Heritage craftsmanship. Functional sophistication. Attention to detail. These are just some of the terms used to describe Simon Pearce Glassware and Pottery. Renowned internationally for form and functional pieces in timeless design, many may not realize that over half the glassware sold by Simon Pearce is produced right here in Garrett County.
Glass is one of the oldest known art forms; there are surviving pieces from over 3,600 years ago. While almost always functional, even early glass artisans understood how beautiful glass could be and the artistry involved. Simon Pearce, the man, founder of Simon Pearce Glassware, fell in love with glass at a very early age and always understood the beauty within the function.
Originally from Ireland, Simon Pearce was born into a family of artisans and apprenticed in his father’s pottery shop at age 16. Simon had always been fascinated with vintage glassware and was especially inspired by Georgian Glass Blowing techniques, an old-world European style of glass making that uses a mold for uniformity and produces a thicker glass, one designed to last for generations. Pearce studied with notable glassmakers all over Europe, then decided to head to America to launch his own company.
In 1980, he found an old mill in Quechee, Vermont that could accommodate his vision — old style handcrafted glass made modern, produced only in America. Manufacturing began right away and featured an onsite retail store located over a stunning waterfall which supplied turbine power. Even though Simon Pearce has several other retail shops throughout New England, the original Simon Pearce plant remains a popular tourist and shopping attraction and features an award winning restaurant offering farm to table goodness.
Demand quickly outgrew production capability and Simon expanded to a second mill location in Vermont. During a third expansion, Pearce made his way to western Maryland, to an old manufacturing facility that had been operated by Bausch and Lomb. Although the space had to be completely retrofitted to manufacture and ship glass, Pearce saw the potential for growth in the site and a community that would welcome him and his business. The Simon Pearce manufacturing plant opened in 1998, followed the next year by the retail store which has thrived for the past 20 years and has become a popular tourist attraction and shopping must.
The retail store, located in Mt. Lake Park just outside of Oakland, offers a full display of first quality original glass and dinner ware. Simon Pearce is world renowned for their selection of beautifully crafted wine glasses, decanters, flutes, glass pitchers and dinnerware, with several different lines from which to choose.
Although this facility manufacturers only glass, because it is one of the main warehouses for the company, the entire Simon Pearce retail line is available here. Half the store is devoted to that, while the other half is devoted to seconds.
According to Fern Wroten, Store Manager, a second is a piece that didn’t come close enough to standards to sell at full retail price. “Those set standards include height, weight, overall dimensions and imperfections,” she explains. “Since all glass is one of a kind, it’s really a matter of degrees. We call it perfect imperfections, and usually only a trained eye would see the difference.”
Because Simon Pearce is at heart an artist, the company launches new lines two times a year, always considering latest trends but never forgetting their mission of creating unique pieces. “One of the good things about that from an outlet point of view is that there is always a steady flow of discontinued items on sale in the store,” says Fern. “In addition to our large supplies of seconds, there are great values to be found here.”
Their new line of gorgeous hurricane lanterns, stunning glass ice buckets and elegant tea lights will brighten up your summer nights. Their new whiskey glass collection sits on a soapstone base that can be frozen so no ice will be needed to keep your drink chilled.
As wedding season shifts into high gear, be sure to visit Simon Pearce for unique gift ideas; nothing is as appealing as a beautiful, one of a kind piece from Simon Pearce — one that is designed to last for generations. Because engraving is available on most of their items, they make great gifts for business clients and graduates as well. They are happy to partner with area builders, real estate and design professionals and will offer discounts to each.
They have a new line of dinnerware to grace your summer table, and of course, accessories to match. Fern says, “We have everything on hand you need to set your table….dinnerware, glassware, flatware, even linens and table décor. What few items at the store that aren’t made in our factory are made by cottage industries that support ethical practices and women’s endeavors.
Each Christmas, Simon Pearce debuts a new ornament with a portion of sales going to a local nonprofit entity. Another holiday favorite is their stunning line of glass evergreen trees. Whether you display one by itself or in a grouping, they are a gorgeous statement for any home year-round.
As in Vermont, Pearce wanted the art of glass making itself to be part of the experience so visitors to the plant can watch glass blowers at their craft.
“We invite you to come in for a self-guided tour of a real functioning factory,” says Fern. “You can see the glass blowers at work and peruse some of the unique items available for sale here. We’re dog friendly, kid friendly and handicapped accessible. Our core value is for design and functionality and this is what makes people want to see one of the last remaining glass factories in America.”
In an interview posted on their website, Pearce explains his love of glass blowing as an art form and says it is intricate, it has to flow. He then likens it to a ballet…as one fluid movement that requires great mental energy and focus. Fern concurs: “Glassblowing is as much of an art as it is a craft. You can connect with that when you’re in the workroom watching the glassblowers at work. They work in teams and it is all about timing. If you look hard enough you will see an unspoken choreography between them.”
It takes three to five years for a glass blower to learn the trade. Because of the training process involved the store offers a nice selection of what is dubbed “Apprentice Glass”. “The only way to learn how to make glass is to just do it,” explains Fern. “These craftsmen practice on making the glass free form…and their best pieces are available for sale at wonderful prices. They start with making a simple glass ice cube and work up from there.”
Simon Pearce has a diverse clientele. Families, school groups and other tours come through regularly. And because it’s the only retail store outside New England, many people will drive to western Maryland just to visit the shop. “We have many clients from the Washington, DC area as well as Pittsburgh that will just drive up for the day,” explains Fern.
As for Simon Pearce himself? He is still very much a part of operations. Says employee Christie Elmlinger, “His name just isn’t on the building, he is IN the building. He visits often and he still wants to connect to the people here. He doesn’t call us employees,” she says. “He calls us talent and that’s the way we are all treated, so this very much feels like a family run business.”
As part of their 20th anniversary celebration, Simon Pearce will be hosting the Garrett County Chamber of Commerce Business After Hours on Thursday, July 11th from 5:30 – 7:30. This will be a wonderful opportunity to learn more about the factory and retail shop…and there will be some great doorprizes as well. Tickets are $6 per person for chamber members, $10 for non members and can be purchased at the Chamber or by calling 301-387-4386.
In the meantime, be sure to stop by to see this very unique Garrett County gem. Located at 265 Glass Drive in Mt. Lake Park (off Rt. 135), the retail store is open daily from 10 AM to 5 PM. Self-guided glass blowing tours are available Monday – Friday from 10 AM to 3 PM; Saturday & Sunday from 10 AM to 5 PM. Large groups are welcome, call ahead at 301-334-5277 or visit their website at www.simonpearce.com.