Finding a true multi-generation craft shop these days is getting harder and harder. Finding one where you can actually see the products being made is even harder still. I treasure these finds because they are so rare. Having been to factories which churn out thousands of pieces an hour, all exactly the same, it is nice when you can find somewhere where things are made one at a time and each piece is unique and distinct. Wandering into Appalachian Glass in Weston, West Virginia I knew I was somewhere special. In the hour or so I was there, I saw really beautiful glass ornaments being blown by hand, learned some history about the area and the industry, had a cup of coffee and walked out with some beautiful hand-made glass pieces in my hand and a smile on my face.
As I have travelled around West Virginia I have been surprised by the amount of really exceptional quality ornamental glass I have found. Unless you are in the know (which I was not), I don’t think West Virginia would come immediately to mind when you think of glass, but it should! With an abundance of natural gas and some of the highest quality glass making sand in the country, West Virginia has the raw materials on hand. It is the artisans found around the state though, who make West Virginia a great place to find glass products made in both traditional and innovative ways.
Although there were only three of us in the shop on a cold December morning, we were treated to a glass blowing demonstration by Todd Turner. Todd learned his craft from his father Chip who has been blowing glass since he was in High School. Todd gave us some history of the area telling us that in its heyday, Lewis County had 20 glass manufacturing factories. One of those was West Virginia Glass, where Todd’s grandfather Matt had made a career making glass molds and equipment. When the three of them put their heads together and combined the industrial, the artisanal and the youthful perspectives, they created quite a business. While telling us this story, Todd was busy blowing glass, creating a “friendship ball”, a bulb with a classic feel but a modern look – colorful, beautiful and one-of-a-kind. Because of the process he used, no two pieces would ever be exactly the same.
Watching Todd work was really special. He made the process look so easy, but his glass was constantly in motion, twirling forward and back, never sitting still in a process that clearly took years to perfect. One minute, it was a glowing blob of liquid and the next it was a beautiful ornament.
Next, Todd showed us a different method using a mold his grandfather had made. He was still blowing the glass, but the mold helped it form into a more squared off shape that he turned into an outdoor lighted ornament. While I’m sure he gives demonstrations every day, hundreds of times a year, Todd’s passion for glass and his humble yet proud nature was apparent. Being able to create art with a few or a few dozen people watching, while giving a running commentary is no small task. Todd did it with gusto.
After these demonstrations, Todd went back and showed us some other items he had been working on, from hand blown pitchers to a trophy he had been commissioned to create. Each piece was beautiful and his pride in his work was apparent.
Their shop was beautifully laid out so that you could see each individual piece. While I could have taken home one of everything, I live in a van and glass doesn’t travel so well so I settled for a beautiful glass hummingbird and some other ornaments to give as gifts.
As is necessary for every successful craft business these days, Appalachian Glass has an excellent website from which you can order pieces to be shipped. They also maintain and equally important presence on Facebook where they showcase new and different pieces as they are produced. You can find their products (as I did) in many of the State Parks around West Virginia as well, but if you happen to be in or near Weston, definitely stop in and pay them a visit. The shop and the demonstrations are free, as is the coffee, but walking out without a beautiful, hand crafted piece of glass in your hands will be harder than you think. In an increasingly mass-produced world, one-of-a-kind hand-made products are fewer and further between, but three generations of Turners are doing their best to keep glassblowing alive and glowing in central West Virginia.