Above: The iridescent jewel tones of Blenko glassware. Photo: Johnny Miller
Literally born of fire, glass is a mesmerizing art form. Catching the light and freezing colors in a permanent, still tableau that can last forever, and forever remain the same. But almost belying the delicate and beautiful forms the process of making glass is hardly so. Hot, dangerous, and being physically demanding work are some of the reasons traditional glass making techniques have been sidelined in favor of more automated processes. But that is not the case at the Blenko glass company. Established in 1893 and still around today it manufactures glass in the traditional, hands on way employing skilled craftspeople.
Founded by British-born William J. Blenko in 1893, Blenko began making windows and stained glass near Kokomo, Indiana but his products would not sell as most builders of the time shunned locally made stained glass in favor of European products from established glassworks. Disappointed by the situation, Blenko returned to England, where he made the exact same product as he was in the U.S., but successfully exported it to American builders, an approach that helped established his brand. It was a roundabout way of getting his product to market and accepted but it worked. In 1899 William J. Blenko returned to the US and a few years later set up a new glassworks in Milton, West Virginia which is still in operation and remains in the Blenko family.
Following the Second World War Blenko found itself at a bit of a cross roads. With demand for traditional styles decreasing Blenko hired new designers and craftspeople to come up with decorative and practical glassware more in keeping with the public’s taste. It was a move that helped define the definitive Blenko modern style. With playful shapes and vibrant jewel tone colors the new pieces were an immediate success. The public eagerly awaiting the next Blenko catalog filled with hundreds of new and exciting styles. Blenko glassware was soon found in almost every home in America and the company re-established itself as the preeminent glassworks in the U.S.
As is the nature of design and design accessories the public’s taste will change and Blenko, once riding high on the tremendous demand for it modern glassware, soon found the consumer was less interested in their product and the company slowly scaled back production and became a smaller operation producing decorative items. But something happened. In recent years people began re-discovering Blenko’s classic modern pieces and soon demand was such that Blenko has been re-issuing many of its pieces from the 1950’s and 1960’s. It would seem that a good product, well-made and well-designed is a tenacious thing indeed.
Interested to learn more about Blenko and Mid Century Modern glassware? Then click on the images below for some great books of the subject!