TO TRIP THE LIGHT FANTASTIC, look through a kaleidoscope. Better yet, look through a hundred or so, at the Strathmore Hall Arts Center.

"Through the Kaleidoscope" is a genteel show in an elegant Georgian mansion: drawing room days with a Victorian parlor toy. There's even a kaleidoscope built for two.

But the kaleidoscope, invented in 1816 by Sir David Brewster, now is exciting new interest as an art form.

Snowflakes. Liquid mosaic. Evolving insects. Frozen fantasies.


In the star chamber of the traditional kaleidoscope, colored glass clicks to create new forms. Try to capture a beautiful symmetrical pattern, and it vanishes with the slightest rotation of the kaleidoscope's tube. Some artists in this show have dealt with this frustration by catching the forms in photography, painting, sculpture, candle-making and embroidery (called "kaleidostitchery").

Unlike the dime-store cardboard variety, the "new" kaleidoscope is made of mahogany or brass and stands on a marble pedestal or hangs about the neck like opera glasses.

Its fireworks may come from stained-glass panels rotating on a drum at the end of a 12- foot long wooden barrel that looks vaguely nautical. In the hand-held version, sometimes double disks of stained glass substitute for free-falling glass shards, to produce a shimmery psychedelic light. And some kaleidoscopes are called teleidoscopes, using lenses to make plants prismatic and give any room a vaulted cathedral ceiling. Definitely worth looking into.

Author and collector Cozy Baker organized this kaleidofest, billed as the first exhibition of kaleidoscopes in America. Baker claims to possess "the biggest kaleidoscope in the world, the smallest, the most expensive, the newest and the oldest. I'm the Guinness Book of World Records for kaleidoscopes."

She started collecting in 1982 and now owns about 200, some of which she has lent to the show.

She describes kaleidoscopes as "the only art form that continuously changes right before your very eyes. They say you can look for 2,000 years and not see the same thing twice, like snowflakes.

"Though, of course," she adds, "a lot of snowflakes are similar."