Bob Ade, 84, has made about 15,000 kaleidoscopes that are sold at galleries worldwide. It all starts with a sheet of glass at his home studio in Lynnwood. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Bob Ade, 84, has made about 15,000 kaleidoscopes that are sold at galleries worldwide. It all starts with a sheet of glass at his home studio in Lynnwood. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Bob the kaleidoscope master spins reality thousands of times

The Lynnwood artist, 84, is known worldwide for the scopes he makes at his home. Some go for $2,000.

Bob Ade distorts reality.

The mundane becomes psychedelic. A rowboat on a lake turns into a boat bonanza.

All at the squint of the eye.

What’s up with that?

Ade, 84, is a kaleidoscope master. He has made about 15,000 scopes that are sold worldwide. Of these, 3,000 were for a gallery in Japan.

Some of his limited editions fetch over $2,000. Standard scopes go for $38 to $150 at the Schack Art Center, where a private class with him went for $1,200 at a fundraiser.

Inspiration comes from paper clips on his desk and the stars above.

The Ohio native earned a mechanical engineering degree from Purdue University, but made his career in sales, marketing and management for big corporations. That meant moving about a dozen times.

Ade’s art began as a sideline with his wife, Grace, when they lived in Virginia. After taking a stained glass class, the couple crafted items such as suncatchers and lampshades to sell at street fairs.

“Anything we could make, we’d fool around with it,” Ade said. “Then we stumbled across a kaleidoscope and thought ‘How does a kaleidoscope work?’ So we tore apart a toy one and got the basic concept.”

It was crude, he said, but it worked. They were hooked.

One of eight kaleidoscopes made by Bob Ade for his family members in 1983. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

One of eight kaleidoscopes made by Bob Ade for his family members in 1983. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

“We made eight for Christmas in 1983, one for each of the six kids and one for each of the parents,” he said.

The kaleidoscope he gave his parents is in the collection at his home on Martha Lake that serves as his studio.

The scopes start with sheets of glass that he cuts in his office.

“The grinding, the drilling, the sanding, the kiln, that’s all out in the garage,” he said. One kiln is the size of a desk.

He does the cleaning and polishing on the laundry room counters. The kitchen table is the sorting board. “I have thousands of pieces I select from to put into the chambers,” he said.

A single scope can take an hour or a month, depending on the complexity. Some have internal lighting systems.

The art has taken him to conferences and shows worldwide.

“I first saw a 3-D scope image in a gallery in Hong Kong. It took several years of playing with mirrors until that concept became a reality for me,” he said.

That engineering degree came in handy.

“It benefited me in designing the models I have created and the assembly fixtures,” Ade said.

His favorite kaleidoscope is “Crystal Star,” a tabletop parlor model with a three-dimensional image that appears like a star. It was inspired by a night sky in 1996 over Puget Sound.

Bob Ade’s favorite kaleidoscope: “Crystal Star,” a table-top parlor scope model with a three-dimensional image that appears like a star that has a north and south pole with an equator and curved longitudinal segments from the poles to the equator. It was inspired in 1996 from night sky views over Puget Sound. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Bob Ade’s favorite kaleidoscope: “Crystal Star,” a table-top parlor scope model with a three-dimensional image that appears like a star that has a north and south pole with an equator and curved longitudinal segments from the poles to the equator. It was inspired in 1996 from night sky views over Puget Sound. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

He’s a member of Brewster Kaleidoscope Society, made up of artists, collectors and galleries. It’s named for Sir David Brewster, patent holder for kaleidoscopes in 1816.

Ade has come up with a few designs of his own, though not enough to get a Sir in front of his name. The tall, friendly guy in blue jeans prefers Bob anyway.

In his hands, a chamber with paper clips and thumbtacks are dazzling.

“Rotation of the cell causes motion of the materials as they tumble in the chamber, resulting in an ever-changing view being presented,” he said.

He and Grace moved to the Seattle area in 1993 to be near their grown kids. The couple settled in Mukilteo.

Grace died in 2013. They were married over 50 years.

“I was feeling sorry for myself. I took a walk to the Mukilteo Lighthouse Park and I was watching the boats go by in the beautiful weather and I was, you know what, I can’t feel sorry for myself unless I do something about it,” Ade said.

“A few days before I had seen Martha Stewart on the ‘Today’ show and she had gone through Match.com and I thought, if it’s good enough for Martha Stewart it’s good enough for me. So I signed up.”

That’s how he met an Edmonds widow named Gaile Agee.

Agee was about to give up on the dating site when, she said, “A handsome gentleman appeared on the screen.”

It was Bob.

“The second or third time we went out, he asked me to go to Europe with him,” she said.

“Some of the family had planned a trip to Spain and England, and I was hoping I didn’t have to go alone,” he said.

Bob and Gaile moved into the Lynnwood place about four years ago.

“My house wasn’t large enough for Bob’s kaleidoscopes,” she said.

They needed a central place for their family gatherings.

She has five children, 10 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. He has six children, four grands and one great.

It’s a kaleidoscopic Brady Bunch.

Andrea Brown: abrown@heraldnet.com; 425-339-3443. Twitter @reporterbrown.

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