Blenko Glass Blenko Glass

Blenko glass

from the
Glass Encyclopedia

Blenko Glass: A short explanation

William John Blenko was born in England in 1854 and became an apprentice glass blower at the age of 10. He went on to specialise in making coloured glass for glass artists and for stained glass windows, a skill at which he excelled throughout his career.

He travelled to the USA in 1893, bringing with him machinery for setting up a glass works, and selected Kokomo in Indiana as the location. This was the first of several failed attempts by William Blenko to set up a successful glassworks.

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Eventually, at the age of 67, he succeeded with the glassworks he called "Eureka Art Glass" in Milton, West Virginia set up in 1921. His son, William Henry Blenko Sr. joined the company in 1923 at the age of 26, and four generations of the Blenko family have succeeded one another as president of the company. Richard D. Blenko, great grandson of the founder, joined the company in 1976 and followed his father as President in 1996. The company name was changed to Blenko Glass Company back in 1930.

Throughout its long existence, this company has completed some very impressive commissions for stained glass. In 1926 they produced stained glass for the windows in Liverpool Cathedral, England. In 1964 they produced the Dalle de Verre Glass for the New York World Fair Hall of Science. In 1968 they made the sheet glass for the Winston Churchill Memorial in Fulton, MO. In 1996 they made a stained glass window for Carnegie Mellon University. And there are cathedrals and churches around the world where Blenko stained glass has been used.

But Blenko is more widely known for the art glass which they have made. This was an innovation introduced by William Henry Blenko Sr. after he joined the company in the early 1920s. In fact, it was probably William Henry's salesmanship and innovative flair which saved the company from failing yet again when the great depression hit America in the 1930s. All their glass is hand blown, they have never been a pressed glass factory nor used automated production methods. Having said that, a great deal of their output is simple in form and decoration. Major acheivements on the art glass front have included producing a 60 piece table setting for President Ronald Reagan's victory inaugural dinners in 1981. Supplying glassware to King Hussain of Jordan's Royal Palace in Amman in 1996. Producing the glass trophies supplied for various sports and entertainment events.
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The success of the company through the difficult times of the 1930s, when there was very little building and very little demand for their flat glass, was largely due to William's success in getting orders for hand made art glass. He persuaded Carbones of Boston, importers of high quality art glass from Venice and Sweden, to try a line of glass from Blenko. Blenko recruited Louis Miller and Axel Muller, master glassworkers who had trained in Sweden, to make this glass and train other glassworkers in their skills. And soon after their glass was included in Carbones' catalogue, it was being sold in major department stores across the country.

Another boost to the company's fortunes came in 1936 when they were given the license to reproduce glassware which was being excavated from Williamsburg. This was part of a major project to restore and honour the colonial heritage of Williamsburg. The archaeologists sent the excavated glass to Blenko, where it was analysed and reproduced using the same materials and methods as the original. These reproductions were of such authentic quality that even experts were sometimes unable to identify that they were replicas, and not originals.

From the mid 1940s onwards Blenko have employed designers and encouraged them to be creative in their designs. Winslow Anderson was the first, working with Blenko from 1946 until 1953. He contributed designs such as decanters with long bent necks, vases with dents or re-inflated ribs; and he developed some of the Williamsburg concepts, such as air twist stems, in new directions. This willingness to work with designers and give them freedom to be fully creative has helped the company retain its position as a major glassworks into the 21st century, when many others have failed.

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References and Sources:

Click on any book cover or underlined title to read more about it:
Blenko glass by Pina 2000 Blennko catalogs book Pina 2007 Blennko later catalogs, Pina 2007 20th C Factory Glass 20th Century Glass Blenko Catalogs 2002 Blenko Glass 1987 West Virginia Glass Between the World Wars, 2007
  • "Blenko Glass: An Inside Story" by Rick Wilson, Glass Collectors' Digest volume 1 no. 3, November 1987.
  • "Williamsburg Reproductions" by Sylvia D. Szymanski, Glass Collectors' Digest volume 5 no. 6, May 1992.
  • "Winslow Anderson: A Life in Glass" by Rick Wilson, Glass Collectors' Digest volume 2 no. 1, July 1988.
  • "Blenko's Designers: Winslow Anderson" by Leslie Pina, Glass Collectors' Digest volume 14 no. 1, July 2000.
  • Blenko Catalogs Then & Now (Sep 2002) by Leslie A. Pina.
  • Blenko Glass, 1930-1953 (Sept 1987) by Eason Eige, Rich Wilson and Richard Blenko.
  • "Blenko Glass History" in BLENKO 99 company catalogue.

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