Gazing Globes

Mysterious ‘Sphere of Light’ spotted at T.C. Steele State Historic Site
Scientists declare: “It’s more than just a fad.”

Photo courtesy Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

Photo courtesy Lilly Library, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

Occasionally, the appropriateness of the gazing globe that graces Selma Steele’s garden falls under question — usually by younger visitors to the site who assume these globes are a new thing. But they weren’t new even in Selma’s day. Like cicadas, they are cyclical, although I suspect the interval between periods of popularity is more than 17 years.

Fifty years ago, I remember being fascinated by them. A garden center near my grandparents home had a large outdoor display of them, and I came to associate gazing balls with grandparents and other things old (and interesting). My plea to possess one fell on deaf ears — then gazing globes fell out of fashion and I forgot about them until the latest resurgence of globe fever.

When they began showing up about 10 years ago, after some shameless hinting I received a beautiful purple glass orb for my birthday. It was a dream realized. But what I didn’t realize (like our young visitors) was that they represent more than a yard decoration.

The first gazing balls made their appearance in 13th century Venice. They were made of hand-blown glass, which limited their size somewhat. Today, there seems to be no limit on size, color, materials or placement. Selma would be envious of the selection — copper, stainless steel, mosaic and ceramic in addition to the traditional glass. Even the glass globes are varied, from mirrored to swirly opalescent.

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