The Kaleidoscope Factory in Pocahontas, Iowa needs to be on everyone’s bucket list! I first read about Leonard Olson’s unique shop in a magazine a few years ago. A friend shared about her trip to his old shop in Pomeroy, Iowa a year or so after that. Then, a few weeks ago my girls and I drove through Pocahontas on a weekend and were intrigued by the resident gnome on the building’s roof. We decided then and there that we had to come back during business hours to finally see the place for ourselves! So, last week the girls and I found ourselves at the Kaleidoscope Factory on a Girls Adventure we won’t soon forget.
We took one step into the little shop on Main Street and knew we were in for a fun adventure. Big tools were waiting for us right inside the door, and wood shavings curled in piles on the floor. Wooden toys and hand-made kaleidoscopes lined the shelves. It was like walking into a magical workshop. There weren’t any “Do Not Touch” signs. In fact, we were given a hands-on tour of the shop by Leonard Olson himself.
Leonard is as special as his one-of-a-kind kaleidoscopes. He loves his work, and it shows. He happily showed us around and let the girls help put together a kaleidoscope kit. Leonard explained the steps and taught us a few things along the way. For example, when you look in the mirror is the image you see larger, smaller, or the same size as your actual self? For the answer, you’ll have to visit Leonard yourself. (No cheating!! Leonard will give you a much better explanation than Google anyway!)
Once put together, the kaleidoscope was ready for our viewing pleasure. It was magic! The mirrors, PVC pipe, and beads made beautiful images. Each little movement made a different, yet beautiful image. We were in awe. There is something about a kaleidoscope that makes everyone, no matter the age, smile.
Leonard hasn’t always been a kaleidoscope maker. He spent 30 years in the health insurance industry, mainly as a computer programmer. Ultimately, a heart attack made him switch gears. He received a kaleidoscope as a gift while recovering in the hospital and noticed how it attracted so many people. Viewing a kaleidoscope can be contagious! Making kaleidoscopes began as a self imposed therapy after his heart attack. Eventually, Leonard’s hobby became a full-time venture. He hasn’t stopped making kaleidoscopes since, and it is probably safe to say that while he is in his early 60’s, he’s not looking to retire anytime soon!
After having a lesson on putting together a kaleidoscope, Leonard let the girls hold a wood block with a hole in the middle. As they looked it over, he explained that he would turn it into an egg. We watched in amazement as he did just that with a couple tools and a lathe. There was no template or pattern; the work was done by very experienced hands. He used sandpaper and sawdust to make the egg shiny and smooth. With a dab of tung oil rubbed into the wood, it was finished. The warm wooden egg was handed over to two very excited 5 year-olds.
Leonard then showed us how to turn the wooden egg into a kaleidoscope. The girls picked out just the right color combination of glass beads (lots of pink), and watched as Leonard fit the mirrors and pieces together. Within a few minutes, the kaleidoscope was ready for viewing. Although we had already looked through one kaleidoscope today, we were in awe again as we peered through tiny hole and watched beautiful images appear and morph into more beautiful images.
By this time, my girls were getting hungry, and our visit was about over. Leonard allowed the girls to play with the wooden toys he has for sale as I looked at more beautifully made kaleidoscopes. I couldn’t leave the little egg kaleidoscope we helped make behind, so we bought that along with a few kaleidoscope kits as reminders of our amazing Girls Adventure. If you want to check out a sampling of what is for sale at The Kaleidoscope Factory, check out the website.
With kaleidoscopes in hand and amazing memories fresh in our minds, we said good-bye to Leonard and The Kaleidoscope Factory. We continued on our Girls Adventure with a picnic and more fun in Pocahontas, Iowa (that’s a post for another day). We’ll be back though, and hopefully you will to, to witness even more magical moments and adventures at The Kaleidoscope Factory.