Kokomo and Howard County once were hotbeds of glass artistry. When natural gas was discovered in this area in the late 1800s, glass factories began popping up across the landscape. Soon tourists from around the state and country will be able to celebrate that history and experience current glass making through the "River of Glass," an artisan trail developed with the help of the state of Indiana.
The Kokomo/Howard County Visitors Bureau recently was awarded a grant to develop the artisan trail in conjunction with a handful of other visitors bureaus across the state. According to bureau executive director Peggy Hobson, the River of Glass will run from Kokomo to Anderson, Muncie, Hamilton County, and Columbus.
"We have a history of glass in this area that dates back to the gas boom of 1888," said Hobson. "We have the only gas boom factory still in existence today - Kokomo Opalescent Glass. We have other glass artists in the area, and when we started talking to other visitors bureaus about what we had here, they said they had glass people in their areas as well."
The bureaus agreed to combine efforts and to pursue a Indiana Artisan Trail Development Grant, and in December they learned of their success. Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman sent a letter to Hobson, congratulating her on the award.
"Gov. (Mitch) Daniels and I are committed to supporting Hoosier entrepreneurs and promoting Indiana-made products," wrote Skillman. "This project provides a unique opportunity to enhance the entrepreneurial culture than has been created in Indiana and to attract visitors to our state. Congratulations to the Kokomo/Howard County Convention and Visitors Bureau on receiving this grant. I look forward to seeing the results of this project."
The $8,500 grant is to be used to create a tourism trail that "will showcase the talent of Hoosier artists and promote venues where visitors may view artists working in museums specializing in the history of glass production," according to a release issued by Skillman. And Hobson, a former glass artist herself, is eager to begin work on the trail.
"Our hope is to create awareness of the glass artists in the Kokomo area and other places to drive business to them," said Hobson.
"Small, local artists who work on their own oftentimes do not have the resources to advertise, and may not have the knowledge about how to do it. They're not necessarily business people, and they may not want to spend their time doing that. So, if we can help them increase their business, that's our goal."
Foremost on Kokomo's end of the "River of Glass" will be Kokomo Opalescent Glass, but there are a number of other artists who will be featured. Hobson identified artists Lisa Petty and Tonya Glenn among those who will be featured. Petty maintains a custom design shop along East State Road 22, and Glenn work is on display and for sale at Artworks in the Kokomo Mall, which will be one of the trail stops.
Glenn, a professional jeweler, has been working with glass for about a year. She started in the medium after a trip she and her husband took. She found a glass pendant that caught her eye, and her husband encouraged her to try her hand making similar pendants on her own.
"He found some classes for me to take, and it just took off from there," said Glenn. "I've been going crazy making pendants and plates. I have my own kiln. I've made bracelets, bowls, platters, clocks. I also make a lot of abstract stuff, but once I make it, it's gone. I'm going to have to make some more now that I'm on the trail."
Glenn's work is on display and for sale at Artworks, which will be the site included on the Trail of Glass. She also does glass and jewelry work out of her home.
"If we can drive the tourists to Artworks with the River of Glass, then they'll not only see the glass artwork, but work from all of the artists that we have," said Hobson. "That's what I'm hoping to promote locally. We want to drive the visitors to places like Op Shop and Artworks where there are more than one artist and one medium."
Initially 12 artists and locations will be featured along the trail, though Hobson said that the visitors bureaus will be working to locate additional artists to include. The state is providing a consultant to assist in the process. It will take 60-90 days to complete the paperwork and receiving the first 75 percent of the grant, she said. And the River of Glass should be complete within the next 18 months. The grant money will be used, in part, to develop a Web site and to promote the trail.
According to the state's release, the Indiana Artisan Trail Development Grant is a joint venture with the Indiana Office of Tourism Development, the Office of Community and Rural Affairs, the Indiana Arts Commission, and the Indiana State Department of Agriculture. The Indiana Artisan program supports Hoosier entrepreneurs who produce fine art, crafts, and agricultural products such as salsa, wine, and soaps. The goal of the project is to enhance Indiana's economy, especially in rural Indiana, and further the impact the products make through increased artisan activity and related tourism development.