The Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art: Wow.
Two of my favorite categories of things to ogle are: 1. Glass works of art, and, 2. Flower gardens. Imagine my glee in learning that a little museum exists one hour south of Pittsburgh, PA which features BOTH beautiful categories — plus butterflies, too! And did I mention it’s free? Read on to see a stunning collection of 169 glass paperweights paired with luscious gardens.
A Historic Satellite Museum System
The Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art has five branches across southwestern Pennsylvania, and has particular historic significance because its 1976 founding makes it the longest-running satellite museum system in all of America.
American Art in the Laurel Highlands
The Ligonier, PA satellite of SAMA (the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art) is one of the newer branches, founded in 1997, and sits in a log cabin in the rolling green hills of the Laurel Highlands. I adored this region of Pennsylvania so much last year, that I went right back this summer, and plan to explore even more in the future.
Fallingwater Isn’t Far Away
If the name “Laurel Highlands” sounds familiar, it’s because this region is proud home to the world-famous Fallingwater house by Frank Lloyd Wright — a 45-minute drive southwest from Ligonier. Congratulations to Fallingwater for finally being awarded UNESCO World heritage status (along with several of Wright’s other works)!
Glass Paperweights on Display
So, what are these hypnotic crystal orbs that have been dancing down your screen? What is this paperweight collection in the Ligonier, PA museum all about? Where the heck did all ONE HUNDRED SIXTY-NINE of these glass delights come from?
The Walter Carlyle Shaw Paperweight Collection
The story of how these paperweights were gathered is a sweet one. Many years ago, a man named Walter Carlyle Shaw began collecting glass paperweights to give to his daughter, Elizabeth. Over the decades, he tracked down a sprawling array of styles, with some as old as 150 years. He would find them in yard sales, flea markets, and beyond.
The Donation that Made the Glass Paperweights Public
In 1992, Elizabeth Shaw Gamble donated this voluminous paperweight collection to the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art. The resulting Shaw Collection became the centerpiece permanent display at the Ligonier SAMA. Such a generous gesture to bring all that beauty to our eyes!
A Display Case to Show All Angles
I didn’t realize the brilliance of the paperweight display case at first. Unlike display cases built into the wall, this wooden structure sits in the middle of the room, with windows on multiple sides. This means you can gaze at every paperweight from numerous angles. Let’s examine why that’s important.
Take Your Time to Look…
At first I walked quickly past the paperweight display case and to the paintings on the wall. (The wall exhibit on that wall changes periodically, so check the SAMA listings for what’s up now.) After a time, however, I began to look more closely at the glass orbs…
You’ll See Something New Each Minute
The more I stared at the paperweights, the more I saw. From artfully placed bubbles to shapes I never imagined possible in my imagination — let alone glass — my admiration for this exhibit grew and grew.
Connected, Yet Crazy Unique
There are common threads of design between various paperweights, but each one is strikingly unique. I wish we’d had more time to study the stories of every orb in that case, because each must have a tale to tell. Who made each and how? Where and when? What was their intent in the design?
Do YOU Have Knowledge of Glass Paperweights?
If you, the lovely person reading this, have background information about glass paperweights in general, or any of these shown here, I would LOVE to learn more. Feel free to leave comments to teach us, and to point out details and back-stories! Now that I’ve opened this paperweight door, I’m hungry to know more…
Which is YOUR Favorite Paperweight?
Now that you’ve seen a whole bevy of these balls, which stands out to you as most delectable? If you have knowledge of the paperweight-making process, which stands out as most technically adept? I’m so curious to hear your votes!
If you’re craving more photos of beautiful glass art and architecture across the globe, click that link for a giant roundup I just created for fellow glass lovers. Want more artisan crafts? Peruse these blacksmithing classes at Touchstone Crafts Center nearby!
If you enjoy vast collections of specific items, check out these photos of a museum one hour away in Pittsburgh: Bicycle Heaven, which features over 3,500 vintage bikes!
On to the SAMA Gardens in Ligonier…
Just as the jelly enhances the peanut butter in a PB&J sandwich, the glass paperweight collection inside the Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art in Ligonier enhances the glorious gardens that sit just outside. Intricate glass flowers inside each crystal globe echo the live ones beyond the wall. See how seamlessly this flower photo goes with the pictures above?
Sculptures in the Garden
Meandering along the stone path that snakes around the grounds of Ligonier’s Southern Alleghenies Museum of Art and winds past flowerbeds, you’ll come upon a set of sculptures that beautifully accent the scene… and also happened to match the exact angle of my dress that I had on that day!! (Even my giant rippling muscles match the angles, eh?)
Flowers in and Out of Glass
Looking at the photo below of the garden beds at SAMA, it strikes me that the oval enclosures of these flowers mirror the ovals of the glass paperweights inside the museum — ovals that also hold flowers! I wonder if that was on the mind of the person who designed this landscape!
If you enjoy the outdoors, drive just a few minutes away to Linn Run State Park for some excellent hiking opportunities for all levels. Nearby Laurel Caverns is also well worth a visit, to experience walking through underground caves that are illuminated by beautiful colored lights.
Butterflies + Paperweights + Flowers = Beauty
I will close with the photo which knocked my socks off, and encompasses the spirit of SAMA in Ligonier. In the moment I snapped this picture, below, the butterfly I’d been stalking all through the gardens spread her wings at last. She settled between a rainbow array of flowers… and in that second, epitomized — right before our eyes — the perfect beauty a glass paperweight can hold.
Want more museum fun? Check out “21 Cool, Fun Museums in the USA.”
The author, Lillie Marshall, is 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 3.7 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!