Glass mushroom paperweight by Joe Rice
above: glass mushroom
paperweight by Joe Rice

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Joe Rice Glass

Joe Rice Glass

from the

Glass Encyclopedia

Joe Rice is the nephew of Joe St Clair and of Bob St Clair, and the great-grandson of John St Clair, a glassworker who emigrated to the USA from France in the 1880's. The St Clair family settled in Crystal City, Missouri in the mid 1880s but a few years later moved to Elwood in Indiana where a free supply of natural gas was causing a boom in the glass industry. Industrialists would lease or buy a patch of land where the gas was found, build a well and set up pipes to transport the gas to their factories. Excellent quality local sand contributed to the boom, and five major glass factories set up in Elwood by the turn of the century. One of these was McBeth-Evans, which opened in 1890 and commissioned a special train to bring over 350 skilled glass workers from Pittsburgh to work there.

John St Clair Snr and his son John were both recruited to McBeth-Evans . John Junior married in 1903 and in the first twenty years of his marriage to Ellen Carroll they had eleven children, five boys and six girls. John became known as Pop St Clair. All five of his sons trained and worked at McBeth-Evans when they were old enough. Meanwhile the free natural glass was beginning to run out. Pipes had been laid to take the gas to factories as far away as Chicago and Indianapolis, and the pressure began to fall. Water got into the pipes and in cold weather when the water froze the supply of gas was unreliable. The effects of the Depression were also being felt and by 1936 the boom time in Elwood ended as suddenly as it had begun. Macbeth-Evans closed along with other factories and glassworks. There was no more free gas.

Pop St Clair and three of his sons accepted jobs at Dunbar Glass in West Virginia in 1938. Joe St Clair stayed behind to build a modest glassworks of their own and three years later the family returned to work together at St Clair Glass. This factory operated in Elwood between 1938 and 1987, and since then the family tradition of glass-making has been continued by their nephew Joe Rice.

When Joe St Clair retired in 1971 and sold the St Clair glassworks, his brother Bob St Clair set up another glass factory near Elwood, which he called "St Clair House of Glass". Bob and his wife Maude marked their glass "Maude and Bob St Clair". Their output continued the same St Clair traditions. When Bob died, his nephew Joe Rice took over and restored this factory in 1987 and renamed it "Joe Rice's House of Glass".

All St Clair glass was usually clearly marked and easy to identify. They specialised in small art glass items like paperweights and paperweight-related products with internal floral decoration. They also made carnival glass and slag glass trinkets, goblets, tumblers, toothpick holders, and novelties. Joe Rice St Clair continues these traditions at the House of Glass ( Joe Rice's House of Glass still makes quality art glass which is normally marked, and so far as we know there is no other glassworks in the Elwood area using the name St Clair glass.

In 2020 Joe Rice reached retirement age just when the Covid-19 pandemic created new problems for small art glass factory-studios. Joe and the crew at The House of Glass continued to create art glass modestly priced and appealing to collectors, but following Covid-19 restrictions to opening hours and visitor tours of the factory and glass showrooms. Looking forward to better times to come.

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