William Blenko (1854 – 1926) and Blenko Glassware

William Blenko Glass vases
William Blenko Glass vases

William John Blenko (1854 – 1926) was British glassmaker.

Blenko established the first American factory to produce sheet glass for stained glass windows. Blenko’s early successes include providing glass for St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. The White House has a collection of Blenko table ware, used periodically. Wayne Husted pioneered the concept of “architectural scale” designs. Blenko’s “Historic Period” begins with Anderson in 1946 and includes work of Nickerson up to 1974.

The Blenko Glass Company filed for bankruptcy in May 2011. The company exited bankruptcy in 2013 and continues to produce art glass for the consumer market. Blenko’s special commissions include the Country Music Awards trophy and sculptures by the contemporary Studio Glass artist Hank Adams, represented in many museums throughout the US.

Education

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.

Several Setbacks

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.

Blenko Glass

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.

William Blenko decorative vases and jars
William Blenko decorative vases and jars

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. The 1933-34, Chicago ‘Century of Progress’ displayed their glassware.

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing.

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