Fenton turns to website for help

WILLIAMSTOWN – Fenton Art Glass is asking for contributions through a Kickstarter campaign in order to aid owners USGlass with creating a digital catalog of the glassmaking moulds.

“One of the key steps USGlass needs to do to get started is to decide what products to make when production begins again,” said George Fenton, president of Fenton Art Glass.

The Kickstarter campaign hopes to raise $50,000 by 7 p.m. Monday. As of Tuesday evening the project had raised less than $10,000 with 187 backers.

“The cost of the project is because there are more than 10,000 moulds at the factory,” Fenton said. “The time it takes to compile and enter data into an electronic catalog per mould times the number of moulds is excessive.”

Along with the data, a program to access the information will also be needed, which is why the high goal.

“This project came from Gene Bem, CEO of USGlass, who knew we needed to have a serviceable reference for the moulds,” Fenton said. “Since all of the moulds are located on shelves in the Williamstown factory and many weigh up to 1,500 pounds, it is difficult to move them or even look at them, so having a digital catalog would be very helpful.”

Having the digital catalog will help USGlass decide which moulds to use when production starts at the factory, located at 420 Caroline Ave. in Williamstown.

The company plans to focus on both functional tableware and art glass for collectors by using traditional Fenton moulds as well as developing new shapes. The moulds were purchased by the Fenton Gift Shop at a public auction last year while USGlass has an agreement with the shop to lease the moulds for glassmaking.

Once created, the digital catalog will not only be available to USGlass, but also Fenton Art Glass collectors, Fenton said.

Anyone who contributes $10 or more to the campaign will have exclusive access to the finished product of historical Fenton, Fostoria and other Ohio River Valley glassmaking moulds.

The Kickstarter project is not the only fundraising USGlass is doing.

In March, USGlass received a $100,000 investment from the West Virginia Jobs Investment Trust (WVJIT) to help the company get back into production. The financing is provided through the West Virginian Capital Access Program (WVCAP) to provide for operating capital, marketing and advertising support.

“It takes a lot of money to get production up and running again,” Fenton said. “It is not a quick process.”

In a March interview, Bem said the hope is to hire management and former Fenton Art Glass employees this summer.

“It really all depends on when they are able to get funding,” Fenton said.

The restart depends on raising sufficient financing to refurbish the furnaces and equipment, hire glassworkers and fund marketing. Funding is progressing.

The main furnace and production of classic lines of art glass was stopped in 2011 following the rising costs of production and declining sales. The company was owned by the Fenton family for four generations until they could no longer continue.

In 2012, the Fenton Group (doing business as USGlass Inc.) acquired the assets of the Fenton Art Glass Company in Williamstown.