William Blenko (1854 – 1926) and Blenko Glass

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William Blenko Glass vases
William Blenko Glass vases

In a world full of machines, Blenko Glass Company is known for its hand-blown glass products, which are unique and inspiring.

William John Blenko (1854 – 1926) the founder of Blenko Glass Company was a British glassmaker.

Blenko’s “Historical Period” begins with Anderson in 1946 and includes the work of Nickerson up to 1974. 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 tableware, used periodically. Wayne Husted pioneered the concept of “architectural scale” designs.

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 ten 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. In the meantime, he may have worked at Louis Tiffany’s Glassworks on Long Island, New York. He developed a method of moulding glass, assisted by his son Walter Blenko. In 1921, they set up a shop in a Milton, West Virginia shack. 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 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 in 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, they had five staff designers. 1933-34 Chicago ‘Century of Progress’ displayed their glassware.

The Blenko Glass Company Today

When it opened in 2000, the Blenko Museum put on year-long shows of the company’s work. Two Blenko documentaries, Blenko: Hearts of Glass and Retro Blenko: Three Designers of American Glass, brought the company national attention and led to Blenko glassware being used in PBS pledge drives. The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2011, but after it did so again in 2012, it started to do better again. In December 2012, the court approved a plan to reorganise the company. This allowed the company to come out of bankruptcy in early 2013. The Blenko Glass Company came out of bankruptcy in 2013 and still makes art glass for sale to consumers.

Even though gas prices have gone up, the company has been quiet for a while, and the industry and market are changing quickly, they still make glass art. On August 3, 2015, collectors from all over the US came to Milton, West Virginia, for the eighth annual Festival of Glass. Special orders for the company include the Country Music Awards trophy and several sculptures by Hank Adams, a modern Studio Glass artist. The Visitor’s Center has things for sale and a small display of Blenko’s work from the past.

Sources

Company, B. G. (n.d.). Blenko History. Blenko Glass Company. https://blenko.com/pages/blenko-history

Blenko Glass Company Facts for Kids. (n.d.). Blenko Glass Company Facts for Kids. https://kids.kiddle.co/Blenko_Glass_Company

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

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