The Life of a “Gift Shop Ranger” (or: How to Tell People You Work for Eastern National)

by David Eberle, Craggy Gardens Site Manager (Eastern National—Blue Ridge Region)

“So…what do yDavidEberleou do?” It’s a fair question whether it’s asked in small talk at a party, or not so small talk around your family’s dinner table, or fairly large talk with a significant other, or even if it’s innocently posed by a confused visitor to the helpful person on the other side of a National Park Service information desk. “What do you do?” is a question that everybody should be ready to answer, because everybody does something. For me, the answer always starts out “Well…”  And then I try to explain.

I work for Eastern National. As an Eastern National employee I take an enormous amount of pride in what we do and why we do it. My job is to enhance the experience of the National Park visitor and offer a friendly and welcoming greeting. Whether they’re on their way home or their day is just getting started, I want to hear about where they came from and why they are here; what about this park are they most excited about? How can I help them get the most out of their experience?

I keep the store displays stocked with products that try to capture the feeling of being at the park, whether it’s a photobook, a park history, a field guide, a coffee mug or a postcard. Visitors often want something tangible to bring home with them, and I show  them products that may be relevant to them. I also explain how Eastern National is a non-profit partner with the Park Service and that store  purchases help support the park. If they have questions about anything from directions to Park history, I find an answer for them. When I see visitors with children, I mention the Junior Ranger program because it’s never too early to get serious about national parks. I tell everyone about the Passport To Your National Parks®,  which is literally a list of all the amazing places that people should see, experience, know about, and protect in America. Every park has unique meaning and is endlessly explorable. (Not to mention, who doesn’t love to stamp things?)

After I explained all this to people, which in truth is just the tip of the iceberg of what an Eastern National employee does, the responses inevitably run along these lines:

The partygoer: “That’s so interesting! My cousin is a Forest Ranger.” Me: “Well…”

Dad at the dinner table: “Okay…government work, huh?”  Me: “Well…”

The significant other: “I’m just going to tell my parents you’re a ranger” Me: “Well…”

With the park visitor: “Soooo…you’re like a gift shop ranger?”  Me: “Well…kind of.”

When I first started with Eastern National it would always baffle me when people got confused about what I did. “What do you mean you never heard of Eastern National?”  Over the years though, as I’ve had the privilege of promoting the beauty and significance of the National Parks to so many visitors from every walk of life and from all over the world, I’ve almost started to take the confusion as a compliment. If people don’t get that we are not Park Rangers, it’s because we put the Park experience first. If people haven’t heard of Eastern National, it’s because Eastern National exists to serve the National Parks. Visitors are just happy to be in these protected places.

Gift shop ranger? I’ll take it.

 

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Evolution of a Glasshouse: From Colonial Glassmaking to Decorative Arts

Visiting historic Jamestown, part of Colonial National Historical Park, is truly a unique experience. Park visitors take a step back in time and see firsthand what life was like for the colonials, the challenges they faced and the will that took for them to survive. The Jamestown Glasshouse plays a major role in the interpretation of the site, providing visitors with an insight into the talent and skill essential for glassblowing.

Glassmaking in America dates back to 1608, when the first artisans employed by the Virginia Company of London arrived in the new world. Raw materials were plentiful in America, and English investors hoped that industrialization of the new world would be highly profitable. German and Polish artisans were instructed to produce glass, pitch, tar, and soap ash for export back to England.

Little is known about the success of this first attempt at glassmaking in America. A letter from William Starchey, secretary for the Virginia Company of London written in 1610 from Jamestown, stated that the glasshouse was “a goodly house … with all offices and furnaces thereto belonging.” A second attempt at glass manufacturing was made in 1622, when Italian artisans were sent to America with the same mission. According to all historical accounts, this second attempt was unsuccessful.

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In 1948, archaeologists excavating ruins in Jamestown discovered the ruins of colonial glassmaking furnaces. In connection with the 350th anniversary of the Jamestown settlement, the Jamestown Glass Foundation, headed by Carl Gustkey, President of Imperial Glass Company of Newark, Ohio, was compelled to demonstrate 17th century glassmaking techniques to visitors. Extensive research was compiled through a grant from Eastern National, Colonial NHP’s cooperating association, and by 1957 the colonial furnaces were reconstructed and opened to visitors.

The Jamestown Foundation operated the glass furnace at Jamestown for two years, but could not make the operation profitable. As much as park visitors were fascinated by the colonial glassmaking process, and the glassmaking process was an excellent interpretive demonstration, the Jamestown Foundation decided to close down the operation.

National Park Service Director Conrad L. Wirth was eager to keep the Jamestown Glasshouse operating, and prevailed upon Eastern National to consider taking over the operation on a trial basis. The Board of Directors of Eastern National were concerned about the prospect, but eventually agreed to invest capital into the operation in an attempt to make it sustainable.

With the resourcefulness of Colonial NHP’s Superintendent Stanley Abbott, operating costs were cut significantly and the glassmaking operations were streamlined. By 1961, the Glasshouse reported its first profit, and the colonial glassmaking demonstrations at Jamestown continue to be a major attraction for visitors of the park.

In September of 2003, the Jamestown Glasshouse was again in peril. As Hurricane Isabel raged up the coast of North Carolina and slammed into Virginia, the Jamestown Glasshouse was destroyed by storm surge and high winds. A temporary sales site was set up in the parking lot and glassblowing was halted for nine months. The Jamestown Glasshouse was rebuilt by Eastern National and finally reopened to visitors in June of 2004.

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Today, the local artisans at Jamestown Glasshouse handcraft reproductions of colonial and contemporary glassware which are available for sale at the site or on eParks.com. The artisans also produce a number of limited edition art glass pieces, hand blown and crafted, such as the limited edition 2012 John Greene Vessel. This stunning piece is an adaptation based on a late 17th century design by Allesio Morelli, found in the drawings of John Greene of the London Glass Seller’s Company.

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The contemporary glass series produced by the Jamestown Glasshouse showcase the vision and talent of these skilled artisans. The Seashore Glass series, which was first produced in 2009, became very popular and featured exquisite pieces such as the Octopus Bowl and Conch Shell (pictured below).

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Every year, new glass pieces are added to the Contemporary Glass selections, including the Jack-in-the-Pulpit Vase, which resembles the local plant of the same name. The Crackled Cobalt Bowl and the Cobalt Bulb Vase are also new for 2012. Crackled glass is achieved by dipping the hot glass into water after the main body has been blown. The glass is so hot it will only crack the outside layer of the glass. The glassblower will then reheat the glass to seal all of the cracks.

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If you would like to learn more about the Jamestown Glasshouse, you can view this short YouTube video in which Eric Schneider, master glassblower, demonstrates his skill and gives a brief overview of the Glasshouse.

Visit the Jamestown Glasshouse’s website or the National Park Service’s website for Colonial National Historical Park for visitor information, or contact the Glasshouse directly at (757) 229-2437.