It’s not everyday that you can claim a small bit of fame by the bracelet you wear, but I’ve been able to do just that recently. As many women know, and presumable just as many men since they often reach for a piece of jewelry as a gift to the special lady in their life, Pandora bead jewelry has become very popular. And so it happens that in my West Virginia hometown there’s a century plus old company who’s making artisan glass beads that rival and are quite competitive with Pandora beads. And I’ve begun my own bracelet of the beads (which, I wear everyday).
I’m at work, and ladies admire the beads. I’m at the health foods store, grocery store, gym, shipping store, etc. and ladies notice the beaded bracelet. At every turn I get to tell about Fenton Art Glass and how it’s “made in America” pure artisan craftsmanship at its finest.
You can check their fabulous beads out for yourself on their website (and maybe even buy some beads!):
But let me finish my story… I love the Fenton company. And unfortunately like so many family run companies they’ve been business challenged lately. In fact, they’ve shut down their main furnace (July 2011 – http://wvgazette.com/News/201107060631). This saddened me deeply when a cousin texted me last year that this was happening! You see, I went to school (all twelve years – elementary through high school) with Fenton kids. I walked by Fenton a lot growing up and would look forward to tent sales in the summer when my mom and I would shop for collectible hand blown glass pieces (they made vases, lamps, bowls, little hand painted cute animal figurines, angels, clowns, and much more), or when I’d visit my hometown later on with family and look for what was new. I’m so glad I took my husband on the factory tour a few years back. And since my husband is an artist, he told me he so admired the workmanship and craftsmanship in the making of the art there. The artisans at Fenton had such command of their art and were proud to have their work collected by people all over the world. Fenton used to appear on the HSN television channel. As well, they used to have their wares displayed and sold at Cracker Barrel restaurants. When people asked me where I was from, I was always happy to say I’m from Williamstown, WV where Fenton Art Glass is made.
I’ve lived in Florida for more than twenty years but my hometown lives in my heart. I still have family and friends in / near Williamstown though. So, we’ve often wondered if Fenton had explored making other types of art glass, such as light shades for bars and restaurants. When we watch HG TV and those restaurant makeover shows on Food Network and see the ways in which designers come up with creating lighting fixtures, sometimes out of the most unexpected things, we wonder if that’s a whole genre of business Fenton may have missed out on. I enjoy the way light shines through and reflects from the Fenton glass I own, and I appreciate the beauty of it often. I wish more people could experience the beauty of Fenton Art Glass, and believe in the workers of America again.
When I read this article, http://wvgazette.com/Life/201202030246 and learned there had been 460 glass factories in West Virginia but now only 16 are in operation. This again causes me to pause and reflect upon how America is changing. Gone are so many manual labor craft jobs. And when we lose that talent and skill, it may never be replaced.
So, back to my little beaded bracelet. When I look at it, I think of the folks who made the glass, and the artists who painted on each bead. As the beads move along on the bracelet chain I think about my hometown, I’m grateful to have grown up during a time when hard work and the arts were held in high esteem. My first cousins’ wife works (for awhile longer at least) in the Fenton gift shop, and the economy of Williamstown and surrounding areas, Vienna and Parkersburg WV and Marietta OH, will feel the loss of this major employer. I pray and lift up in hope all those whose lives have been impacted negatively by the changing economy and I pray Fenton can find a way to rise up again, light the main furnace, and keep the heart in my hometown.