WESTON, W.Va. — Minutes away from one of West Virginia’s most popular tourist destinations—The Trans-Allegheny Lunatic Asylum—one of the most extensive glass museums in the U.S. is attracting an tourists from across the globe.
Complete with a research library and more than 14,000 pieces on display, the Museum of American Glass in West Virginia celebrates American-made glass and U.S. glass factories.
“Our museum is unique,” says Larry Woods, president of the museum's board of directors. “There are a number of regional glass museums that tend to be dedicated to a specific company.”
The Museum of American Glass in West Virginia, however, has a variety of items on display, ranging from high-end pieces to glass used in everyday life through the years, says board secretary and museum archivist Tom Felt.
“Many companies, even at the time they were brand new, were making glass that only the wealthiest could afford. We have the glass that you might have seen growing up with your parents, your grandparents—the everyday glass mixed in with the really extraordinary glass,” Felt says.
“The idea of doing a museum that covers everything made in American glass by every American company, of which there were perhaps 2,000 over the years, is absolutely insane. But that did not stop us,” he says.
Most pieces and collections on display are made possible from donations. Exhibits include one of the largest stained glass dollhouses in the world and the entire collection from California’s National Marble Museum, which transferred its collection to the museum when it closed a few years ago.
Visitors can also find West Virginia-made glass at the museum, including works by the Blenko Glass Company and Fenton Art Glass Company. Woods says the Weston area was once home to more than 30 glass factories, such as West Virginia Glass and the Louis Glass Company.
“We do focus on the collections from West Virginia. In our gallery, we have 10 cases with all West Virginia companies, and the first five cases are from the Weston and Clarksburg area,” says Woods.
The museum was started in 1993 by Dean Six, a prominent glass collector, researcher, and author, as he felt there was a need for a research facility devoted to West Virginia glass. The museum’s mission is to ensure the history and heritage of glassmaking in America is never forgotten.
“America used to be preeminent in glass manufacturing,” Felt says. “There’s always been wonderful glass made all over the world, but for 2,000 years, there was very little innovation. It was the United States that started introducing glass presses and, eventually, other machines that could help with the manufacture of glassware.
“There’s barely a handful of glass manufacturing facilities in the United States anymore, and we think it’s important that the history be maintained,” he says.
Along with history books, resources, and archival collections, the museum’s library has a collection of the Flint Glass Workers Union’s archives. The union represented glass workers in the United States from the 1800s until about the 1980s. As more glass companies went out of business, it merged with the Steel Workers Union. The Steel Workers then donated the Flint Glass Workers’ archives, ephemera, and records covering all the glass companies involved in the union.
“Dean Six always saw this as a major research facility, so it’s important for us to be a place where people can come to learn about the history,” Felt says.
“We think it’s important that the people be remembered; they were the people that made this wonderful glass that we collect and love, so wherever possible, we try to put a face to the glass that people are collecting.”
The museum is at 230 Main Ave in Weston and is open from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and 1-5 p.m. on Sundays. It offers free admission, though donations are welcome, and has a gift shop with deaccessioned glass for sale and other pieces on consignment.
“I guarantee you will be amazed at what you see when you come in,” Woods says.
As a nonprofit, the Museum of American Glass in West Virginia relies heavily on fundraising, and as an additional revenue source, it also publishes monographs and high-quality, spiral-bound pamphlets that consist of different topics related to glass history, available for sale online and on-site.
“The other thing that’s really part of our mission is that we’re not only collecting the history, but we’re sharing it,” Felt says.
“The publishers that used to specialize in glass history books have one by one gone out of business, so we are filling that void. We’re sharing our archives, our historical information with the world.”
The museum also offers memberships, which include copies of a quarterly magazine, All About Glass.
“Become a member and be part of the history of glass in the United States,” Woods says.
A mural on the side of the building—previously a JC Penney department store—beckons visitors and gives them a taste of what can be found inside.
“The side of the building was just a red brick wall. Not only longer,” Woods says. “Now it is a full mural of American-made glass. When you stand next to it and see the detail, it is amazing. When you turn down Main Avenue, you can’t miss the museum now. It’s absolutely gorgeous.”
More information, oral histories, and links to published works can be found online at magwv.org.
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