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Fenton Art Glass celebrating 100th anniversary

By Jolene Craig

The Parkersburg News

Parkersburg, WV

Sunday, January 2, 2005

WILLIAMSTOWN - Fenton Art Glass Co., the largest manufacturer of handmade colored glass in the United States, will celebrate its 100th anniversary this year.

"This centennial anniversary is a measure of success for Fenton Art Glass over the years and for the coming century," said George Fenton, president of Fenton Art Glass. "It means we have been able to survive by doing things with a better-quality design for a century."

 

The company will not officially turn 100 until May 5, but the celebrations will continue throughout the year, said Jena Blair, Centennial Group coordinator for Fenton.

Events include workshops with master glassmakers Dave Fetty and Jim Ralston on the second Saturday of every month, with the exception of May 21 instead of May 14. During these workshops, a limited group of 25 people will observe Fetty and Ralston create exclusive Fenton Centennial pieces.

For $25 a person, each participant will receive a 20 percent off coupon for one "offhand" Petty piece, Blair said.

Ornament decorating workshops will be held at 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m., 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. every Saturday in 2005, beginning with Jan. 8. Reservations are required.

The cost is $25 a person and covers the admission fee, class, materials and completed ornament. Weekday decorating workshops are available by request for groups of 20 or more, Blair said.

The city of Williamstown is helping Fenton Art Glass prepare for the big celebrations with the closing of streets and more security provided by the Williamstown Police Department, said Mayor Jean Ford.

"We are very excited to help Fenton's make this the most awesome event in the area," Ford said.

The main celebration events will run from July 29 to Aug. 2 with the crafts fair under the Big Top, glassmaking and glass decorating schools, hayrides and signing events with the Fenton family.

"The key element of the celebrations is to get people from the community, collectors and travelers involved with the anniversary," Fenton said.

Exclusive glassware to celebrate the centennial will be exclusive to this year and will be introduced through the factory gift shop and home shopping channel QVC. They will be presented in different months to celebrate the year, Fenton said.

In fact, QVC has been discussing specials throughout the year on Fenton Art Glass, including a possible live broadcast from the factory, Fenton said.

"This is going to be an amazing year," Blair said.

Founded in 1905 by Frank L. Fenton and his brother John W. Fenton in an old glass factory building in Martins Ferry, Ohio. They began by painting decorations on glass blanks made by other glass manufacturers. Soon, being unable to get the glass they needed, they decided to produce their own glass. The first glass from the new Fenton factory in Williamstown was made on Jan. 2, 1907.

The glass for Fenton collectibles begins with silica sand, soda ash and lime. Artisans at Fenton Glass create delicately intricate pieces from a hot, seemingly chaotic process that directly involves 10 Fenton family members who work together with more than 400 employees to create handmade glass artistry that is loved by collectors around the world.

In the beginning, those pieces, such as salt and pepper shakers, vases and sugar bowls, were designed to be purely functional and possibly decorative. Today, Fenton Art Glass is not only decorative, but a highly sought-after collectible.

"The uniqueness of the products and the skill and difficulty that goes into making them is what has helped us survive," Fenton said.

Collecting Fenton glassware has become so huge the local area has spawned two different Fenton collectors societies.

The National Fenton Glass Society is headquartered in Marietta. The 10-year-old society is and offshoot of the older and more established Fenton Glass Collectors of America.

Rumors of Fenton Art Glass closing following the centennial celebrations are just that, Fenton said.

"We are not closing," he said. "I've been hearing those rumors for the past 20 years, and we have no plans to make them true."

Thanks to the history, high-quality products and a national audience on QVC, Fenton Art Glass collecting has become a booming business.

To build business and show off their history, Fenton Art Glass has released a book of the most artistic pieces the company has ever done, Fenton said.

"We (the Fenton family) sat down and determined what the best pieces we had ever made were and developed a book out of it," Fenton said.

The book is now available through retailers, the Fenton Art Glass Web site and the gift shop.

All of the centennial events in 2005 are developed to bring in new people and established collectors, Fenton said.

"We're trying to make this year the year for visitors to come and see what we are all about," Fenton said. "We want people that have been here before to really be able to appreciate what is done in the factory."

Ford said Fenton Art Glass Co. is Williamstown.

"We, at the city, have always said that if it weren't for Fenton and the high school, there would be no Williamstown," Ford said.

"This is why the city wants to do everything possible to make this year as successful and spectacular as the Fentons want it to be," she said.

For more information or to register for events, contact Blair at the Fenton Gift Shop, (800) 319-7793; or place your order online at www.fentonartglass.com.

 

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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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