One of the characters in our movie Moundsville (which you can watch here) is glassmaker Fred Wilkerson, Jr. (pictured above, on the right) who talks about his deep roots in the area and the closure of Fostoria, once one of the town’s main employers. The amazing backstory of how his small glass manufacturing firm got started didn’t make it into the final version of the movie, so I want to tell it here. It’s one of my favorite stories I’ve ever encountered as a reporter, all about pride, work ethic, self-reliance, stubbornness and American ingenuity.
Fred’s dad, Fred, Sr. (left), worked for Fostoria Glass for 30 years. After it closed, and he lost his job, in the 1980s — because of imports, consolidation and people eating more off plastic and paper plates — he opened his own artisanal glass shop, in a barn of his house off a winding West Virginia country road outside of Moundsville. It focuses on making paperweight, and sells to customers in the US and around the world; it’s also done contract work for Owens Corning and Danbury Mint, and even the White House.
Making glass was Fred, Sr.’s vocation and he wanted to keep doing it, even if the factory closed and there was no longer a stable and lucrative corporate structure around him. After a tour in the Air Force, Fred, Jr. joined him. They take commissions, attend craft fairs and sell online. “It’s often seven days a week of hard work,” says Fred Jr. “But we think of ourselves as artists.”
You can learn more about the Wilkersons and buy their glass here.
John W. Miller