Legacy in Glass:Hazel Atlas Collection Adds Pieces

For serious collectors of glassware, it’s quite a coup to have antique pieces of glass as well as the original design documents for the ware.

That rare melding of the two elements of glassmaking has occurred for an area organization that collects a line of Wheeling-made glass. Newly-discovered vintage Hazel Atlas glass has been added to the historic collection owned by the Alumni Association of West Virginia Northern Community College.

The designer of the glass, 95-year-old Kathryn Herpel of Pittsburgh, donated these pieces along with original company catalogs to the association’s collection.

Two factors make the donation especially significant. Wheeling resident Joan Weiskircher, board member of the association, explained, “The usual ‘HA’ mark on items manufactured by Hazel Atlas does not appear on this glassware and would not have been recognized as products of that glass company.”

In addition, the original company catalogs include the actual designs for pieces in the group’s collection, an element that is found rarely in museums, Weiskircher indicated.

Herpel, known to friends as “Kay,” graduated from what is now Carnegie Mellon University with a degree in industrial design in 1938. She was then employed by Hazel Atlas Corp.

After moving to Wheeling, she quickly became an important member of the design department for the company. “Local residents may recall another member of that team of designers, Frazier Smith, who was responsible for much of the glass produced by that corporation,” Weiskircher said.

Currently, Herpel is a resident of the Reformed Presbyterian Home, an assisted-living facility in Pittsburgh.

Theresa Weisenborn, one of Herpel’s longtime friends in Wheeling, and Weiskircher visited with Herpel in Pittsburgh a few months ago and listened to her account of the design and manufacture of Hazel Atlas glass.

Herpel decided to donate her original designs to the historic collection of Hazel Atlas glass that the alumni association has preserved as part of Wheeling’s history. “Her significant contribution to the history of glass design will now be preserved for future generations,” Weiskircher commented.

While discussing her work, Herpel recalled that her designs were mostly for tableware. She explained that designers needed to have a close working relationship with the mold makers.

She had particular praise for Bob Shairer, a former area resident and mold maker. She said that his skill for detail made it possible to produce beautifully detailed glassware.

Herpel also explained that when developments in technology allowed for a four-part mold instead of the usual system of a two-part mold, it was possible to create more sophisticated glass items. One piece of which she is especially proud is a wine glass with a smooth, classic design topped by a platinum ring on the rim.

“Most people easily identify old canning jars with the HA label but do not know that the Hazel Atlas Glass Corp. was a local company that grew to become one of the largest glass container manufacturers in the world,” Weiskircher related. “Tableware was added to the company’s product line in the 1930s and is often collected as Depression-era glass.”

The firm’s corporate headquarters was located in an Art Deco building built in 1931 on the northeast corner of 15th and Jacob streets in East Wheeling. In 1972, the property became the campus of the newly formed West Virginia Northern Community College. Currently, the large building is occupied by Youth Services System Inc.

Herpel continued to work for the corporation through the turmoil of anti-trust challenges that the company faced in the l950s. When the corporation was dissolved, she continued to be employed by the glass manufacturers that purchased HA molds and took over the operation of its glass plants throughout the United States. “Glassware continued to be manufactured and sold under the label of ‘HazelWare’ because of the popularity of the product name,” Weiskircher said.

The entire Hazel Atlas collection, including the newly-added items, can be viewed at the Ohio County Public Library in downtown Wheeling. The glassware is on display in the former Wheeling Room, located on the library’s lower level, adjacent to the auditorium.