Although breweriana collector Chris Watt lives in Nazareth, Pennsylvania he has a special fondness for Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. It happens to be where his wife Heather’s father and two uncles were born and raised and where her grandparents lived on the same land that the former Sturgeon Bay Brewery once operated on historic Bayshore Drive. Whenever Chris visits Wisconsin you can guarantee that he will ask everyone he meets “Have any Sturgeon Bay brewery items?” And that is how Chris came to collect and pursue ‘Old Cherry Circle Beer’ breweriana.
Knowing very little about this obscure brewery until Chris contacted me, it was interesting to learn about its history and view the beautiful advertising that this brewery created. So, when Chris asked if I could make a sign for him, I was stoked that he’d give me a chance to create something memorable. Chris is a great client to work with because he is very open minded about ideas. After tossing around some concepts, I suggested that given the time span in which the brewery operated that a period-authentic piece would be most appropriate: an etched glass panel edgelit by neon. After showing Chris some examples that I had done for other collectors, he was enthusiastic to begin and I was even more excited to deliver on my promise of making him something special.
STARTING THE PROJECT
Using this Cherry Circle Beer label as a starting point, all of the graphics were hand drawn so that every nuance of the cherries could be brought out. The work was tedious and as the project evolved I sent progress pictures along the way. With the artwork completed, now work could begin on the glass panel.
MAKING THE GLASS ETCH
The first step to making an etched glass panel is to print out a stencil mask on a cutting machine. What made this project even more unique was using a multi-level stage etch that consisted of three different levels, or stages if you will, of etching.
The glass that is used on a project like this is a very special type of glass that is only made in Poland and the Czech Republic. After the shape of the glass is cut and the edges machined to a smooth radius, the task of laying the stencil on the glass can begin.
Starting with the deep etch first, a small razor blade removes the portion of the mask that is to be sandblasted. After that areas of the vinyl mask is removed, the surface is carefully mic’d to determine that the correct depth to be sandblasted is not set too deep, nor too shallow.
After the deepest portion of the glass is removed, this process is repeated for the other two depths of sandblasting. Because of the very small details that are in the art, removing the right areas of the mask is extremely important and on a project of this complexity takes a skilled hand. My artist, who is long since retired sure is gifted as it takes a highly skilled hand to remove the right areas of vinyl mask without damaging the glass or affecting the parts of the stencils that needs to stay, otherwise the sandblast can cross over into areas on the glass where it does not belong.
After the glass has been sandblasted the remaining mask that covers the clear glass that is free from graphics is removed and the adhesive from the vinyl mask is cleaned by hand using cleaners and pressurized air to remove some of the small glass particles and sand that can get embedded in the etch.
Because this was the first time that I’ve ever attempted a three-stage etch, I made the mistake of not trapping the artwork correctly. On the first batch of signs this created a problem because the three layers overlapped each other and blended together. Not good. I had to scrap my work and start over.
But it is from mistakes that one learns and we did a small sample piece and it turned out great so I knew I was on the right track.
This glass sign will be edgelit by neon and placed in an art deco style canister that he also commissioned me to make that will house the sign. When Chris gets the housing and the neon wired, I hope that he can share pictures of the completed sign in his collection.
The clients remarks when he saw the panel for the first time is what makes doing this so worthwhile. Thank you for letting me collaborate on this project with you Chris.
ABOUT OLD CHERRY CIRCLE BEER
In 1933, four investors purchased an antiquated 900 barrel/year operation from the defunct Hagmeister brewery with plans to reo-pen it as Sturgeon Bay Brewery. Since the Hagmeister Corporation still owned the brewery name, they instead decided to name their brewery Schönbrunn Brewing Co. after their new flag ship brand, Schönbrau. They also revived the Cherry Circle beer from the pre-Prohibition era to retain local support from the old timers.
For such a small brewery that must have had limited distribution, Schönbrunn sure did produce some memorable advertising consisting of ornately drawn graphics featuring cherries, a fruit that played a big role in the economy of Door County, Wisconsin. Cherries really took off in in the county in 1896 when crop of tart cherries planted by the University of Wisconsin Horticultural Department greatly exceeded expectations and within 50 years Door County would harvest 10% of the annual cherries grown in the United States.
RECOGNITION: I would like to thank Bob Pirie for contributing to the historical about the Schönbrunn brewery and Cherry Circle Beer.