Mt. Pleasant Glass museum adds artifacts, releases newsletter
By A.J. Panian
Published: Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Relics of Mt. Pleasant's glass industry history that may have never again seen the light of day now have a home at the newly incorporated Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum.
For years, borough resident Allen W. Leighliter had been storing the original charter of the American Flint Glass Workers Union Local 597, established in 1941, along with minutes for each of the union's 60-plus years of meetings, in the basement of his South Silver Street home.
“The charter was wrapped in a little cylinder ... I never knew anyone would be interested in these things,” said Leighliter, 59, who worked at the former Lenox Crystal factory near the borough and served as the union's secretary for roughly 10 years before the factory closed in 2002.
When Cassandra Vivian, the museum's president, contacted Leighliter about attending a recently held reunion of former Lenox Crystal and Bryce Brothers Glass Co. employees, he told her he would bring the artifacts to the event for her review.
At the reunion, Vivian, along with fellow museum board members Harley N. Trice and Cindy Stevenson, museum office manager Sharon Hribal and volunteer docent Dee Heller, explained to attendees what they hoped to accomplish by establishing the facility on Main Street.
They came away not only with the relics preserved all these years by Leighliter, but also the interest of those responsible for making Mt. Pleasant's glass at Lenox, Bryce Brothers and the L.E. Smith Glass company.
“This is their museum. They are the ones who did all this, the ladies and men who worked in those factories ... this is their story,” Vivian said.
Insider tales from former employees of the three factories compose a portion of content offered in the pages of “The Glassblower,” the museum's new quarterly newsletter.
The museum recently released the first edition of the publication to its 48 current members, Vivian said.
By the time the second edition is due for release in June, Vivian said she and the others aim to be sending it to many more.
“We're encouraging our members who have received the newsletter to share it with all,” Vivian said. “The newsletters will be sent to members only going forward.”
Newsletter reveals industry's local legacy
The inaugural edition of The Glassblower offers a segment that details the brief history of the museum.
In the fall, the Mt. Pleasant Business District Authority offered Vivian and the others pursuing a fledgling glass exhibit free space at the In-Town Shops — the authority's business incubator — through the end of 2012.
The facility opened its doors Nov. 23 and, by mid-December, had logged more than 200 visitors.
In January, the authority permitted the operation continued occupation of the allotted space for an unspecified rental fee, Vivian said.
As of this month, Vivian said the visitor count has risen to 500.
The newsletter also accredits a core group of local citizens who helped get the museum up and running, such as:
• Mary Shaw, who worked in the show rooms of the Bryce, Smith and Lenox companies and currently serves as one of the facilities volunteer docents
• Don and Cheryel Sechrist, who donated glass items from the couple's living room collection
• Kathy Pieszak, who donated a photo of her father-in-law, Edward Pieszak, blowing glass while working at Bryce Brothers
• Alistair Hooper, who donated L.E. Smith products in their original packaging
• Bill Lozier, who donated a curio for use in the museum space
• Tom Wible, a member of the family who helped establish L.E. Smith, is assisting the museum with establishing its online presence and contributing artifacts.
The publication also highlights officials of Shop Demo Depot — a local facility which accepts tax-deductible donations of surplus and reusable building supplies — who donated a desk, filing cabinet and curio for use in the museum space.
The Glassblower also provides information on upcoming forums to be held at the museum, including “From the Everyday to the Extraordinary: Pittsburgh Glass — 1797-Present,” which will be conducted at 1 p.m. March 16 by museum board member Anne Madarasz.
Madarasz also serves as the museum division director at the Sen. John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh and director of the Western Pennsylvania Sports Museum at the center.
Search for museum members continues
While Vivian said she is pleased with the membership total the museum has accrued to date, she added that more help is needed.
“We need to be 200 strong,” Vivian said.
With that in mind, Trice, who is the great, great grandson of James Bryce, founder of Bryce Brothers Glass Co., has been dropping off membership brochures at various stops throughout the region.
From the Mahla Antique Mall in Pittsburgh's Strip District to the Antique Center of Strabane in Canonsburg, Washington County, Trice said he is working hard to spread word of the new museum and the need for more member support.
An antiques dealer in his own right, Trice said he will continue to do so beginning tomorrow through Sunday at an antiques show to be held at Oakmont Country Club in Allegheny County.
Trice — an environmental lawyer with Reed Smith of Pittsburgh — said he also consulted staff at the Duncan and Miller Glass Museum in Washington, Pa., to discuss development of the Mt. Pleasant museum's legally documented guidelines.
“Because glassmaking began in the Laurel Highlands, we thought we would have a great audience with that legacy and with a focus on Mt. Pleasant, where three companies were headquartered,” Trice said. “We think we're well-positioned to educate people throughout the region and receive donations of artifacts from those who are interested in seeing glass history preserved in this area.”
The board of directors of the Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum Inc. is in the process of acquiring its status as a nonprofit, Vivian said.
The attorney representing the group in its pursuit of such a certification is John M. O'Connell Jr. of the O'Connell & Silvis law firm in Greensburg, Vivian said.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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