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The Art of Glassmaking

Glass is a magical substance, caught somewhere in time between a solid and a liquid. It is a demanding substance, requiring both confidence and abundant respect.

To tame the fire has long been a challenge for mankind, and the skillful creation of art from glass may well be the most beautiful proof of accomplishing that dream.

The Fenton Art Glass Company has been living this dream for over a century, remaining true to times gone by, when quality and beauty were works of a man's hands, and "faster" wasn't the only way.


Left - A Fenton craftsman blows hot molten glass



As the sculptor at the Fenton Art Glass Co., Suzi Whitaker is on the ground level of the century old business based in Williamstown.


"I create the shapes," maintains Whitaker. "It all starts here," she adds.


"I come up with the mould," Whitaker explains.


Whitaker is adept at sculpting with both plaster and clay.


"I love to work with the clay," she notes. "With the plaster, I'm carving with a knife and other sharp tools. With clay I can change the mould with a brush of the finger," she says.


"Clay is the basis for Fenton's new moulds," continues Whitaker.


Mould Shop

Beginning with blank moulds cast from special high quality alloys and using delicate chisels and files, the mouldmaker patiently carves the intricate designs, some taking several months to complete this work. Translating the designer's drawings and the sculptor's plaster and clay into the complex bold relief and valleys of a finished mould requires great patience, skill and artistic feeling. New moulds represent an investment of $20,000 or more.


The Ingredients

The main ingredients and their approximate percentage of a Fenton batch are: Sand (SiO2) 71%, Soda Ash (NaCO3) 15% and Lime (CaCO3) 9%. Some manufacturers substitute potash for soda ash, and barium or borax for lime. In some opaque glasses, fluorspar and feldspar are substituted for


The color ingredients (5%) are mixed with the main ingredients before melting.







Sugar and Iron









Neodymium or Erbium

Iron or Chromium


Selenium and Cadmium

Selenium and Manganese

Alumina and Fluorine







Milk Glass


Batch & Melting Process

Once the ingredients are mixed, they are placed in a "pot" or "day tank" to melt at a temperature of about 2500 degrees F. The pots are inside a furnace which circulates flames outside the pots but where no flame touches the glass. The day tank, about three times the size of a pot, melts glass by fire directly on the batch. It takes 24-30 hrs. for a pot melt and about 12 hours for a day tank melt.


This skilled worker winds hot molten glass on a hollow blow-pipe or the tip of a long steel rod called a punty. He judges the proper amount of glass to gather by the speed at which he turns the punty and the size of its tip, so that each pieces of ware begins neither too heavy nor too thin. He must also shape the gob properly and drop it precisely in the center of the mould.



Years of experience give the presser the sense of feel so vital to making hand pressed glass. With his shears, the presser snips off the molten glass dropped into the mould by the gatherer and smooths the cut end to prevent a shear mark. He pulls the lever and holds it for just the proper time to form the glass. Too much pressure and the glass will shatter, too little and the mould will not fill properly.

Blower (See photo top of the page)

After the blocker has shaped, cooled and blown the first bubble of air into the "gather" a carry over worker delivers the blowpipe with the gob of glass to the blower. The blower reheats the glass in the glory hole and rolls it on the flat steel marver plate to obtain a shape similar to that of the mould. Standing on the traditional blower's platform, he blows the hot glass into its final mould to form the basic shape and pattern.



The finisher, or "gaffer," forms the piece to its final shape using the Pucellas (or "tool") and a cherry wood paddle, age-old implements of the glassworker's art. Changing the shape by flaring, crimping, and/or straightening, his sense of timing must be honed to a fine edge, for he works the glass as it is on the threshold of becoming immovably chilled. The tools and techniques used by Fenton's finishers have remained essentially unchanged for nearly a century.


Two techniques for which Fenton has become particularly famous are the colored edge and distinctive crimping. The delicate ruffle of the crimp and double crimp has earned Fenton a place of special recognition in the art glass world. Only Fenton's most highly skilled craftsmen can spin an edge of molten color on a piece that is about to be born.



Great skill is needed to put handles on baskets and pitchers. In about 25 seconds, the handler attaches a glowing ribbon of glass to a piece, forms a loop and attaches the end. He works it into a graceful arch, straight and true. The design on the stamp he uses to affix the handle is his alone, and every Fenton handle can be traced to the craftsman who created it. For more information on creating Fenton handles, click here. To see a complete list of handlers' marks, including current and retired, click here. To read about Fenton's first basket handler, Frank O. Myers, click here.


Hand Decorating

Very careful procedures are used to choose the artists who handpaint Fenton glass. A continuous training program is maintained to ensure high standards for decorated ware. A mixture of enamel paints and finely crushed glass is used in decorating. The piece is subjected to high temperatures in a decorating lehr to ensure fusion of the paint to the glass. Each piece is signed by the artist who painted it. For the history of Fenton decorating a list of decorators, click here.


Fenton Quality

The quality inspection of each piece of Fenton glass begins the moment it is first formed in the hot metal department. Every worker assumes responsibility for quality checking each piece. Fenton glass may be checked as many as a dozen times before reaching the quality selector who passes the final judgment. Each first-quality piece meets the high standards required of Fenton handmade glass.

Fenton History

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Fenton Factory Tours

Visitors to Fenton Art Glass will find a spacious Gift Shop and a pleasant museum. Free factory tours (M-F 8:15am to 4:00pm) take small groups of guests right out to the factory floor to see glassmaking "up close and personal." Friendly, knowledgeable tour guides explain all aspects of the operation. The Fenton tour has been ranked among the "top 10" factory tours nationwide by USA Today. In addition we have been named Rand McNally Best of the Road for 2006. For a factory tour schedule, click here. For a map, click here.


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