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Fred Wilkerson Jr.

Glassmaker's Crystal-clear Vision Helped Him Win Trophy Design Competition

By Leslie Fitzwater

MOUNDSVILLE, W.Va. -- Sand is a hazard golfers try to avoid. Yet, when this substance is placed in the hands of an expert glassmaker, it can become the symbol of excellence that golfers compete to win.
Fred Wilkerson Jr.

With a mixture of sand and chemicals heated to the right temperature, a glassmaker can form, blow and mold, cut, sand and polish a one-of-a-kind trophy for which world-class golfers will strive. Fred Wilkerson Jr. is such a glassmaker, and the trophy he created for the PGA TOUR is the one for which each golfer in this week's tournament is vying.

This past spring, Wilkerson, along with artisans from across the Mountain State, competed to create the winning design for the PGA TOUR. The competition, sponsored by the West Virginia Division of Tourism and the PGA TOUR, was an opportunity for state artisans like Wilkerson to showcase their talents and promote their crafts.

"I had a strong image of what I felt the trophy for this world-class golf tournament should look like and was able to translate that mental picture into the winning entry," Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson's design, which met the competition's requirements to be at least 80 percent glass and able to hold water, will be seen by television audiences during coverage of the tournament and used in PGA TOUR marketing materials. Besides making a trophy for the winner, the glassmaker also made copies to be displayed at PGA TOUR headquarters and the West Virginia Governor's Office in Charleston.

The accomplishment of creating the competition-winning trophy design is one of many accolades Wilkerson has earned throughout his career as a glassmaker. Wilkerson's hand-shaped Easter eggs have made their way to the White House, and he, along with his father, Fred Sr., have done reproduction work for well-known companies like the Danbury Mint.

Their business, Wilkerson Glass Company, in Moundsville, W.Va., doesn't have a catalog or a Web site. Wilkerson says most of their orders come from people who see their work in shopping facilities like Tamarack in Beckley, W.Va., or hear about their pieces from other customers.

Wilkerson said the process of creating the PGA TOUR trophy was a cumulative one that included glassblowing, hand cutting and carving, and took at least eight hours to finish. The trophy is made of two individual glass pieces that were made separately and fitted together to complete the design. Wilkerson notes that his glass is "made in the USA," from the sand he purchases at an in-state company, to the man hours he puts into each piece. To complete the PGA TOUR trophy, Wilkerson chose a base made of walnut, a West Virginia hardwood.

In addition to special commissions like the PGA TOUR trophy, Wilkerson Glass Company produces an array of items ranging from reproductions like small animals and knick knacks, to client-driven, one-of-a-kind designs.

"We get requests to make a variety of pieces. Some designs are feasible; some are not," Wilkerson said.

Fred Wilkerson Jr.Wilkerson is a native West Virginian and a third-generation glassmaker. He took an interest in the craft after watching his father do what Fred Sr. considered just a hobby. Fred Jr. made his first piece of glass art, a paperweight, in 1975 at the age of 12. Today, Wilkerson's work ranges from limited edition lines like glass yo-yos that sold for $1,000 each to collectors around the country, to larger sculpted pieces like the PGA TOUR trophy. Despite the more well-known, higher-priced items, both Wilkersons say paperweights are still their favorite pieces. Fred Jr. favors paperweights with a monarch butterfly design, while Fred Sr. chooses his signature piece, a spider and web paperweight, as his favorite.

"Although I have items that are reproduced, such as butterfly paperweights and larger sculpted pieces, each one is unique because of the individual efforts put into it," Wilkerson said.

Wilkerson is quite content to live and work in West Virginia.

"The best part about being an artist is the opportunity I have to ply my trade here in West Virginia," Wilkerson said. "I could work somewhere else, but this is where I've decided to make my living, at home with my family in the state I love."

Wilkerson admits that although he was thrilled to be named the winner of the PGA TOUR trophy design competition, he knows little about the game itself.

"I guess now that I've designed a golf tournament trophy, I should learn a little about playing golf myself," he said.