Current and Coming features detailed information about current and forthcoming programs, events, exhibits and activities of historical and cultural institutions in Pennsylvania. Originated as “Currents.” Retitled “Current and Coming,” Winter 2003, and then retitled “Out and About,” Fall 2005. Revived as “Current and Coming,” Winter 2013. Ran regularly, Spring 1984 to Spring 2008, and then occasionally, Winter 2013 to Spring 2015.

A Glass Act

By the opening of the twentieth century, western Pennsylvania, with twenty-nine companies in full production, had emerged as the undisputed glass manufacturing capital of the United States (see “Currents,” Spring 1998, and “Curator’s Choice,” Summer 1998). The manufacture of glass in the region can be traced to the late eighteenth century, when both the New Geneva Glass Works of diplomat and financier Albert Gallatin and the Pittsburgh Glass Works of James O’Hara and Isaac Craig opened in 1797.

The glassmaking industry – which took advantage of the abundant supply of coal for fuel and the waterways for transportation and shipping – burgeoned during the nineteenth century. From the 1890s through the early 1930s, the City of Pittsburgh hosted a prestigious national exhibition of glass, known simply as the “Pittsburgh Exhibit,” at the Carnegie Museum of Art. One of the Exhibit’s earliest participants, beginning in 1892 and continuing through 1921, was the Westmore­land Glass Company. The company was also one of the show’s largest exhibitors.

Originally founded as the West­moreland Specialty Company, the West­moreland Glass Company produced its immensely popular wares in Grapeville, several miles northwest of the Westmore­land County seat of Greensburg, for nearly a century, from 1889 through 1984 . The company was especially well known for its extraordinary techniques in molded, painted, etched, cut, and colored glass. Westmoreland Glass obtained thirty-one patents over the years, attesting to its innovations in the glassmaking process.

To showcase the variety and quality of Westmoreland Glass, nearly two hundred examples of functional, decorative, and novelty glass objects will be featured in an exhibition mounted by the Westmoreland Museum of American Art in Greensburg, “From Westmoreland Glass to Contempo­rary Glass.” The most comprehensive collection of Westmoreland Glass presented to date, the exhibit will be on view from Sunday, February 13, through Sunday, April 16, 2000. To complement this historical exhibition, the work of contemporary Pittsburgh glass artist Kathleen Mulcahy will be highlighted in an adjoining gallery.

“From Westmoreland Glass to Contemporary Glass” not only acknowledges the importance of the glass industry to western Pennsylvania, but it also illustrates the changing tastes of Americans for glass table articles and decorative accessories through the first half of the twentieth century. By including functional works, the museum offers visitors an opportunity to examine the types of glassware typically purchased and used by American households. The inclusion of decorative and novelty pieces reveals a glimpse of the nation’s popular interests and whimsy.

The exhibition will highlight two distinct periods in the history of Westmore­land Glass. The first era, known as the West period, which spanned from 1889 to 1937, recognizes the company’s founders, George Robinson West and Charles Howard West. During this period, the Westmoreland Specialty Company pro­duced a wide variety of wares, from inexpensive pressed glass marketed for Wool­worth’s to some of the country’s finest cut and hand-painted glass destined for finer shops. The company manufactured quality decorated pieces in opal (known now as milk), black, and colored glass and crystal. Its hand decoration earned national recognition for the company. Perhaps best remembered – and highly sought after – from the West period are the company’s novelty items, especially the toys. Some of the more favorite pieces included miniature automobiles, submarines, telephones, and railroad trains. These toys were later transformed into candy containers, which added a practical function and even greater attraction.

New ownership distinguished the second era, the Brainard period, which began in 1937 and continued until the company’s closing in 1984. During this period, the owners chose to concentrate on the reproduction of “old-time” patterns. Crystal and milk glass items dominated the Brainard period as the company sought to find a special niche in
light of new competition.

In preparation of “From Westmoreland Glass to Contemporary Glass,” exhibition organizers worked with Charles West Wilson, grandson of Charles Howard West, whose personal collection contains fourteen hundred examples of his grandfather’s glassware. To acquire additional pieces for exhibition, museum curators also worked with members of a regional collectors club, the West­moreland Glass Collectors Society.

For more information, write: Westmore­land Museum of American Art, 221 North Main St., Greensburg, PA 15601-1898; tele­phone (724) 837-1500; or visit the Westmore­land Museum of American Art website. There is an admis­sion charge.


A Class Menagerie

America’s first successful manufactur­ers of carousels, the G.A. Dentzel Compa­ny, operated in Philadelphia from 1867 to 1928. A competitor, the Philadelphia Toboggan Company, founded by Henry Auchy in 1899 and still in existence, was one of the country’s largest manufactur­ers of carousels. Their carvers – and carvers employed by Daniel Muller, who left the Dentzel Company in 1905 – gave rise to what has become known by histo­rians and aficionados as the “Philadel­phia style” (see “The Merry-Go-Round Kings,” by Linda Kowall, Spring 1988).

Defined by elegant and realistic designs, the carousel carvings of Philadel­phia can be traced to the elaborate horses from medieval European jousting tourna­ments. Immense elaboration and striking realism remained a trait of Philadelphia craftsmen, while other manufacturers pur­sued a more flamboyant style. In 1867, Gustav Dentzel established himself as G.A. Dentzel, Steam and Horsepower Car­rousel Builder. His figures were known for their realistic, delicately formed features and muscle structure, classic poses and flowing, gently curved manes, lifelike expressions, and elegant saddle adornments. The Philadelphia Toboggan Company’s first carousel was similar to Dentzel’s, but the company soon became known for its exquisite carvings. Hall­marks of the company’s figures included full, flowing manes, rich details, carved tails, strong features, heavily muscled bod­ies, and expressive eyes. Muller, who founded D.C. Muller and Brother Company, created animals that were finely boned, with long, slender legs, wind-blown, delineated manes, conservative, detailed trappings, and natural horsehair tails.

Other American carousel schools of carving include the Coney Island style, which reflects the glitter and flamboyance of the most celebrate amusement center in the country. The animals were heavily jeweled, gilded, and lavishly decorated. Far plainer and less expensive, the Country Fair style carousels were built to travel. They were small, rugged, and portable. The Country Fair style horses were characterized by shallow manes, austere saddle trappings, sparse ornamentation, and natural horsehair tails.

Historians trace the origin of the carousel to an Arabian horsemen’s game in the twelfth century. Soldiers returning from the Crusades brought the game back to France and Italy, where it was named carosello, or “Little war,” and involved a ring-spearing tournament. In France, during the reign of Henry IV of Navarre (1553-1610), the game was called carousel and its character evolved into a lavish display of costume and horsemanship. The most famous French carousel took place in June 1662, when King Louis XIV gave a great spectacle to impress his mistress in an area between the Tuileries and the Louvre palaces that is now known as the Place du Carrousel.

By 1680, the carousel had become mechanical, with wooden horses and chariots suspended from chains attached to arms radiating from a center pole. A horse, mule, or person supplied the motion. The earliest use of the term “merry-go-round” appeared in a poem written in 1729 by George Alexander Stevens describing the St. Bartholomew Fair in England. In 1850, the first American carousel patent was registered with the U.S. Patent Office. The carousel became electrified in 1888, which allowed makers to significantly enlarge them. Craftsmen began using a carving machine in 1913, but carvers still worked on the heads and details by hand. Amusement parks declined in the 1920s, and the Great Depression forced many carousel companies to close. Beginning in the 1970s, collectors and dealers began to pay enormous prices for carousel animals as they became widely recognized as folk art.

A menagerie of horses, giraffes, zebras, cats, ostriches, even sea monsters, is currently on view at the Atwater Kent Muse­um in Philadelphia. “Carried Away By the Carousel” – showcasing two dozen festooned, beribboned, and fanciful animals – examines the intricate construction of carousel figures. Included in the exhibit is a carver’s workbench with
tools of the trade and pieces in various stages of carving. While concentrating on the Philadelphia Style and Philadelphia area amusement parks, “Carried Away” also features representative examples of the Coney Island Style of designers Charles Loof, Marcus Charles Illions, and Charles Carmel, and the Country Fair Style of Allan Herschell, Edward Spillman, and C. W. Parker.

The exhibition also addresses the state of carousels today. At the turn of the century Philadelphia had at least nine operating carousels. The city lost its last carousel in 1967.

“Carried Away By the Carousel” continues through Sunday, April 16, 2000. To obtain additional information, write: Atwater Kent Museum, 15 South Seventh St., Philadelphia, PA 19106; telephone (215) 922-3031; or visit the Atwater Kent Museum website. There is an admission fee.