Show, sale celebrates region’s glass-making history

WESTOVER — The annual Old Morgantown Glass Collectors’ Guild show and sale wrapped up here Sunday.

If you aren’t familiar with the guild, and if you’re already conjuring images of chipped, mismatched dinner plates on a folding table at somebody’s yard sale … well, then, it’s your night to do the dishes.

That’s because the champagne glasses all those heads of state and others in the Kennedy White House lifted in toasts came from right here, in Morgantown.

While Jack Kennedy was taking his New Frontier to the-then uncharted frontier of West Virginia during his legendary campaign swing here in 1960, Jackie Kennedy, as it turned out, already knew a little something about Morgantown.

That was courtesy of the Carlton Hotel, in New York City, where the once-and-future First Lady was taken by the unadorned elegance of the leaded tumblers, goblets and wine glasses used there.

Every one of the above was made by the Morgantown Glass Co.

Those who are familiar with the guild know that Morgantown was once a glass-making town. Commercial glass. Decorative designs. Mrs. Kennedy’s favorites.

Unique pieces sought after by collectors just like the ark in the Indiana Jones movie.

The late John Gentile, for instance, was known for the signature paperweights he designed and created for decades at his Gentile Glass Co., in Star City.

This past weekend’s show in Westover was a celebration of that history. The guild was designed and created to keep a little bit of that legacy under glass, as it were.

The upper floor of the Westover VFW hall was transformed. Pieces glinted and glowed as they caught the light.

Row after row of now-collector’s lamps, glassware and other decorative pieces — all turned out by hand — were all there.

Each one was a work of art, Leora Leasure said, even if the creators didn’t think that way.

Leasure, a Western Pennsylvania native and current president of the guild, said the people making the glass were too busy to consider the aesthetics of what they were doing.

“I’ll meet them, and I’ll say, ‘You guys are artisans,’ and they’ll say, ‘No, we were

just working.’”

Terry Spiroff worked hard in the Beaumont Glass Co., on Beechurst Avenue. He was hired there right out of high school. It was his job to haul sheets of glass from the oven to the main floor of the plant.

By itself, the glass wasn’t bad, even it was heavy. You just wouldn’t want to meet the thermometer in a dark alley, he said, given the high temperatures needed to make the stuff.

“The heat? Oh, man. I bet you could sweat off 30 pounds a shift.”

Because he was a big part of the process, he began paying attention to the final, artistic output of the enterprise. He’s become a serious collector over the years.

“I’m just amazed that somebody could create something like this,” he said, regarding those rows. “You have to appreciate it.”

Jackie Kennedy, mean-while, was so appreciative that she put in an order at the Morgantown Glass Co., after her husband was elec-ted president.

Every set of glassware from here that the Carlton Hotel had, she wanted for the White House.

Because this wasn’t just any client, nearby Seneca Glass, normally a competing company, stepped in to help with the production so the order could be met.

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