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Weston glass blowing business is booming

WESTON - Walk into Chip Turner's unassuming building along U.S. 33 here and you can watch him blow glass, buy a glass trinket or handmade item from more than 30 West Virginia artists whose goods he carries, check in a deer you shot, mail a package through FedEx, order a sign or buy some fresh green beans or squash.

The red-roofed building also is home to the Lewis County Convention & Visitor's Bureau. And though there's no sign for this, if you need a kiln of your own built, he can help with that, too. His company designed and constructed the largest glass furnace of its type in Canada.

The big sign on the building says Appalachian Glass Products and Services, but Turner has taken the business he started in 2001 and turned it into much more.

"We're sort of like an old general store," said Turner, a Lewis County native. A lot of folks have wondered why the heck he's an official game checking station for the state Division of Natural Resources.

For one thing, the area needed a game checking station. For another, Turner figured hunters, most often men, would pop in and notice he had nice gift items they could take home to their wives or girlfriends.  

"Hey, it works," he said, smiling.

Turner first learned to blow glass, in all places, when he was in high school and it was offered as a class. His dad, Matt, is a retired machinist for West Virginia Glass who can be seen around the shop experimenting with glass himself.

The younger Turner, 46, perfected his craft by working at local factories such as West Virginia Glass, Louis Glass and Princess House Manufacturing, in positions ranging from glass blower to maintenance and sales. By 2001, he was ready to start his own company.

He's moved and expanded three times and the company now makes more than 100 products in 180 colors. Besides popular decorative globes and novelty items such as penholders, the company sells practical pieces such as stemware and vases.

"We're in 37 states. We're in 20-plus state parks," Turner said.

"Every single thing we make every day has a home before we make it," he added. "We make it today and the next morning, it ships out."

He said he has no idea just how many glass orbs his company makes, but it's a bunch. At less than $20 for most sizes, they are popular as gifts and with collectors. Turner recently was licensed through West Virginia University to make an exclusive gold and Mountaineer blue glass ball he expects will be popular during the Christmas season.

Visitors to the store can watch Turner or his apprentice, Sharon Tonkery, make glass balls and explain the process as they go.

Turner loves this part, and customers apparently do, too.

"I could look at this all day long," said a woman who popped in one recent Friday with a group.

Watching molten glass come in a glob from a kiln and slowly be rolled and blown into a colorful globe is inherently interesting, and Turner knows it.

He doesn't tire of explaining the process, which involves heating, cooling, heating and then very slowly cooling the molten glass to create color combinations and a final product that is structurally sound.

"This looks orange but it will be clear when it cools," he said, twirling a gob of molten soda-lime crystal. "You'll notice we never stop turning the pipe."

He likens creating blown glass to baking a cake. There is a basic recipe, but there are many, many variations on a theme.

"It's amazing," he said of the process, "once you know what to look for."

Turner believes in West Virginia products, so much so that he carries the work of more than 30 artists and craftsmen in his store, including other glassmakers. You can buy jams and jellies, quilts and carved coal, even fish flies here. Some he buys wholesale and others he consigns with the artist.

He explains his philosophy: "A lot of people don't understand this. They think they have to have the whole pie. It doesn't work that way."

Turner believes West Virginia craftsmen can complement and help each other. A customer who comes in to buy a glass ball may very well also notice a tatted doily or blueberry jam.

And everyone wins in the end, including Turner, who says he almost doesn't have a slow season anymore. The slowest months, January and February, are used to stockpile as best he can.

"It's a stressful dilemma to have, but it's a good dilemma to have," he said.

One reason for his success is that he doesn't require a minimum order like many businesses do. He figures a small shop understandably is reluctant to commit to 100 of an item.

"If you want just 12, we'll ship just 12," he said.

While he laments that the country used to have many more glass producers than it does now, and many products are being made overseas, Turner believes the tide is turning.

"It seems America is shifting back to wanting to buy American," he said.

For more information on Appalachian Glass, visit www.appglass.com.

Contact writer Monica Orosz at monica@dailymail.com or 348-4830.

 


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