When New School for Social Research graduate Harley Spiller passes a newsstand, it’s not the headlines that catch his eye, it’s the paperweights. Bearing the logos of the newspapers and magazines they sit atop, these little blocks have stories of their own. No one knows this better than Spiller, who focused on the history and aesthetics of newsstand paperweights in his recently completed thesis for his MA in Liberal Studies, entitled On Newsstands Now.,
Spiller comes to the topic honestly: his father owned and operated a paperweight fabricator in Buffalo, New York for decades, retiring in the mid-eighties. The Mortimer Spiller Company produced paperweights of every conceivable shape and color, from sober, monochrome plates for Life magazine, to cheeky oversized lozenges advertising Smith Brothers’ cough drops. It’s these pieces on which Spiller focuses his research, applying a Material Culture critique to the weights, exploring how the objects’ meaning developed as the culture around them changed.
Spiller himself was surprised by the depth of his inquiry. I shocked myself,, he says. I squeezed 25,000 words out of this simple thing.,
Before enrolling at The New School, Spiller worked as an educator and administrator at New York institutions including the Jewish Museum, the Franklin Furnace Archive, and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. An avid collector, Spiller has also served as a visiting arts educator in New York City schools.
A selection of paperweights from the Mortimer Spiller Company, along with Spiller’s own analysis, recently ran in the New York Times. Click here to see a full version of the article.