Master glass cutter devotes space to Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum
By A.J. Panian
Published: Wednesday, July 31, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Peter O'Rourke is helping to preserve the past while keeping a distinct eye on the future.
Such was the root of a recent decision by O'Rourke — a master glass cutter of much local lore — to offer a new home to the Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum.
On Wednesday, the museum officially relocated to space previously occupied by O'Rourke at his business, O'Rourke Crystal and Antique Glass, located at the Mt. Pleasant Glass Center.
“This move will be permanent,” said Cassandra Vivian, president of the museum's board of directors, who hopes to open by fall at the new site. “It is the culmination of 10 months of hard work and great cooperation.”
The center exists on the site of the former Lenox Crystal factory, which closed in 2002, along state Route 31 near the borough.
The museum, established in November, celebrates the merchandise and histories of Lenox Crystal and Mt. Pleasant's other two former glass houses — Bryce Brothers Glass and L.E. Smith Glass.
“And now we're surrounded by glass,” Vivian said.
Earlier this year, O'Rourke contacted Vivian to offer the space at his facility, she said.
His reasoning for doing so was two-fold, he said.
“My goal, over the next few years, is to scale back and do cutting for myself on individual custom items, rather than the mass manufacture of items,” O'Rourke said. “I'm not going to stay at it forever, so if the museum grows, I will make room for that because I think it can only benefit us both.”
O'Rourke's offer came at a time when Vivian and other museum officials were in the midst of seeking a more permanent location, she said.
In November, the Mt. Pleasant Business District Authority offered the museum rent-free space at the In-Town Shops at 537 W. Main St. in the borough through the end of 2012 to help the organization get on its feet, Vivian said.
Beginning in January, the museum officials supplied monthly rental fee to the authority for the space but under no lease agreement, meaning the space would have to be vacated if an entity willing to pay more in rent came along, she said.
“Without the generous assistance of the Mt. Pleasant Business District Authority, there would not be a glass museum,” Vivian said. “They incubated the museum in their rooms at the In-Town Shops for 10 months.”
But the uncertainty of the situation there led Vivian and her all-volunteer staff to begin seeking out possible relocation alternatives, she said.
“We looked at several places in town, two of which were churches, but we just could not find one that was either big enough, or cheap enough, or where it would not be too difficult to relocate,” Vivian said.
Mt. Pleasant Borough Manager Jeff Landy said the facility added value to the borough.
“The glass museum was a nice addition; it's always nice to have a museum in your municipality. Everybody worked hard on getting it started,” he said.
In the space long occupied by O'Rourke, all of the museum's needs are met, she said.
The new museum site is half of a site currently occupied by O'Rourke, he said.
The 1,200 square-feet now belonging to the museum will house a display area, a small library, a gift shop and a demonstration area.
O'Rourke — who is well-known for producing cut-glass inauguration gifts for multiple U.S. presidents — will personally conduct such demonstrations on a scheduled basis, he said.
“That's the way to get younger people involved. All people, really, even if it's just as a pastime,” he said.
Vivian recalled that one of the most well-attended events at the museum was when O'Rourke conducted such a demonstration and involved those who attended.
“It was one of most successful speaking engagements. One by one he gave them a bowl, and they cut glass themselves,” she said. “Peter is going to be a big asset to us.”
O'Rourke will continue to occupy the remainder of the site.
During the first year the museum will receive bus tours, offer various other demonstrations and hands-on classes related to glass, hold seminars on how to document artifacts and conduct oral histories, and hold the occasional glass flea market, Vivian said.
The new quarters — three times as large as the previous site — spell a significant sign of growth for the museum, according to Anne Madarasz, a member of the museum's board of directors and museum division director and director of the Western PA Sports Museum at the Heinz History Center.
“I think it's a great step forward. It shows the interest and support in the community for the museum and the area's glass history,” Madarasz said. “It allows more space to conduct exhibits and hopefully attract more visitors throughout the region.”
Butch Henkel, a volunteer docent at the museum, believes the new location will improve foot traffic, he said.
“When (Angie's Cafe) closed up at 2 p.m. (at the In-Town Shops, we very seldom would get visitors,” Henkel said.
To prepare for the relocation, the museum's officials have worked hard to drum up one year's worth of capital through donations, Vivian said.
“It was important that we get ourselves to a place where we could survive for one year,” she said. “We have received grants and generous donations or assistance from a number of donors. We are still seeking financial help to cover the cost of signage, display cases and general operations.”
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 is John M. O'Connell Jr. of the O'Connell & Silvis law firm in Greensburg.
Artifacts, which lined the museum's previous facility, came largely from the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society, which has been collecting the history of the region for decades, Vivian said.
Those items, along with numerous artifacts on loan from dozens of area citizens, some of whom are former employees in those factories, will find a safe haven at their new home, O'Rourke said.
“It is kind of sad for people who haven't been here for 15 or 20 years, and they return and there's nothing left (of that history),” he said. “Now if they bring a friend back who they told about what it used to be like, with the plants and the nice showrooms, they can see what they were talking about.”
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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