Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum prepares to unveil paperweights
It took some time for Scottdale's Bruce Kastner to understand the meaning of his late father's nickname.
As he worked alongside Wilbert Kastner in the early 1970s at the Lenox Inc. glass factory in Mt. Pleasant Township, the younger Kastner would wonder to himself why coworkers there called his dad “Jack,” he said.
“I couldn't understand how they got ‘Jack' from ‘Wilbert,' but I found out it meant Dad was a real ‘Jack of all trades,' and he really was,” Kastner said.
Among the elder Kastner's most memorable pursuits was the creation of colorful paperweights known as “bucket jobs” at the facility.
On lunch breaks, Kastner would teach his son to fashion the objects from molten glass and frit — a crushed form of residual glass which was knocked off during the production of various items mass-manufactured for sale there.
“I learned a lot by watching him,” Kastner said.
“Over time, I made probably 200 to 300 of them, and I only have about six, because I gave the rest away to family and neighbors as gifts.”
The remainder, along with a number of “Jack” Kastner's original bucket jobs, will compose a portion of those set for display at a paperweight exhibit at the Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum.
The exhibit will debut from 5-7 p.m. March 15 at the facility located at 402 E. Main St., Suite 600. It will run through June 15.
The museum is located at the former Lenox site which today is the Mt. Pleasant Glass Center in the township.
The facility was established in late 2012 to celebrate the history and heritage of Lenox Inc., along with Mt. Pleasant's Bryce Brothers Glass Co. and L.E. Smith Glass Co.
Facility to hold its first feature exhibit
The museum's first feature exhibit has a true local feel, said Cassandra Vivian, president of the board of directors for the nonprofit organization.
“The exhibit will open with approximately 80 paperweights, half of which are ‘bucket jobs,'” Vivian said.
While none of the three area glass factories manufactured paperweights for sale on a regular basis, paperweights were created in the factories, Vivian said.
“They are wild, wonderful and unique ... one of a kind,” she said.
The makers of the bucket jobs would often give the objects away as gifts to friends and family on birthdays, holidays and in recognition of momentous life events or accomplishments, Vivian said.
“The exciting thing about this exhibit is to see what these people did,” Vivian said.
“There's a true camaraderie among these paperweight makers. It will revive a real sense of pride.”
Former company leader shares perspective
Leslie Kurtz of East Huntingdon worked for Lenox Glass beginning in 1972 as a general laborer, and he was one of the workers perfecting the ins-and-outs of producing bucket jobs, he said.
“Not everybody could make these paperweights ... you had to have a certain skill level,” Kurtz said.
At Lenox, workers would recover frit from pot furnaces and separate the different colors into jars and keep them in their personal lockers, he said.
On breaks, workers would set out the frit they recovered, gather a small amount of molten glass on a blow pipe, and apply the frit to the molten glass to generate the colors inside, Kurtz said.
They would also insert wire into the molten glass to create designs and inscribe people's names, he said.
With the help of another worker, they would also apply a second layer of molten glass to the frit to form a desired shape, he said.
Then the object would be put in a pre-heated bucket with sand, and placed in an annealing oven for two hours at 850-to-1,000 degrees. Then they let the bucket cool for three to fours hours before removing the paperweight.
The results were often “special,” Kurtz said.
“Along with all the different colors, the designs in there would be magnified. If you put the smallest little speck in there, it magnified 100 times,” he said.
In the 1990s, the custom of making bucket jobs diminished, Kurtz said.
The loss of skilled workers to retirement contributed during that time, along with the evolution of glass-making technology.
Kurtz rose to the level of technical director/special projects supervisor at Lenox, which closed in 2002.
“Some people growing up today, they would think this was just a chunk of glass, but the technique behind making glass is a dying art.”
Museum seeks more exhibitors
Anyone who made the bucket jobs at Lenox or the other glass houses is invited to bring them to the museum for display and possible sale, Vivian said.
“We will fix 50/50 split on the profits, with the museum's half to go to the cost of operations,” she said. “I know there are hundreds and hundreds of bucket jobs in peoples homes locally, and some of them are quite spectacular.”
There will also be paperweights for sale in the facility's Museum Shoppe.
Museum board of directors member Harley N. Trice will also conduct a presentation on paperweights at 6 p.m. during the exhibit opening.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.