William John Blenko (1854-1926) was British glassmaker. He completed his apprenticeship in a London bottle factory at the age of 10 and studied French and chemistry at night school. In 1890, he introduced Norman slab-type stained glass for a Norfolk church.
He settled in Kokomo, Indiana, but returned to England when the business failed. In 1909, Blenko settled again in the USA at Point Marion, Pennsylvania, moving in 1911 to Clarksburg, West Virginia, near sufficient sand deposits.
In 1913, he was forced to close his doors for the third time. He developed a method of moulding glass, assisted by son Walter Blenko. In the meantime, he may have worked at Louis Tiffany’s glassworks, Long Island, New York. In 1921, set up shop in a shack in Milton, West Virginia. He founded Eureka Glass, which became Blenko Glass in 1930.
In 1921, his son William H. Blenko Jr. joined the firm and helped produce blown sheet glass for use as a stained-glass window material. He recognized the need for utilitarian ware; his wife Marion Hunt, daughter of Pittsburgh stained-glass artists, ran the office.
There’s something new all the time, It’s not like routine manufacturing work. Handmade glass is unique. No two pieces are exactly like.William Blenko Jr
Orders began to come in: Blenko’s stained glass was used in Liverpool Cathedral; Chartres Cathedral; St. John the Divine and St. Patrick’s Cathedrals, New York; the chapel of the Air Force Academy, Colorado; American Memorial Chapel, Meuse-Argonne (France).
In 1926, a decision was made to produce decorative and utilitarian glassware, first for the Carbonnes store, Boston, which had been importing goods from Italy and Sweden. Swedish-American glassworkers and brothers Louis Miller and Axel Muller (who never Americanised his name) were hired.
In 1932, Macy’s in New York began selling Blenko glassware and, by 1935, significant stores throughout the USA carried Blenko ware. In 1936, the firm received authorization to reproduce the glassware of Colonial Williamsburg, the restored British colony in Virginia. In 1946, Winslow Anderson was hired as its first designer. Makers of inexpensive glassware, Blenko produced free-blown forms in inventive Modern designs. They made tall ribbed bottles, which took advantage of the plasticity of the molten medium; by 1987, had five staff designers.
At 1933-34, Chicago ‘Century of Progress’ displayed their glasswares.
The basic recipe for Blenko glass begins with raw materials – a mixture of sand, soda, ash, limestone, borax, nitrogen and feldspar. These are mixed with various metals to produce certain colours – cobalt for blue, for instance and manganese for purple. This mixture is then placed into an oven, heated to about 2600 degrees, and cooked for 24 hours. The mixture is then cooled to a working temperature of 2000 to 2300 degrees, and cooked for 24 hours. The mixture is then cooled to a working temperature of 2000 to 2300 degrees, when it is ready to be blown and to be shaped.
Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.
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