir! ๐Ÿ˜‰ Do you think they would be a hit?

  11. Lana Jardine says:

    I wanted my grandma’s purple glass grapes when she died 3 years ago. I can remember as a little girl looking at them and holding them on my lap. I thought they were so cool. I looked for several years at the D.I. but was never lucky enough to find any. We don’t know who took my grandma’s grapes. I went online to Ebay a few weeks ago, and bid on four different sets of glass grapes. My high bid on each of these four sets was $60.00 AND I LOST! Someone outbid me! Then I found some on there from a wonderful lady in Idaho. I purchased them and she sent them to me. They were in perfect condition, and they look just like my grandma’s! It made my week! They are proudly displayed on one of my end tables in my living room of leather furniture and big screen tv. I love them and want to know how to make them. I want to teach my students how to make them… If anyone knows the secret recipe, I’d love to know. . . Thanks, Lana

  12. Lana Jardine says:

    I love the photos! Is there any way you could share the secret recipe? I’m looking for an art project to teach my peers at the university in a week or two. I have told them my glass grape story, so it would be really fun to make them! Any help would be appreciated! Thanks, Lana

  13. Suzanne says:

    In Albuquerque, our glass grapes were made in the early sixties. Mother made a nice bunch that were a translucent purplish color. They featured them at “R.S. work meeting” and every home had a nice bunch. A few months after that, feather flowers became the rage in our ward and everyone had a bouquet of those, too. I think my Mom got tired of dusting these items because I don’t remember them even being out in her house by the time she died. I do wish we still had them! They are every bit as defining for the church and these women as all the quilts they made.

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