Places to go and things to see by Gypsy Bev

Fire Art!  Hot! Hot! Hot! From the days of the early Romans to today in West Virginia, the art of blowing glass hasn’t changed dramatically. Inspire your imagination while visiting Oglebay Institute in Wheeling, West Virginia.

In the lower level of Carriage House Glass, the Oglebay Institute Glass Museum demonstrated the art of making various objects using glass blowing techniques.  A young man showed visitors how to form bowls, bottles, and paperweights using his many artistic skills.

Imagine working day after day in front  of an oven where the temperature was 2400 degrees F.  Yes, that figure is correct. Would feel like heat from an erupting volcano! That is the temperature needed to melt the raw materials used in the manufacture of glass.

After the glassblower gathered a ball of glass on his blowpipe, the pipe was placed into the heating drum to get the glass to a temperature of at least 2200 degrees.  This is one hot job! He then took the glass and placed it in a mold to shape the glass into the object he wished to turn out. Several trips were necessary between the furnace and workbench to shape, finish off the rough edges, and flatten the bottom before he could break the newly formed object from the blowpipe.  He just hoped he had used the right temperature, and the correct strength of tapping to remove the object, or else his work would have been in vain and there would be a pile of broken glass.

But this time all went well and the glassblower, who had been doing this for five years now, put the bottle in a cooling tank, called an annealing oven, where the temperature would slowly be reduced to prevent cracking. In a regular glass factory, this cooling process would take place on a cool-down conveyor belt. In the picture at the left, you see examples of some of the beautiful paperweights, cups, and containers made using the art of glassblowing. Individuals can also make their own paperweights here…with a little help from the glassblower!

The glassblowing demonstration was just a small corner of the Glass Museum, where over 3000 pieces of Wheeling Glass (1829-1939) were on display as well as Northwood carnival glass, Victorian art glass, and many more.  Display cases glistened with the sparkling handcrafted glassware, as well as Ohio Valley pottery.

Among the popular pottery pieces, stands  a magnificent Flow Blue Jardiniere and Pedestal that belonged to Admiral Dewey.  Made by the Wheeling Pottery Company, it features a scene of Spanish American War naval hero, Admiral George Dewey. It was presented to the Deweys on a visit to Wheeling in the late 1800s. The Jardiniere stands about 3 1/2′ high and would originally have been used to hold flowers in a well-to-do Victorian home. This is thought to be the only Dewey Jardiniere of this size still existing.

in 1849, the Sweeney brothers, Michael and Thomas, designed the largest cut glass crystal punch bowl ever made.  Sweeney Punch Bowl weighs 225 pounds and stands five feet tall, nearly as tall as the young man in the picture. After a disagreement occurred between the brothers,  Michael claimed the piece as his own work,  and for seventy four years it sat glass encased on his grave in Greenwood Cemetery in Wheeling, West Virginia. As you might imagine, when Thomas returned to the area and found the work claimed by Michael alone,  he was speechless. Today this priceless work of art is the centerpiece of the Oglebay Institute Glass Museum.

Back upstairs, Carriage Hill Glass Gift Shop was filled with unique, decorative gifts made of glass and pottery. There was everything from stained glass pieces to beautiful dinnerware, and their popular Glass Rain Drops. As a single raindrop raises the sea, so each of us makes a difference in the world – some cause storms and others grow flowers. Handcrafted glass continues to make a big difference in the world as people create their individual masterpieces.

The Museums of Oglebay Institute are located in Wheeling, West Virginia just off I-70 at Exit 2A. Then follow the Oglebay Park signs. Admission for both museums is a reasonable $10 per person. 

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