7 things you didn’t know about this iconic WV artistry
West Virginia’s distinct style has sprouted many unique, distinct artistries, but one of its most iconic and sought-after is handcrafted glass.
The state has established itself as a leader in glass craftsmanship through 2 centuries of groundbreaking innovation and a commitment to the old-time traditions of the craft.
Here are 7 things you probably didn’t know about glass artistry in West Virginia:
1. WV glass is world-renowned
West Virginia’s glasswares are so renowned, architects and designers from around the world have incorporated it into their most prestigious buildings. You can find intricate stained glassworks from Wissmach Glass in the White House and throughout Europe, adorning cathedrals and courtroom.
Blenko Glass was boosted to prominence when it adorned the St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York. You can also discover their intricate sheet glasswork at the Washington National Cathedral and other notable landmarks. Blenko has designed the Country Music Awards trophies, and one of their collections is a regular feature of the White House— joining dinnerware from another West Virginia glass crafter, Morgantown Glass, which was chosen by Former First Lady Jackie Kennedy.
2. Home of the true “Marble King”
Who doesn’t remember shooting marbles as a kid? If you grew up in West Virginia, you may remember trips to the glass factory to pick out a bag of these swirled gems.
The real-life “Marble King” was Berry Pink, who earned the nickname by giving out free marbles as he traveled before he founded the Marble King company in 1949. The company created the first American-made cat’s eye marbles, and went on to innovate new techniques in the glass crafting world. Their swirling process is a secret to this day.
3. You’ve probably seen it before!
You can spot Marble King’s nostalgic craftsmanship in movies like Home Alone, Goonies and Hook. They’ve even been in space! So iconic are some of their classic designs, that their antique marbles can sell for upwards of $1,500 a piece! See these collectibles at the gift shop, or watch the process from start-to-finish with a tour.
4. Color is part of our claim to fame
The wide palette of colors that made Fenton Glass famous were crafted by master chemist Jason Rosenthal. Fenton’s commitment to color drove them to continue creating new shades even as their core business adapted to stay afloat during the Great Depression, when most of their orders came from more functional pieces. Their signature creation was carnival glass, an iridescent pressed glass that glimmers with a metallic, shimmering finish.
Today, Wissmach Glass offers the largest variety of colored-rolled sheet glass in the world, and create stunning stained glass windows used around the globe. Blenko is also known for melting its color right into the glass, instead of coloring clear glass like most companies do.
5. The artistry has adapted through centuries
The glassmaking craft has been a staple in West Virginia for more than 200 years, and nearly 500 companies have set up shop throughout that history. It was one of the state’s largest industries during its boom, because we had all the raw materials right here in our mountain backyard.
6. The detail and care is just as intricate today
Many glassmakers today preserve the old-time craft, relying on the steady hand and careful detail of their artisans to produce perfect handmade pieces. One of the most beloved and masterful techniques is hand-blown glass, which begins with melted glass at the end of a straw-like tube. Crafters literally blow through the tube to inflate the glass, using their breath and molding techniques to control the shape.
At centers like Blenko Glass and Appalachian Glass, each piece is still handcrafted. No two Fenton Glass pieces are exactly the same. Artisans like Ron Hinkle, with his own personal creative studio, help give the tradition new life.
7. You can explore our glass heritage today
Several glass factories and artisans will show you their skill in action. Blenko offers demonstrations on the weekends, and Appalachian Glass’s studios are open for visitors. Fenton offers limited tours of their beadmaking division.
You can relive the nostalgia of glass crafting at the Museum of American Glass in Weston, where you’ll also find the National Marble Museum and exhibits for the kids. The Morgantown Glass Museum showcases more than 5,000 unique pieces, including rare Gentile Glass Company pieces, which aren’t on display anywhere else.
Who are your favorite WV glass crafters?
This post was last updated on July 22, 2020