Skip Navigation

Sharing the Weight
A Visit with Glassmaker Jennings Bonnell

By James R. Mitchell
Photographs by Michael Keller

Glass collectors love beautiful, colorful glass paperweights. Many are still made today in West Virginia thanks to a handful of talented and dedicated glass workers who have carefully passed this tradition down through the years.

Millions of pieces of glass of all types have been made in West Virginia and the western part of Virginia since 1818. During that time, many glass workers have used the resources of their employers during off-hours to make whimsies, glass canes, and paperweights, which they have occasionally signed. These objects survive today as part of the history of our state's material culture.

Jennings Bonnell
Jennings Bonnell has spent a lifetime in glass. Seen here in front of a furnace at Masterpiece Crystal in Jane Lew, Jennings shows a red-hot paperweight on the end of a pontil rod.

Along with thousands of West Virginia glass workers, there are thousands of personal stories of the men and women who have made glass. This story is about one such man – Jennings Bonnell – and those whom he taught to make paperweights. Many of the glass paperweights found in West Virginia today can be traced to either Jennings Bonnell or his students.

I spoke with Jennings recently at his home in Upshur County, surrounded by beautiful glass paperweights and other blown and pressed glass – the results of a lifetime of work.

You can read the rest of this article in the Winter 1999 issue of Goldenseal, available in bookstores, libraries or direct from Goldenseal.