Crystal is her canvas: Artist practices dying art of free-hand glass engraving

Patty Sevre, 77, of Woodville, engraves this wine glass using a lathe inside Apple Blossom Mall in Winchester. Sevre is the last of 14 generations to carry on her family's legacy. Rich Cooley/Daily

Sitting behind a diamond-edged cutting wheel amidst a display of meticulously engraved glassware and crystal, Patty Sevre is the last of 14 generations to carry on her family’s legacy.

Working weekends in wineries up and down the Shenandoah Valley, the 77-year-old white-haired Sevre remains a vibrant glass-engraving artist, engaging wine-sipping onlookers in conversation.

“Glass engraving is a dying art and costly to teach,” she laments, noting an apprentice needs a salary and medical benefits while learning a trade that takes four to seven years to successfully complete.

And while some retail stores, like Lenox in Bristol, Pennsylvania, employ glass engravers using machines, she said she doesn’t know of anyone today making a living doing it free-hand using any shape of glass, like she still does.

Sevre often sets up shop in the Kulture Korner of the Desert Rose Ranch and Winery in Hume, eight miles south of Front Royal.

Sevre holds a glass featuring an engraving of a horse. Rich Cooley/Daily

Bob Claymier, who with his wife Linda own the winery, said he can’t draw a straight line with a ruler.

“We just marvel at her talent,”  Bob Claymier said.

“Customers like her and we have the space,” he said. “We like to have fun (at the winery) and she is part of that.”

Other wineries where she has worked include Magnolia and DuCard Vineyards and Quievremont Winery, with the owners often buying her artfully engraved pieces.

Sevre’s art display includes pitchers, vases, wine glasses, decanters, carafes, mugs and on brandy, shot or champagne glasses. She engraves portraits from photographs – a more than week-long process. In addition to wineries, she has also set up shop at retail shopping malls.

Sevre uses the arbor on the end of the lathe to create her glass engravings. Rich Cooley/Daily

Her images may include animals, nature scenes, thistles, geese, hummingbirds, grape vines or boats.

Sevre has been practicing her trade for 60 years and traces her family roots from the 1740s, with her great-grandfather’s family emigrating from France to New York in the late 1870s.

In 1945, at the age of 5, she was suffering from rheumatic fever, which accidentally provided entry into the then male-only glass engraving fraternity. She pestered her father into letting her visit the engraving shop while convalescing.

“I wasn’t expected to live past age 17,” she remembered. “I was fascinated by the rhythm and sound of the cutting. It was like music to me.”

Her father recognized his daughter’s latent talent and by the age of 14 she was working full time and attending school only half a day.

At the time her father worked exclusively for Tiffany and Co. in New York City.

In 1957 when Queen Elizabeth of England visited the United States, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower ordered a gift to be made for her from Tiffany’s.

Using Baccarat crystal, Sevre and her sister created a set of highball glasses, old-fashioned glasses, regular drinking glasses, brandy snifters, wine glasses, a decanter and compote that Eisenhower presented Queen Elizabeth.

Asked about her children, she notes all four children can engrave but don’t want to, although she wistfully notes, “Maybe someday.”

“They are all self-employed artists doing well (in other fields),” she said.

Sevre draws and paints and does other kinds of creative art “but engraving is more challenging,” she said. “When you are creating, you can’t change or correct it. Crystal is my canvas.”

“I can do a simple engraving in a matter of minutes,” she added, while a complicated piece may take many hours.

“You have to visualize what the design is going to look like because you are looking through two layers of curved glass backwards and upside down,” she explained, “It is the opposite of bas relief.”

Complexity and challenge – any mistake ruins the glass – comes from using one of only three types of cuts – flat, hollow or mitre. They are chosen to form various motifs into a pattern that harmonizes in size and shape to the curvature of the glass.

“I am a very happy person, very blessed to be self-employed,” she smiled. “I have made a good living over the years. It takes a lot of hours but you can regulate your own life.

Sevre is “old school” with no website to provide an online schedule of where she will be next, but she will be at the Apple Blossom Mall in Winchester through Jan. 6.

She can reached via email at sevrescyrstal@yahoo.com or by phone at 540-664-2884.