Pushing Boundaries


Paul Cocksedge / London

Two things I absolutely love about sparkleballs. . .   The infinite possibility within a limited set of elements.  (cups + lights)  And the mystery of who invented them.   So let’s address my two favorite things while admiring the lyrical beauty of Styrene by artist Paul Cocksedge.

Bubble Lamp

In 1973 Victor Papenek and James Hennessey published the classic Nomadic Furniture with instructions for “Bubble Lamp,” a light fixture made of styrofoam coffee cups.  Every crafty mom in the 70’s made a Bubble Lamp.   NYC Designer Jonathan Adler hangs his mom’s over the dining table today and credits its coolness as the inspiration behind his successful career.

Jonathon Adler / NYC
Jonathan Adler

Fast forward to 2002.  Paul Cocksedge melts polystyrene cups and creates “Styrene” as his graduation piece from the Royal College of Art, London.  Today you can find it for custom order on his studio website.  Price Upon Request.    (To make your own, check Youtube for one of many DIY vids, like this one by KrazyKred. )

Looking back, did Bubble Lamp spawn Sparkleball?  Possibly.  Looking forward, I can’t wait to see what comes next.  Thanks to people like Paul Cocksedge and Sparkleball Jones and Sabel and Carl Boro  and you :)





Who Invented Sparkleballs?

sparkleball_inventorI’m a darn good googler.  My sister Kate calls me Nancy Drew.  On the trail I’ll hunt for hours. Days, even.  But the Inventor of Sparkleballs?   I’m stumped. Who was the genius who fiddled with 50 Solo cups, discovered they made a perfect sphere, added Christmas lights and made the coolest homemade decoration of all time?

I bought my first sparkleball in 1994 outside Tyler, Texas from a rough character selling them on the roadside. (story here)  But when I took it home to Richmond, Virginia, people told me they’d been buying them for ages from a man on the river, who sold them through a local hardware store.

Bubble Lamp

On a visit to N Yale Ave in Fullerton to see the neighborhood of 500 sparkleballs, I thought I had a lead.  The organizers learned to make sparkleballs from Don Bale’s dad, a man from the midwest, but that’s as far as I got.  Maybe the inventors were Victor Papenek and James Hennessey.  Their instructions for “Bubble Lamp,” a light fixture made of styrofoam cups, are in the 1973 classic DIY book Nomadic Furniture.

There’s also the story that sparkle balls began as a RV thing, and that they spread among U.S. campgrounds in the 1960s. Look at the sparkleballer map, and you’ll see the most markers in California and Texas.  Is that a clue?

I don’t even know where I found the photo above.  But when I did, I thought it’s him!

Please tell me if you know.

Or maybe not.

Maybe I’ve grown fond of the mystery :)

(NOTE added. 12 May 2016)  Guy writes he bought a sparkleball in La Mirada CA in 1989.  That’s close to Fullerton.  I’ll put a pin in the history map.)