Historic glass from 1938 dining car fused into jewelry
When Travis Smeltzer and his crew removed the transom windows located around the top of the old Serro's Diner, they discovered orange opalescent glass under several coats of paint.
Stripping away the paint from the glass panels and restoring the clerestory windows to their original luster was one small part of the recently completed restoration of the 1938 Jerry O'Mahony dining car, originally owned by brothers Louis and Joseph F. Serro of Herminie.
The Lincoln Highway Heritage Corridor group acquired and moved the historic diner to Latrobe in 2003. Travis Smeltzer Construction of Apollo began the restoration project in November 2011.
During the restoration, a collection of the broken glass pieces from five panels that had to be replaced accumulated in a box.
“We brought the box of broken pieces back to the office and tried to figure out what we could do with them,” said Kristin Poerschke, gift shop manager and bookkeeper at the Lincoln Highway Experience Museum.
Poerschke suggested transforming the thin slivers of orange and white glass into jewelry.
She said she got the idea from a similar project at her church, St. James Evangelical Lutheran Church on West Main Street.
Two years ago, when the church was restoring the stained glass windows at the church, the broken pieces of glass were crafted into jewelry pieces by local artisans and sold to church members as a fundraising project.
“They will make great keepsakes for people who have memories of Serro's Diner,” said Poerschke. “It's a bit of history. It was so important to so many people around here. After all, diners are a thing of the past.”
Olga Herbert executive director of the corridor group said she discovered the perfect artisan for the jewelry project, Ed Check, while attending a craft show at Westmoreland Mall.
“I was thrilled to find Ed. The quality of his work is excellent,” said Herbert. “Just look what he has done with filthy, dirty glass from 1938,”
Check is the owner of Check Crown and Bridge and Ed's Art Glass. He used a fusing process to create dichroic glass pendants, utilizing a technique he uses at his Finleyville dental lab.
Check said he first cleaned the glass and layered it in a kiln where it was heated to 1,800 degrees and fired under a vacuum.
Each piece is made from at least four layers of the glass window panes and fused to a 1⁄2 inch thickness.
“It takes four or five firings to get these effects,” he said.
He then shaped the glass into individual pendants or ear ring pieces. After hand polishing each piece he attached bails so they can be attached to a neck chain.
Check said he enjoys creating jewelry as a change of pace from the dental pieces he creates at his dental lab.
“Since I was very familiar working with porcelin and gold, I started to experiment with glass jewelry about four years ago,” he said.
Before that, he said he worked with silver and gold jewelry.
“Everybody does beading now, but I wanted to offer something high end. There's is a big market for it,” he said.
Check said he participates many juried craft shows in the area. He hopes he may be selected for Fort Ligonier Days show.
“I work with teeth so I must be perfectionist,” he said. “Making glass pieces on the side gives me the opportunity to get a better product.”
Check said he enjoyed being a part of something with historical significance.
“When I got the Serro's glass it was in pretty bad shape,” he said. “It was painted and I had to work to clean it up and get the paint out of the mixture.”
He said he did not know about the diner and its history in the area.
“I got to see the diner. They did a great job restoring it,” he said. “I am glad I get to be a part of saving a few pieces of its history.”
To see more of Check's glass work, go to edsartglass.com.
“To think he could take this and make such beautiful art. It provides a chance to hold a bit of history from the diner,” Herbert said.
Although the restoration project has been completed, Herbert said the group is in the process of acquiring resources to fund the building of the annex that will house the diner on the museum's property.
“It is a historic artifact we will have to protect,” she said. “It was preserved to the Secretary of the Interior Standard.”
Herbert said she hopes to have the diner listed on the National Registry.
“Now we have to protect it in a climate controlled environment,” she said.
They are still tweaking the plans for the building addition design at the museum. Herbert said she is currently developing a business plan and marketing analysis.
The diner was restored using federal funding award from Federal Transportation Enhancement project.
The jewelry pendants are available to purchase at the museum at a cost of $45.
“It is a different type of gift with a strong connection to Westmoreland County,” said Poerschke. “And it is orange and they say orange is the color of fashion this year.”
For more information, call 724-879-4241.
Deborah A. Brehun is a staff editor for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-238-2111 or firstname.lastname@example.org.