Only in New Orleans: Heavyweight convention visits city

Who would snail-mail me a news release, I wondered, as I tore into a fat, white package on my desk last week.

I was taking a break from email, which is the preferred way to alert your friends at the newspaper to what’s going on, in case you didn’t know.

But when I finally extracted and read the news release, it made perfect sense.

“Greetings from the Paperweight Collectors Association,” the letter began.

“I am writing to invite you to our biennial Convention which is being held this year in New Orleans, June 5-8, at the Astor Crowne Plaza.”

Well, of course. If you love paperweights, you want to give them a purpose in life.

It’s not enough to be plentiful and beautiful — or, as the news release phrased it, “a wonderland of dazzling depictions of flora and fauna encased in crystal.”

With their mailout, the collectors were doing their part to help paperweights hold down a job, or at least a schedule of events (“The Art in My Paperweights,” or, for the historian, “The Modern Glass Movement Starting in 1564”).

I like the idea of dedicated paperweights, as opposed to the de facto ones in my life — the stray hardware, the broken flashlights, the rotary dial phone.

The four-day celebration of the classic gravity-powered organizational tool attracts several hundred collectors from all over the world, according to Colin Mahoiney, publicity director.

Mahoiney, a California engineer, was on a business trip to Florida in 1980 when he saw a paperweight in a gift shop, its detail so fine it required a magnifying glass to see. He fell in love and now has more than 1,000, he said.

All kinds of people collect paperweights, but many are artists, he said: “Somewhere along the line they took a class in glass blowing and they were hooked.” The result is stronger than it looks. “Nobody does this, but you can put them in a dishwasher,” he said. “It’s glass, but it isn’t window-glass.”

A dealers’ fair on Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. is open to the public; admission is $5. On Friday at 2 p.m., John Hawley gives a “Paperweight Primer” that’s also open to visitors.

Back in the day before air-conditioning, paperweights were needed to keep documents from blowing around the parlor in the breeze. They had the occasional role in a suspense film as an elegant deadly weapon.

Now they’re mostly just decorative. After all, computers and smartphones hold themselves down — to say nothing of the way they oppress their owners.

But certain, specially made examples at this convention will still be pulling their weight, as 11 artists create and sell food-themed paperweights with 20 percent of proceeds going to Second Harvest here in New Orleans.

For more information about the convention, and an introduction to the history and craft of its raison d’être, go to http://www.paperweight.org.

Annette Sisco is community news editor. She can be reached at (504) 432-9257 or at asisco@theadvocate.com.