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West Virginia’s Appalachian Glass

“Glass makers were glass makers — they weren’t ‘artists.’ Blacksmiths were blacksmiths — they weren’t ‘artists.’”

Chip Turner doesn’t mince words when he discusses the history of his craft and demonstrates glass blowing at Appalachian Glass in Weston, West Virginia. Due to its rich abundance of silica sand, this area had hundreds of glass-making operations during the 19th and 20th centuries. Some of them — such as Fenton, Pilgrim and Blenko — were internationally known. Immigrants from Germany, Rumania, Austria and Switzerland settled here to make glass.

Turner’s point is that for nearly a century, glass-making was a job, not an art form. People made glass to support their families, not to entertain tourists.

“No two are alike,” he said. “That’s something you hear a lot today. Let me tell you something — it’s a lot harder to make 400 to 700 pieces a day that are identical, than to make a few that aren’t anything alike. Today, a guy makes two pieces a day that aren’t the same and people say he’s an artist.”

Turner crafted a couple of friendship balls while my group was in the workshop. Friendship balls were common gifts in West Virginia in the 1800s. Each one is about the size of a softball. The colors were brilliant, so I asked what created the different hues.

“Gold makes red and cranberry, celenium makes pink, iron oxide gives you greens, cobalt makes blue and magnesium makes purple,” he said.

Don’t tell Turner, but those multi-colored orbs sure looked like art to me.