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Marble Festival Shoots For Success in Sistersville

By Staff | Sep 28, 2016

Photos by Miles Layton Jaxson, Kohen and Brendyn Blatt (left to right) play marbles for the first time at the Sisterville Marble Festival.

SISTERSVILLE – Marbles have transformed Zane Owens’ life.

Owens moved from Florida to West Virginia recently to study under a glass craftsman, Eddy Seese. Master and student were busy shaping molten glass on Friday at the 17th annual Sistersville Marble Festival.

“When I came up for a visit, I fell in love with marble making,” said Owens, 24, of Belmont. “I decided I wanted to study under Eddy. I didn’t know anything about making marbles until he started teaching me.”

Thousands of people attended the festival which began Friday and ends today – incidentally, the last day operation of the season for Sistersville’s ferry across the Ohio River.

Owens placed a long steel pole with a glob of glass inside the orange glow of a kiln to make sure it achieved the right blend of temperature and twisting so as the design would form. Owens’ hands were steady as the pole turned.

When the time was right, Owens took a deep breath and pulled the pole from the kiln.

“It’s hot,” Owens said while placing the 1,500 degree molten glass into a marble mold.

Seese, who owns his own marble making shop in Ritchie County, smiled as he guided his student who was focused on shaping and forming the marble.

“I’ve been doing this 18 years,” he said. “I make maybe about 4,000 marbles a year. Owens is learning more about making marbles everyday.”

Judy Thoburn of Paden City strolled past many marble vendors and crafters before she found a table where her three grandsons could play a game of marbles.

“We came out because my grandson (Brendyn) wanted to see how the marbles were made, so we did that and then he wanted to buy some marbles,” Thoburn said.

Six-year-old Brendyn spied a table where a game of marbles could be played.

“There’s the game – can we play?” he asked.

As soon as Thoburn and her daughter, Ashley Blatt, who is the boys’ mother, nodded their heads, the boys were all over the table pushing around and having fun.

“This is family time for us,” Blatt said. We came to see all the marbles and have a good time together.”

Blatt said the boys learned a lot about marble making at the festival.

“They’ve watched the marble being made by putting the pieces of glass on the stick, heated up, melted, then started twisting it,” she said. “We watched them do all that until it looked like a marble.”

Brian Smith of Friendly was with his family as they took in the sights, sounds and maybe the smell of french fries and funnel cake at the marble festival.

“We came out here to enjoy the afternoon,” he said. “It’s a nice festival, maybe get a little something to eat.”

Smith’s day job is as a chemical engineer, so his perspective about marble making may be a bit different because of his background in math and science. He’s fascinated by this craft.

“It’s the artistry that’s interesting,” he said. “The chemistry and physics behind it is known, but to be able to see what everyone can do with glass as art – that’s the interesting part for me.”

Kris Parke of Temptation Art Glass Studios from northeast Ohio has been making marbles since 2003.

“I like this festival, small town atmosphere,” he said.

Parke laughed as he reminisced about the festival.

“They used to let the kids out a half a day early from school and they would run up and down the streets. It was crazy man. They don’t do that anymore,” he said.

Sistersville’s Marble Festival happened to be Parke’s first festival where he started selling the marbles he created and the only show he’ll attend this year.

“This was the first show I ever did, so I feel obligated to come back here every year to do it,” he said.

And Parke wasn’t the only one who will return. This was the first year the Blatt family has attended the festival.

“We liked what we saw, so yeah – I’d say we’d come back next year,” Blatt said.