Pairpoint Glass: The Bryden Years (1970 – 1988)
In 1970 a small glass factory was established by Robert Bryden in the neighboring town of Sagamore, Massachusetts. It was the first time that hot glass was made on Cape Cod in a factory setting since the demise of glassmaking in Sandwich in 1907. Robert Bryden’s Pairpoint Glass Works produced a wide variety of wares, which were influenced by Pairpoint’s long history in New Bedford.
Robert Bryden began his glassmaking career in New Bedford, Massachusetts. Upon taking a tour of the New Bedford glass factory in 1950, his interest in glassmaking grew to a point that he decided to join the firm, Gunderson Glass Works, as a trainee. A graduate of Boston University, Bryden first worked as a chemist at United States Steel. In 1957 the New Bedford glassworks, now Gunderson-Pairpoint, ceased operations due to stiff competition from post-war imports. Bryden, the firm’s last general manager, moved the operation to a smaller facility in East Wareham, Massachusetts and renamed the business, the Pairpoint Glass Company. Bryden’s new venture lasted about six months, closing in March 1958. During the 1960s Bryden travelled to Europe, where he became a freelance glassmaker manufacturing handmade items with the Pairpoint name. In 1968 he returned to build a glass factory in Sagamore which opened in 1970. He brought with him talented Scottish glassworkers, Robert Mason, John Irvine, and Alistair Ross. Soon to follow were glassblowers, David McDermott, Robert Cummings and William Burchfield. Cutting and decorating shops were added with skilled engravers and cutters Carl O. Schweidenback, Bryant Silvia and Edward Poore and decorators Philip Kiluk, Cynthia Bryden, Lois McGrady and Laure (Parish) Paillex.
While managing the Company Robert Bryden oversaw all aspects of glassmaking including the mixing of the batch and the charging of the furnaces. He experimented with Pairpoint colors including Peachblow and Burmese. Initially the Company produced a variety of blown wares influenced by traditional Pairpoint designs, but by 1974 the firm began pressing glassware, including the very popular cup plate. Mr. Bryden had always hoped to return glassmaking to New Bedford and for five years (1977-1982) operated factories in both Sagamore and New Bedford. However the New Bedford venture failed, while the Sagamore factory continued to thrive mainly due to tourism. In an interview Bryden reflected: “We did have an obligation to return to the city [New Bedford] where we operated for over 100 years and put a lot of time and effort into it, but after five years of hard work, it just didn’t work out.”
Featured in the exhibit are pieces from the collections of Pairpoint glassworkers, including many one-of-a-kind objects and rare examples of Amberina, Burmese and Peachblow, which were made in limited batches. Also displayed are paperweights, perfume bottles, and commissioned items. After nearly 40 years in the glass industry, Robert Bryden retired in September 1988. Since Bryden’s retirement, the Pairpoint Glass Company has changed owners several times, but the dream envisioned by Robert Bryden of a factory rich in the tradition of handmade glass remains today. Pairpoint Glass – The Bryden Years will run through June 11, 2017 in the Sandwich Glass Museum’s special exhibition gallery.