Cape Cod’s Pairpoint Glassworks completes a special Boston Marathon project, while mourning a painful loss
The oldest working glassworks company in the United States, Pairpoint Glassworks has made its home for the last four decades in Bourne’s Sagamore village, tucked alongside the canal and situated nearly beneath the Sagamore Bridge. Pairpoint’s glassblowers spend their days transforming large gobs of superheated glass into sleek and unique vases, perfume bottles and suncatchers, and specialty glasses and cup plates. Pairpoint also makes awards that are handed out at golf tournaments and charity events, such as The Last Gasp, a fundraising bike race from Sandwich to Provincetown.
A few years ago, Pairpoint landed a contract to make the awards for perhaps the most famous annual event in all of New England: the Boston Marathon. Following each marathon since 2011, a majority of the top finishers in several categories have been presented with stunning glass awards from Long’s Jewelers, one of the marathon’s sponsors—and those awards were hand-blown for Long’s by the good folks at Pairpoint.
Since more than 100 individual awards are handed out each year, the work involved in this project is always substantial. Completing the pieces in preparation for this year’s marathon—to be held on Patriot’s Day, Monday, April 20—was a heavier burden than usual because Pairpoint’s warm and welcoming owner, Tom Fiocco, was diagnosed with cancer about a year ago, and he passed away at the end of August.
“Tom loved it that Pairpoint was the oldest working glass company [in the country] and that Boston was America’s oldest marathon,” says Holly Sullivan, a manager at the company. “He always thought that had a good ring to it.”
Fiocco, who lived in East Falmouth for the last decade, purchased Pairpoint in 2004. Sullivan, who has worked for a few owners during her 20 years with the company, described Fiocco as “personable, funny, and hands-on.”
“He was a fun guy to work for,” Sullivan says. “He had the gift of talking, and he could sell anything. He just had that gift. He was such a character, and customers loved him.” A native of New Jersey, Fiocco enjoyed catering to the different bus tours that made their way to Cape Cod in the spring and summer. Once over the bridge, tour groups often make Pairpoint one of their first stops, and Fiocco always rolled out the red carpet for the visitors. He would greet the groups personally, Sullivan says, and would offer a 10-minute primer on the glassmaking process. “He would even take them downstairs [where the glass is made],” she adds. “He really went out of his way.”
In early 2014, Fiocco appeared to be in perfect health, but when he went in for a routine checkup, doctors found a cancer on his kidney. He underwent surgery in March and attempted to return to work afterwards, but he was very weak.
The owner last visited the company in July, Sullivan says, and it was an emotional visit. Though weak, Fiocco called all the staff up to the office and thanked them for their hard work. A few weeks later, he was gone. Fiocco died on August 30, at the age of 54. He is survived by his wife, Carol, and the couple’s two daughters, Lauren, and Kristen.
During a summer break in college, Kristen had the opportunity to work with her dad at Pairpoint. “When a bus tour pulled up, he always turned it on, no matter what,” she recalls. “His charisma and unending, friendly attitude is something I look up to so much.”
The last year has certainly been challenging for both the Fiocco family and the Pairpoint staff. In January, the company closed its gift shop in Mashpee Commons, and—at the time of this publishing—the company’s future is uncertain. “It was a rough year trying to keep it going with Tom gone,” Sullivan says. “Everyone rallied though.” The staff has pushed forward to complete their projects—including the special Boston Marathon awards.
Prior to 2011, the Boston Athletic Association (BAA), the organization that runs the annual Hopkinton to Boylston Street race, had an arrangement with a company overseas that made the marathon awards. In 2011, however, the BAA decided to have the awards made locally. As Pairpoint is the nation’s oldest working glassworks company, glassblower Iain Ross says the BAA likely viewed the Cape Cod company as a good partner to run with.
Since Pairpoint took on this assignment, Ross, a Sandwich resident, and fellow glassblower, Samuel Mendez, of New Bedford, have collaborated with BAA representatives to design and create more than 100 awards for each year’s race. “It’s a big job,” Ross says, “but we do it, we get it done, and we know we’re doing something good.”
The awards feature minor design differences from year to year, but most consist of a striking combination of cobalt blue and clear glass, with the participant’s finishing position and other details etched on the side.
Each award also comes with a signature Pairpoint touch, the “bubble ball,” which gives the finished glassware a speckled or raindrop look. To create the look, a hot piece of glass is placed in a three-piece mold, which dimples the glass. Once it cools, the piece is returned to the furnace, where it is covered by another layer of molten glass. This causes the dimples on the interior, cooler layer, to bubble up. Pairpoint’s glassblowers use different molds to achieve different sized bubbles.
The awards are given to male and female runners who finish first, second, and third in each of 10, age-based categories as well as for top finishers in the wheelchair competition and in team races. In the elite category, awards are given to male and female runners who finish anywhere from second to 12th place. Naturally, the first-place finishers in each category receive awards as well, but those are made of silver—and are not created by Pairpoint.
On the day of the race in both 2011 and 2012, Ross and Fiocco and their families had the opportunity to see the fruits of their labor at the marathon’s award ceremony. At the event, held at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel, Fiocco presented some of the awards alongside representatives from Long’s Jewelers. “People from all over the world were getting the awards we made,” Ross recalls. “Participants from China, Germany, et cetera. That’s cool.”
Creating 102 awards for the 2014 marathon took Ross and Mendez—the two Pairpoint glassblowers assigned to this project—nearly 102 hours to complete. “It was a solid two weeks,” Ross recalls, “and then some.” For the 2015 Boston Marathon, Pairpoint’s glassblowers made 108 awards.
Glassblowing requires precision, patience, and considerable skill. All of the pieces Pairpoint’s glassmakers create begin as 50-pound bags of glass pieces, which are dumped into a blazing furnace to melt. The glass is removed from the furnace when it glows at 2,150 degrees.
To work with and shape the glass, Ross says it’s imperative it be heated to just the right temperature—1,800 to 2,000 degrees. Temperature and timing, Ross says, are everything. Once the glass cools, even to a chilly 1,000 degrees, it is no longer pliable and cannot be shaped.
A Pairpoint employee since 1990, Ross considers the role he has had in making these awards a great honor. “Truthfully, I think it’s one of the coolest jobs I’ve done here,” he says. A recreational runner himself, Ross says the Boston Marathon holds a special place in his heart, and he knows that a lot of work goes into just crossing the finish line. “It’s a pretty impressive feat to run 26 miles,” says Ross. “It’s nice being involved in something like this.”
In 2013, Ross and his wife, Kathleen, and daughter, Merrin—who was 10 at the time—went in town to watch the marathon, and they were sitting on the bleachers near the finish line when the first bomb was detonated. “At first, we had no idea what was going on,” Ross recalls. “We were in shock.”
After the second bomb exploded, Ross remembers thinking he and his family had to get out of there immediately. During the race, Ross and his family had been sitting next to Carlos Arredondo. Watching news coverage later that day, Ross learned that Arredondo, the day’s recognizable “Cowboy Hat Hero,” had jumped a fence and rushed into the chaotic scene to help others.
Pairpoint’s glassmaking roots date back nearly two centuries to 1837, when the Mount Washington Glass Company was founded in South Boston. Following a move to New Bedford, the company merged in 1880 with Pairpoint Manufacturing—a silver and metal works company founded by Thomas Pairpoint, a world-recognized British silversmith and designer.
After nearly a century in New Bedford, the plant was destroyed in a fire in 1965. Robert Bryden, the company’s owner at the time, attempted to run the company in Europe for a few years, before returning to the states to open a new location in Sagamore.
To round out the company’s staff, Bryden brought two skilled artisans from Scotland with him: Robbie Mason, and Alistair Ross—Iain’s father. In the years that followed, Bryden sold the business in the mid-1980s to Bob Bancroft; who sold it to his daughter, Valerie Kelly; who in 2004, sold it to Tom Fiocco.
Though Fiocco did not have any experience in the glassmaking industry when he bought Pairpoint, Sullivan says his expertise was as a business executive. “I think what really attracted him to the company was the history and the legacy of it,” Sullivan says. “He got right into it.”
In addition to selling retail gifts and glass tableware, Fiocco really pushed the wholesale side of the business, Sullivan says. He built up a clientele of golf clubs and tournaments in the area that needed awards made for special events. “He was an avid golfer so he knew the whole golf circuit,” she says. “He really picked up that business a lot.”
Fiocco also served as president of Meadow Brook Golf Club in Reading, one of the state’s oldest clubs. “Tom had this theme of working with the oldest things: the golf club, Pairpoint, and the Boston Marathon,” says Ross. “I think he was proud of that.”
After completing the marathon in a few weeks’ time and receiving their hard-earned Gatorades and accolades, many runners and participants will reflect on the hard work that went into getting to the finish line. Tales will be exchanged of miles logged and personal bests, of training injuries and—for a very few—the thrill of victory. And if only the awards handed out that evening could talk, for they would have a story to share, too.
Pairpoint Glassworks is at 851 Sandwich Road in Sagamore. For more information, visit pairpoint.com.