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One groundbreaking glass studio in southeast Ohio is getting a second life

Glassware of all kinds is on display at Gay Fad Studios in Lancaster.
Kendall Crawford
/
Ohio Newsroom
Gay Fad Studios closed down more than six decades ago. The business and its mission are being revived in Lancaster, just off the main street.

In a boutique off Lancaster’s main street, colorful cocktail glasses sparkle in the light of a chandelier. But, shop owner David Annecy’s favorite part of the store is much less flashy.

He often ushers customers past the shelves of bright glimmering glassware, toward a wall of black and white photos. They show women – with hair perfectly coiffed – painting on a factory floor.

They would pick up a frosted glass from the pile, hand paint the design, set it on there, turn the table and start on the next glass,” David said.

The images trace through the life of one Ohio glassware pioneer: Fran Taylor.

At the age of 24, Fran Taylor opened her glassware studio in 1939, with just a $30 investment. By the time she brought it to Lancaster seven years later, it was a multi-million dollar business. It specialized in mid-century modern glasses, each hand painted with whimsical designs.

She valued being joyful and trendy, so she dubbed her world-renowned business “Gay Fad Studios.”

Original Gay Fad designed glassware with pink, black and gold designs sits in a cupboard.
Kendall Crawford
/
Ohio Newsroom
Fran Taylor's glassware company was known for its mid-century modern designs.

It’s just one in a long line of glassware companies that have called Ohio home. For over a century, glass has been a vital industry in the state.

In southeast Ohio, a rich supply of sandstone and natural gas has attracted glassware companies of all kinds to set up shop in the city of Lancaster, known as the “Glass Town”.

The glass ceiling

The company’s name caught David Annecy and his husband Jason’s attention after they moved to Lancaster in 2016. The couple began looking into Gay Fad’s story.

That led them to Stephanie Taylor, Fran’s daughter. She says her mom wasn’t always welcome in the male-dominated boardrooms of the 1940s.

“The way she countered that was by impeccably dressing and wearing high heels and being very proper and controlled in everything that she did,” Stephanie said. “She was the chief executive officer, in a time when it was unheard of [for a woman], particularly in Ohio.”

A cupboard of bright pink glassware sits next to a wall of black and white photos. The photos show the women employees of Gay Fad Studios through the years.
Kendall Crawford
/
Ohio Newsroom
Gay Fad Studios, owned by David and Jason Annecy, not only showcases pieces of mid-century modern glass, it also has a small museum dedicated to the work of Fran Taylor.

But Stephanie said her mom worked to normalize it. Most of her employees, including top leadership, were women, and she was passionate about recruiting young female artists.

“She had a daycare and then they had a break room that served cocktails in the evening. She was into creating community,” Stephanie said.

But, it all came to an abrupt end in 1962.

Stephanie said a rival company took a tour, stole a year’s worth of the company’s designs and then rushed those products to market before her mom could.

The business never recovered. It closed, and, not long after, Fran got in a car accident which caused her severe brain damage.

Shattering norms

David and Jason didn’t want Fran’s story to end there.

With Stephanie’s permission, they reopened Gay Fad Studios in 2022, six decades after its closure. Jason uses his background as an artist to bring out new designs, inspired by Fran’s vision. They’ve even been able to unearth Gay Fad designs that never made it to market.

“Almost righting the wrongs of history and finally fulfilling what was supposed to happen … reviving these patterns and finally putting them on glass,” Jason said.

Two men stand smiling in front of a black and white poster of Fran Taylor, a glassware pioneer of the 1940s.
Kendall Crawford
/
Ohio Newsroom
David and Jason Annecy are reviving a long-closed Ohio glassware company that shattered expectations.

But, more importantly, they’re continuing Gay Fad’s mission. They started the Fran Taylor Fund to give scholarships to young artistic women, and they source much of their glass from women-led companies. And, they’re breaking the mold in their own way in rural Ohio, Jason said.

Being a gay couple with a store called Gay Fad Studios, that you can't deny for where we are in history, that in a sense, we're also bringing about a conversation,” Jason said.

To do so, David said they’re following the blueprint Fran left behind for them.

“In many moments, we will often say to ourselves, ‘Well, what would Fran do or what did she do?’,” David said.

Fran pioneered an annealing process that ensured her designs wouldn’t fade from the glass – a way to keep her work eternal. The Annecys want to ensure her legacy is just as permanent.

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.