My field trip to the Ohio River Valley to work with our glass partners is always my favorite; all of them are located within a few hours of each other and traveling between them is easy and beautiful. Because of its proximity to water, silica sand, and energy (natural gas), this region of the country was once the center of all glass making for the United States. As recently as the ’70s, hundreds of large glass manufacturers were concentrated in this relatively small geographic region. Unfortunately, only a handful of those companies are still around. But the few that survived are truly experts at what they do; most are family-run and have three generations of experience to help us produce our shades. In addition to being extremely knowledgeable, they are tremendous people. I always feel extremely welcome when I visit.
My first stop was at our family-run mold maker; two brothers run the shop that their father started. We are lucky to be able to work with the best of the best in the glass mold business. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to produce half the shades we offer. These two can look at an antique shade and tell us how it needs to be made, where problems will occur, and what the mold needs to do to help prevent problems for the glass house. They will talk with the glass houses directly to determine the specifics of the mold. You may think this is the easy part of making glass, but many antique shades have not been produced for a hundred years or more–and most likely the original manufacturer is no longer in business. It’s a complicated process: we need to understand how it was originally made, and find out how it can be made today while still retaining its original qualities.
My second stop was at our pressed glass partner. Not only do they make nearly all of our pressed glass shades; they also make several of the house ware items that we offer. Pressing glass is very different from blowing glass, and we have a need for both skill sets. The shop was making our cake plates during my visit; it’s always amazing to watch how choreographed the craftsmen are when they are producing glass. Two groups are working simultaneously: one on the plate and the other on the base. Both groups have three or four members, each doing specific tasks to bring the two components together at just the right time to make a single cake plate. Molten glass is being moved quickly within a small space, amongst several individuals, and no one gets burned. Simply amazing! While I was there we discussed upcoming projects, defined details and schedules, and even chose colors of glass to sample. I can’t wait to show you our new 2012 shades.
Last, but definitely not least, it was off to West Virginia to visit our glass-blowing partners. They blow all of our opal glass shades; the glass, called opal (pronounced oh-PAL), was developed when it was critical to maximize the amount of light that was given off by the bulbs of the time, and do it in a way that was easy on the eye. The resulting glass is both functional and beautiful, and it our opinion, second to none. We have searched for other manufacturers of this glass, and no one can come close to the aesthetic qualities we so value in lighting glass. We are very lucky to have them as one of our key partners.
While there I watched them blow several of our shades. Again, a highly choreographed team (seven members) worked as one to produce shade after shade. They are all highly skilled and use their extensive experience to produce consistently beautiful shades. The quality of the shade, from wall thickness to the decorative details, are all due to the skillful hands of the craftsman; no machine pumping out glass here.
I also had time to visit the decorating department where a small but talented group of individuals hand paint our shades. This is always fun because I can sit with them and say “what if” and right there on the spot I can see if my idea has any merit. Most times it doesn’t, but once in a while we come up with a great idea for a future shade together.
What these partners do for us cannot be replicated in other countries. The skill and knowledge just doesn’t exist anywhere else. I am very proud and honored to work with them, and I am also very pleased to know that all of them are keeping and creating jobs right here in the United States.