Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Wheaton Arts Festival

I have long heard of the Wheaton Glass Arts Village and wished to go there to learn more about the history of American glass.

"History of WheatonArts The important American glass industry began in southern New Jersey because of the availability of natural resources such as wood, sand, soda ash and silica. The nation’s earliest successful glass factory was founded in 1789 by Caspar Wistar in nearby Salem County in Millville. Many of the nation’s foremost glass factories operate in South Jersey."  (from

My friend Marie Woelfing called me about a month prior to tell me she had the great honor of demonstrating the art of making glass beads for the Annual Wheaton Arts Fall Festival!  I was so excited for her and it gave me a great excuse to go.  I had never done anymore than pass through the states of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, New Jersey and Delaware and this gave me the opportunity to see a little more.

So we traveled to Millville, NJ on a great adventure!  The first thing I did was look for Marie.  Here she is making beads and showing her audience how she makes a glass bead.  That's her husband Otto in the background, he is a lapidary artist and makes some gorgeous cabs from what look like ordinary rocks.  

Marie is also a very talented and skilled jewelry designer using her own beads (mine too! she's one of my best customers) crystals and sterling silver to make bracelets, necklaces, earrings, and key chains.  She and Otto spend lots of time on the road going to craft fairs selling their wares.  They seem to do very well at all their venues otherwise I can't imagine doing it.  Marie and Otto enjoy it, the travel, and their common interests including dancing!  They are quite the little couple!
After my husband and I had scoped out some of the other booths we came back and I reported to Marie some of the different booths she should go and see.  She let me spell her for a while and I got to do some demonstrations while she was away.  Can't say that anything I made was special.  It was kinda like trying to cook in someone else's kitchen, trying to find tools and stringers to do what I wanted to do.  It was great fun to take part in Wheaton Arts Festival even though I wasn't the featured artist.

Kesha Koy
While out and about looking at what the other glass artists were doing I met Keysha Koy who creates wonderful pendants with borocilicate glass.  As we chatted we discovered we had a friend in common and that was pretty cool!  But her pendants were so unique.  I wish I had a close up pic of them.  They were flatter than the regular boro pendants you see out there everywhere, yet they still had that dimensional quality.  Then to top that off she added outside raised elements on one side, the other, or on the outside edges. She had just sold one of the prettiest pendants and was getting ready to put something new up.  Below you can see more of the pendants that I described.   I've listed her website below, but you can see her work better on Etsy.  Just do a search for her in "sellers."

SO!  I'm not through yet, that was just the first day!  The next day we came back so that we could see the "Big Glass" workers.   

The first ones we visited were the traveling glassblowers of Wheaton Arts.  These guys carry a furnace, bench, annealer and all the tools needed to blow glass on the road to perform demonstrations everywhere from schools to other festivals.   While the gaffer created a vase out of purple glass, his partner would describe everything he was doing.  Here you see the gaffer being rather flamboyant by blowing holding the pipe up high...most do it more casually.  After they finished the demo I went over to the tent where they were selling things that they had made the day before and we had an interesting conversation.  Glass people are always interesting to talk to.  I bought a purple vase before I left and it was signed on the bottom!

We then went to the museum where we saw more glass than we thought was possible.  By the time we got out of there it had been 2 hours and we hardly noticed the time go by with so much to see.  I learned that the King of England didn't want the Colonists to make glass in America so he wouldn't allow English blowers to go over.  But the Colonists finagled German glassblowers to come over and that was where it started!  I also learned that a lot of the glass out there that may look like junk may not be, though I wish I could tell the difference.

This is the original stack, circa 1790.
Our last stop was to see the original glass furnace of Wheaton and watch the gaffers make glass pumpkins.  It was neat to go to the original place where some of the first glass vessels were produced in America.  The artists that work here are big names in the glass world and come to places like Wheaton to hone their skills and make new creations.  Wish I could tell you this fellows name but I forgot it :(   In the picture below the gaffer is standing right in front of the bottom of that stack you see from the outside (on the left).   We did end up purchasing a glass pumpkin!

 And that is the end of this long tale about my adventure to see the Wheaton Glass Arts Village.  Hope I didn't bore you, but there was so much to tell, and believe me I kept it short!  It was all so exciting to me and will always be a great memory.


Lori Anderson said...

Hey there -- you asked about what happens to the jewelry once the Bead Soup Blog Party is over - you get to keep it!

CWSlevin said...

That's cool! Has it ever happened that folks trade around?