The month of Americana continues today on the blog with a look back at colorful Blenko glass. Damon Crain from glasshouse was nice enough to stop in and give us a quick tour of this American institution and their glass made with bold color. – Tobi
Red/White & Blue
The summer pilgrimage to the cottage or beach house just wouldn’t be the same without seeing all those red, white & blue flags fluttering along the road, ubiquitous and celebratory of the good life in America. Old Glory symbolizes the pioneering spirit, innovation and freedom of America, a country of immigrants. So when Tobi asked me to help her celebrate America with a guest blog post I knew immediately that I’d parade out my own bit of beautiful red/white & blue American history in the form of vintage Blenko glass.
Blenko was founded in 1921 in West Virginia by the British immigrant William J. Blenko and his particular brand of magic was color. William was a master at formulating spectacular colors for glass for stained glass windows. But the Depression of 1929 was the mother of innovation for Blenko who promptly went into the business of creating gorgeous blown-glass tableware out of his intensely colored glass. The great success of this secondary business lead to the hiring of a full time in-house designer – at the time a very pioneering thing to do. The combination of brilliant colors and innovative artistic design proved to be a powerful one.
The first designer, Winslow Anderson, hired in 1947, began the tradition of selecting and introducing new colors for the product line – which usually consisted of about 6 to 8 colors a year. The second designer, Wayne Husted, a creative dynamo, took this a step further (a particular habit of his) and introduced the concept of a “Specialty Line,” best defined by the Blenko Archive:
Blenko’s Specialty Lines are among the most important and rarest designs produced by the company. A Specialty Line is a themed group of designs that are technically “special” – different from Blenko’s normal production – and consists of multiple shapes that are conceived and labeled as an aesthetically related and cohesive group. Specialty Lines were an official genre at Blenko; they were always identified as such and separated from the year’s annual offerings in the catalogues.
And here is where the red/white comes in; by way of the very unusual and spectacularly rare Rialto Specialty Line. Designed by Wayne Husted in 1960, it was made for only one year, and in limited quantities. It consists of 15 designs executed with translucent white bodies, often fading from nearly transparent to completely opaque in places. All applied bands, handles, decorative elements and stoppers are in Blenko’s signature Ruby red. At no other time did Blenko ever produce a white glass. Technical difficulties and a high loss rate (it was particularly fragile due to the tin oxide used for coloration) conspired to result in the lowest production rate of all the Specialty Lines.
And what about the blue you ask? Rewind one year to a very unusual color introduced by Wayne Husted in 1959, called ‘Persian.’ While it’s true that Persian was offered in the line for three years, 1959-61, it was rarely produced due to expense. The rich, gemlike, yet not-quite-cobalt blue had the unfortunate effect of staining the pots in which it was mixed; the color would then pollute the next batch so the pots would have to be destroyed each time at significant expense.
It was this gorgeous color that Husted personally selected for what became his most celebrated design; the 5942L ‘U-cut’ vase, which was selected to represent America in the first world-wide survey of the glass industry at the Corning Museum of Glass. The example illustrated in the catalog, hand-selected by Husted, remains in the permanent collection of the museum and was recently exhibited in the touring show “Decades in Glass: The ’50s” curated by my friend Tina Oldknow, Curator of Modern Glass at the Corning Museum.