Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum speaker series continues
Tom Felt said he knows what it takes to grow a glass museum.
The founder of the Museum of American Glass in Weston, W.Va., and editor of the museum's quarterly magazine, “All About Glass,” Felt is about to bring that knowledge north.
At 7 p.m. April 17, Felt — who is also an officer, archivist and member of the museum's board of directors — will detail the history of what he calls “the little museum that could” during the Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum's Speaker Series.
“That definitely will be part of what I will be covering based what we have been able to accomplish here at Weston,” said Felt of his planned address, “Museum of American Glass and its Artifacts,” which will take place at the local museum located at 402 E. Main St., Suite 600, in Mt. Pleasant Township.
“I see a vibrant future for the Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum, if its members can build on the local support they've already received, and I think they can based on the approach they are taking,” he said.
Cassandra Vivian, the area museum's executive director, draws great inspiration from Felt's success in establishing the facility he oversees.
“Who would have thought that a small museum established in West Virginia little more than a dozen years ago would have grown to become a major presence in the effort to preserve and celebrate the history and manufacture of American glass,” Vivian asked. “Today, the Museum of American Glass has more than 500 members.”
Facility starts small, builds big
In 1990, when Felt and his fellow volunteers set out to develop what has become the Museum of American Glass, the group was similar to those who gathered locally in late 2012 to start the Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum.
“We definitely had strong local support, and that is very important when you're just starting out a smaller operation like we were at one time,” he said.
That year, Felt and his helpers established a glass study support group in Weston, he said.
The Mountain State town, located in Lewis County, was an ideal location for a museum for the glass industry, as it had been the home of some 20 glass manufacturers, and at one time, could boast that it was the largest producer of hand-blown stemware in the world, he said.
“The Museum of American Glass has actively sought a large amount of papers, materials and factory archives,” Felt said.
Before that, Felt and his fellow volunteers saw that articles of incorporation as a nonprofit organization were drawn up in 1993, he said.
“One really important thing we were able to do as a museum was reaching out to politicians at the state and national levels for support ... because certain advances require such backing,” Felt said.
All the while, Felt said, local support is essential to keep a museum operating and manned with staff but that national and state support is paramount to its long-term survival.
“You also need to work closely with tourist bureaus, because they're essentially the ones who get your name out there to places like visitors centers,” Felt said.
In 1998, Felt and his fellow volunteers raised enough money to purchase a small building in Weston to house the museum.
That facility rapidly became too small for the growing collections of glassware donated by collectors and clubs all over the United States, he said.
In 2006, the museum moved into its current location, Felt said.
There it contains a public display area of nearly 10,000 square feet, and additional room for a library, archives and display space devoted to the machinery and equipment used to produce glass objects, he said.
These include interactive displays, many of which are designed to appeal especially to children, Felt said.
The facility is also the home of the National Marble Museum and it serves as the custodian of the archives of the American Flint Glass Workers Union.
“That is just an extremely rich source of information of interest to researchers, and those writing about the histories of factories,” Felt said. “Preserving the glass is one thing, and it's a very important thing, but preserving the knowledge of the industry and making research opportunities available, is essential to a museum's development.”
Creator is also a collector, writer
In 1977, Felt began collecting glassware when he and his partner, Bob O'Grady, bought three pairs of Heisey candlesticks, he said.
“That small nucleus eventually grew into one of the largest and most complete collections of its kind, and resulted in the publication of a book, ‘Heisey Glass Candlesticks, Candelabra and Lamps' written by Felt in 1984,” Vivian said.
Felt followed that up with the publications, “Heisey's Lariat & Athena Patterns” in 1986 and “A.H. Heisey & Company: A Brief History,” a decade later.
He later expanded his research and writings to include all areas of glass manufacture.
Felt co-authored “The Glass Candlestick Book, Volumes 1-3,” with Rich and Elaine Stoer, which was published 2003-2005.
Next came “L. E. Smith Glass Company: The First One Hundred Years” in 2007, and “The Encyclopedia of Cobalt Glass,” co-written with Bonnie and Gene Girard, in summer of 2009.
In 2010, Felt published “The L. E. Smith Encyclopedia of Glass Patterns & Products, Identification & Values.”
He has written for many club newsletters and has been a regular contributor to The Glass Collectors' Digest, The Glass and Pottery Collector, and many newsletters.
Felt is retired from the Library of Congress, where he spent his career as a cataloger in the Copyright Office.
Speaker is a local museum member
Last year, Felt became a registered member of the Mt. Pleasant Glass Museum.
“It's important for our kind of museums to band together,” he said. “We have common concerns, common needs, so just sharing ideas on how we do things, it's also very important.”
Vivian said she eagerly anticipates the message Felt will deliver to those attending his talk, particularly those involved in it the local museum's development.
“He should be a very good speaker. Modern-day glass collecting revolves around people like Tom Felt. He is committed, He make things happen, and above all, he has embraced our museum, so we owe him a lot.”
The series will be held at 7 p.m. on the third Thursday of each month, Vivian said. There is no cost of admission, but those attending are asked to make a $3 donation to the museum.
Those who have a topic they would like to discuss are encouraged to contact the museum at 724-542-4949.
Upcoming speakers include:
• May 15 — Jay Hawkins — “Bottles and Bottlemaking in the 19th Century”
• June 19 — John Potts — “Transition from Bryce Brothers to Lenox Crystal”
The remainder of the speakers will be announced at a later date.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.