JOHNE PARSLEY

1916 - 2009

Johne Parsley, recognized today as a specialist in the field of paperweights and fine art glass creations of intimate scale, was born in 1916, in Pilgrim, Kentucky, an unincorporated community in Martin County, on the eastern edge of the state. The nation was still largely rural and agrarian in composition, and as a boy, Johne was free to roam the woods and fields in an almost picaresque fashion.

Johne revered his father, Martin who through various positions had managed to provide his wife and five children with something approaching a middle-class existence in a historically impoverished section of the country. (Family lore includes involvement with the infamous Hatfield and McCoy clans.) Martin Parsley died unexpectedly in 1929 from a gastrointestinal condition on the eve of the Great Depression. Martin’s widow Cora struggled to keep her family together and those children old enough to work, did so, including Johne. A strong, shared work ethic saw them through. During this time the family moved several times, settling in Kenova, West Virginia.

At 17, the future glass artist, excited by the news of new technologies on display, hitched a ride in freight cars with a friend to the 1933 Century of Progress Exhibition in Chicago. It marked a life-long connection to science and technology. After graduating from Ceredo-Kenova High School, Johne departed for Washington Missionary College in Takoma Park, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C. There the young man talked his way into the school without having made prior contact, receiving a dorm room and a valued job in the school bakery, all evidence of his enthusiasm and promise. Johne wanted to be a surgeon and enjoyed science and especially chemistry class. He also learned torch work and how to make scientific glass. Finances stymied dreams of the medical profession, and Johne decided instead to attend New York University to pursue a degree in chemical engineering. NYU in the mid -1930s was a hotbed for new ideas and technological innovation and the young Parsley thrived. He was also hired by Metropolitan Life to work in its standardization department outside of class. It was in the MetLife lobby that Johne met his future wife, Anne, the daughter of Italian immigrants.  A secret elopement in 1938 was followed by a civil ceremony with family and friends in New York City the following year.

The New York City 1939 World’s Fair was another opportunity for inspiration and it was there Johne attended “The Glass Blowers of the World” exhibition. He met icons in the field of hot glass and torch work (including the Howell family) and was more fully awakened to his own desires to create glass art. In 1942 the Parsleys moved to Lexington, Kentucky with the first of their three children, John Michael. Johne had been invited to work at the University of Kentucky as a state drug chemist. During that time he also tried unsuccessfully to enlist in the Navy, due to his astigmatism. In 1944 Johne was called to support the war by working for Wyandotte Chemical Corporation in Michigan, under the War Manpower Commission. There he worked in chemical research throughout the war. 1945 saw the war’s end and the birth of Betty, the second child. Soon the independently-minded Parsley moved the growing family back to New York, to start his own company.  Once in Brooklyn, Johne also pursued his avocation with glass blowing, creating small animals in the Art Deco fashion, along with ornaments and other decorative objects. He also traveled widely, consulting on and developing chemical processes. When Joan, the couple’s third and last child was born in 1952, the family bought 14 acres in the Blue Ridge Mountains in southeast Pennsylvania. There the artist returned to his rural roots and found artistic inspiration from his studies of horticulture. By the early 1960s Johne was also indulging in his passion for aviation and bought and flew a Beechcraft Bonanza. He had an unbridled interest in multiple disciplines and developed into a polymath. 

photo of 2 ruby flamingos created by Johne Parsley

In 1980 at the age of 64, Johne Parsley began creating paperweights in earnest, after almost four decades of both informal and scientific glass working. He began frequenting the arts compound at Wheaton Village, in Millville, New Jersey. There, working alongside dedicated glass artists and artisans he refined the techniques and methods that would lead to his mature style as a paperweight artist. Early associates included Don Friel, Barry Taylor and Tony DePalma. A fast learner, Johne took subject matter from the fruit and flowers in his own gardens. These included Johnny Jump ups, Pennsylvania dogwood, roses with buds, peaches with blossoms, knotweed and azaleas, among others.

In 1993 Johne Parsley became the first American artist to collaborate with the workers of Stuart Drysdale’s Perthshire Paperweights (on a complicated piedouche) in Crieff, Scotland. There, he and renowned cane artist Peter McDougall designed a limited edition Warden pear piedouche weight. Other collaborators included Gordon Smith and the Kontes brothers. Johne’s weights have been acquired by several museums, including the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum of Glass, the Royal Ontario Museum, the American Museum of Glass and the Corning Museum of Glass. Johne Parsley’s career in glass was established and his place in the rarified community of professionals specializing in paperweights, secured. His weights are noted for their delicacy, sensitivity and perfection of execution.

Johne Parsley - Perthshire 1993

In 2006, Johne’s wife Anne died unexpectedly at 89 from an aneurysm in the brain. Johne’s own health declined. He rallied with the support of his family and at the age of 90, learned how to use the computer. Three years later, in 2009, and after a final trip to Europe with his three children, Johne Parsley died. At WheatonArts in 2018, Johne’s children acceded to their father’s wishes and arranged a ceremonial melt of scores of Johne’s glass paperweights that had been deemed by the artist himself to be all but perfect. Johne Parsley brought the same rigor to his glass work as he had to all his other disciplines.  During his life Johne had attained success as an aviator, chemist, engineer, horticulturist, and inventor. His reputation as a creator of fine glass paperweights was among his proudest achievements.

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