To say that the Glass Blowing Center is located in the middle of nowhere is a bit of an understatement. In fact, I doubt there are many more remote places in Pennsylvania that aren’t part of a state park. However, there’s no doubt that the Glass Blowing Center is worth the drive.
Glass making used to be one of western Pennsylvania’s biggest industries. In fact, during most of the 19th century, Pittsburgh was the center of glass manufacturing in the US (You can learn more about this history at the Beaver County Industrial Museum).
However, over time, less and less glass was produced in the region. Today, places like the Glass Blowing Center in Butler County are keeping the tradition of glass blowing alive in western Pennsylvania, albeit with more artistry than in previous centuries.
Operated by Tom and Elaine Doner, the 3,600 square foot Glass Blowing Center is part workshop and part art gallery.
Glass making demonstrations are given daily by Tom, a self-taught glass blower and the resident artist. I was fortunate enough to see one of his fantastic demonstrations.
From the moment he sits behind the workbench, Tom goes from a genial, middle-aged man to a skilled artisan. Carefully handling the pyrex tubes amidst the scorching flame of the torch in front of him, Tom manages to skillfully craft beautiful glass pieces while talking about the process to the onlooking visitors.
In the retail shop, there are products that have been made on site, but most of the pieces are the collections of other artisans from the local area and around the country.
The shop contains hundreds of pieces of handmade glass organized by subject. So, whether you are looking for a glass bird, a Christmas ornament, a beautiful piece of jewelry, or a dragon, there is something for you at the Glass Blowing Center. Even better, the shop offers items in every budget, and I found their prices to be quite reasonable.
Once specialty of the shop is the Pennsylvania Minnow Tubes. Minnow Tubes were originally designed in the early 1800s to allow fisherman to use one minnow for the entire day. The idea is they put the fish inside a small glass tube with hooks outside to snag the fish.
While not commercially successful at the time, they are becoming more and more popular as collector items for fisherman. Tom is one of the, if not the, only person that still makes these unique fishing lures by hand. Whether they are good for catching fish can be debated, but there is no doubting the beauty of these pieces.
The Pennsylvania Minnow Tubes are on sale in their art gallery, and each one is signed and numbered to increase their collectability.
When I headed out to visit The Glass Blowing Center in Butler County, Pennsylvania, I wasn’t expecting too much. However, I’m really glad that I took the time to visit. The center really is a hidden gem, and is well worth the drive into the countryside.
The Glass Blowing Center
Hours: Thursday-Tuesday: 10am-6pm
Closed Wednesdays (by appointment only this day)
Address: 114 Leonard Road