Main Street Stories: Warsaw Cut Glass

WARSAW, Ind. -- It's hard to imagine what the corner of S. Detroit Street and Pope Street would've looked like in the early 1900s as cars zoom by from three different directions. The historic brick building boldly painted with Warsaw Cut Glass stands quietly.

Warsaw Cut Glass, the second-oldest business in town, was established in 1911 and built with rejected street bricks.

The irony is palpable that these rejected bricks have lasted longer than the brick roads.

Chicago's Johnson-Carlson Cut Glass Company could not keep up with demand at the time, and the Warsaw Chamber of Commerce went to work with open land, rejected bricks, and a dream.

Warsaw Cut Glass opened for business in 1912 under the care of original owner Oscar Hugo. Two years later, he waRandy Kirkendall, Owner of Warsaw Cut Glass. by Jena Stopczynski / ABC57 s joined by 14-year-old apprentice, Jackson Dobbins.

Dobbins ultimately purchased the business in 1957. As years passed and his health declined, he looked for a new apprentice himself to learn the age-old ways of original glass cutting.

In 1980, Randy Kirkendall and his wife Linda came home to Warsaw after graduating from art school at Indiana State University. They really wanted to go into teaching and were accepted to the University of Wisconsin.

Those who knew Randy and Linda told them that fateful summer about the historic Warsaw Cut Glass business closing its doors due to Dobbins' failing health.

"It was always one of my favorite buildings in town growing up…When I first came in I kind of looked around and, there wasn't much in it because he was getting pretty frail…and I heard this sound. I thought hm, that's intriguing. And I walked through that door, and here I am."

Randy was only able to spend 10 months with Dobbins

"He wasn't feeling well. He knew he had a limited amount of time. So, he'd come in every morning and show me some little tricks, but he would get tired very quickly. So, a lot of it was just sitting and plugging in the wheels to see what they did."Matt Light cutting a design into a glass bottle. by Jena Stopczynski / ABC57

The process of learning to cut designs into glass using only a wheel can take around six to nine months.

As we talked, Randy's apprentice, Matt, dutifully worked on cutting the popular rye pattern, which was established there in 1923.

Out of the 60 or more standard designs, the rye pattern is one of four that only require one wheel shape to complete.

There are about 15 different wheels that make various shapes and lines. And might I add, sounds.

The unique sound that can be heard from the work room at Warsaw Cut Glass that originally caught Randy's attention is unlike any other. The sound of glass carving is soft or sharp, depending on the shape being carved, the pressure, and the wheel used.

The sound of the pulleys running the wheels provides a consistent hum that has not changed in over a century.

"This is just how they did it when they started out. So, it's important to us to keep that tradition alive. We’re just one of three different places in the United States that does this and we're the last original one left."

Wheels can be preserved by using stone to reshape them. They can also have patterns carved into them using industrial diamond.

"It's just like drawing with a different medium. You can do all of this with pencil and paper, but this is set up to draw on glass."

Drawing on glass isn't always a perfect process. Every Christmas Eve, the Kirkendall's invite family and friends to the back room and lovingly smash the "mistakes" onto an empty brick wall. This tradition has lasted for 42 years.

"We call it the wall of's a great stress release at that time of year," Randy shared with a smile.

For Randy and Linda's daughter Lauren, Warsaw Cut Glass is home. "I grew up here, so it’s just like my comfort area."

Lauren shared, "Generations of family members have shopped here. Momentous occasions it means Warsaw cut glass to them. Holiday meals having pieces passed around the table. We're super appreciative of that and it's an honor to be a part of that."

I noted that there were very familiar designs as Lauren showed me around the room. Designs I might have noticed in my own mother's collection growing up.

They've expanded their designs, including hand-drawing people's pets onto glasses. Dogs are also welcome visitors to the storeroom, as I discovered when I met their dog in the back.

One of the most unique pieces they ever had the opportunity to cut was a jellybean jar for former president Ronald Ragan that included elephants around the base.Glass lamp cut by WWI soldier for his fiancé. by Jena Stopczynski / ABC57

This was just one of many unique pieces to come from their wheels.

In the front room stands an incredibly intricate glass lamp.

Many years prior a gentleman came into the shop to hand cut and polish a lamp entirely on his own as a gift for his fiancé, a time when everything was done in assembly line fashion.

According to Randy, this man was leaving for WWI and presented this lamp to her, saying, "I cut this for you, and if I come back from WWI I would like for you to marry me."

They were engaged in 1917 and married in 1922.

Randy shared, "He said I'm going to leave it in my will, if my sons don't want it, it's to come home."

In January of 2015, the lamp arrived to the shop. Miraculously, it was in perfect shape.

It is truly one of a kind, just like it's home.

Learn more about Warsaw Cut Glass here.

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