Though we love a well-oiled assembly line, Watch It Made isn't just about futuristic factories and mechanized efficiency. During our travels, we have also sampled many types of manufacturing that employ hand-crafted artistry and draw on centuries of tradition. Glassmaking is a good example. Even in the 21st century, this discipline carries on techniques derived from its ancient heritage. For visitors, the sight of workers handling superheated glowing hunks of glass is vivid and dramatic.
West Virginia has several glassmaking studios that offer nifty tours. In Williamstown, Fenton Art Glass has been making exquisite decorative glassware since 1905. After learning the basic chemistry of glassmaking (the chief ingredient is sand), you see the workers in action. In the extreme heat of the glassmaking shops, you witness the speedy skills of the gatherers, who pull gobs of molten glass from an orange-hot furnace, heated to 2,200°F, and drop them into bowl-shaped molds. Here pressers expertly work the glass to take on the desired shape. Elsewhere, other artists decorate the cooled glass products with a variety of exquisite painting techniques. In Milton, West Virginia, Blenko Glass also produces fine glassware and, additionally, the panes of stained-glass windows.
A jazzier experience (naturally) awaits you in New Orleans, where New Orleans GlassWorks & PrintMaking offers tours of its glassmaking studio. With two furnaces and traditional European glassblowing benches, the teams of artists smoothly jive and swing to New Orleans music as they work. Members of the staff occasionally narrate for visitors while they instruct students in crafting Venetian blown- and cast-glass works. Here you can also see the different techniques of flame-working glass artists, who use gravity, heat, and simple steel hand-tools to sculpt glass into various designs.
If you're in the Midwest, consider Kokomo Opalescent Glass, founded in 1888 in Kokomo, Indiana; and Mosser Glass in Cambridge, Ohio, which operates in a red farm cottage nestled amid beautiful countryside.
Glassmaking workshops make more than decorative items. While many of these operations are small, they sometimes make important practical products. Take Gillinder Glass in Port Jervis, New York. In addition to its prestigious heritage of heirloom glassware, Gillinder makes half of the airport runway lights in the United States. When you think about all of the airports in this country, that is amazing!
Posted By Karen Axelrod Mar 22, 2007