Elkins Rotary learns about glassmaking

The Elkins Rotary Club was visited Monday by Chip Turner, owner of Appalachian Glass in Lewis County, who spoke about his glass-making studio and the long history and rich culture of glassmaking in the Mountain State.

“Over just the past century, more than 20 different glass factories have called Lewis County home,” said Turner, who has spent 32 years in the industry. “It’s a large part of our culture and our history.”

Turner said glassmaking has been practiced throughout the world for about 3,500 years and was the first industry in America, as settlers in Jamestown worked on the craft.

Turner said he got into glass-making by chance when he was taking a wood-working class at a vocational school. The school also had a glassmaking class that was taught by Jimmy Carlton, who showed Turner “how to work glass” between class sessions. It turned out to be an obsession for Turner, who devoted his life to glass-making.

After working in glassmaking for 16 years, Turner decided to open his own studio. He and partner Dave White decided to open a studio “with a vision of increasing public appreciation in traditionally produced, American-made products.”

Appalachian Glass Products & Services, LLC. was born. The company offers more than 500 traditionally produced soda-lime crystal products. From novelty items to elegant stemware and vases, all items are hand-crafted and mouth-blown in West Virginia. With high quality, hand-crafted jelly-jar candles that are available in more than 50 scents. the studio can make up to 100 to 150 glassware items per day.

Appalachian Glass has been featured at various festivals and shows throughout the area, including the Weston Carp Festival, the Stonewall Jackson Jubilee in Weston, the Mountain State Forest Festival in Elkins, the Apple Festival in Hickory, Pa., the Pumpkin Festival in Houston, Pa., the Harvest Festival in Greene County, Pa., and Mountaineer Week in Morgantown.

“Some people think that glassmaking is some magical thing that only a few people can do, but it’s not true,” Turner said. “It’s really all about balance and timing. If you can get the balance and timing right, then you can make glass.”

One of Turner’s proudest works is an eight-foot-tall glass replica of a DNA strand that features 150 different unique glass bulbs and ornaments, highlighting each of the 55 counties in West Virginia, as well as its state parks and culture. The piece was created to celebrate West Virginia’s 150 years of statehood.

“We wanted to make something that represented the whole state,” Turner said. “We kept thinking about what it is that makes up the state, what the things are that are the state’s identity, and the first thing I thought of was DNA. So, we took the idea and ran with it.”

Through all of his time spent learning the craft of glassmaking, Turner has refused to call himself an artist.

“People have been making glass for 3,000 years,” he said. “They never got to call themselves artists. These people were making glass as their livelihood, it was their work. They never considered themselves artists. They were glass workers and so am I.

“I always tell people that if you are good enough at what you do, people will call you an artist. You are an artist if you are good enough at something to make other people recognize it.”

For more information about Appalachian Glass, visit www.appglass.com.