Blenko Glass, Bold and Beautiful

By Tom Cotter
Photos and identification by David Cleveland and Scott Montroy
 The history of United States glass is filled with stories of immigrants who came from Europe to advance, inspire, teach, and build an industry like none other.  From pioneer entrepreneurs like Stiegel, Wistar, and Amelung in the 18th century, through the 19th century with masters such as Heisey, Miller, Dorflinger, Hawkes, and others, then into the 20th century with visionaries such as Bennett, Carder, and Nash, the knowledge of Europe melded with the American spirit and ingenuity to continually keep U.S. glass at the front of innovation and beauty.  One of those major contributors was William John Blenko, whose fourth, final, and first successful venture led to the founding of Eureka Art Glass Company in out-of-the-way Milton, West Virginia.  His stained glass factory had access to all the major elements; silica, coal, labor, and the C&O railroad running conveniently along the Mud River. Everything a small enterprise needed in 1921.  When the Great Depression severed the architectural glass backbone of the firm, the founder’s son William H. (Bill) Blenko, having joined the firm in 1922, pushed the renamed Blenko Glass Company toward colorful tableware into the 1930s.  Aided by Swedish glassmaker brothers Axil and Louis Muller and, later, Carl Erickson, Blenko created ties with Carbone’s of Boston and Macy’s.  Blenko established a nearly 30 year contract with Colonial Williamsburg for historical reproductions in 1937.  Along with a firm business base, Blenko Glass received accolades at the 1933 Chicago World’s Fair.  In 1938, Blenko fashioned the unique and timeless #384 Water Bottle with two spouts; “With function before form in mind, it was made to fit into the narrow door shelves of the relatively new ‘electric icebox’.”1  While World War II halted production, the post-war boom created great opportunities for Blenko’s colorful hand-blown creations.
 Bill Blenko, by then Sr., proved a visionary, doubling down on quality and color and hiring a quartet of designers from the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University.  Innovative shapes from Winslow Anderson (1946-1952), Wayne Husted (1952-1963), Joel Myers (1963-1970), and John Nickerson (1970-1974) fit perfectly with the tastes of the now-labelled Mid-Century Modern marketplace as Blenko became the U.S. leader in factory made decorative glass with a vast array of colors.  Designers not familiar with glass?  No problem; the amazingly skilled mold-makers and glass workers could provide the expertise to fashion drawings into reality.  After the Alfred Quartet above, Blenko kept its creativity with a flow of wonderful artists:  Don Shepherd (1974-1987); Hank Adams (1988-1994); Trey Gott (1995-1996); Matt Carter (1995-2002); Richard Blenko, (1980-2007); and Arlon Bayliss (2007-2012).  These gifted creators put their stamp on the company and the design industry.  Designs met the public’s wants.  Pieces flashed curves, angles and sometimes straight lines along shoulders, waists, hips, feet, and necks with stoppers crafted to match the piece.  While many pieces were quite functional, others ranged into the territory of “What?  Really?”.   Audacious decanters and vases; a curved neck; daring 2 ½ to 3 ½ foot tall pieces, like the #5829-L or #6535 decanters, that would intimidate any host or hostess; and amazing textures and pictures molded into the glass that highlight the vast color panoply.  Husted’s #6316 decanter was wider than it was tall and only about 3 ½ inches deep.  Stoppers looking like flames, chess pieces, teardrops, coins, knobs, cupolas, cubes, and spheres carried the basic shapes of the pieces to new and exciting levels.  Grace, form, and color abounded in each catalog.  The palette of colors never ran out; what a magnificent batch book Blenko must have.
 Crackle finishes, applied heavy spirals, rings, leaves, rosettes, ropes, and blobs, controlled bubbles, air twist stems and stoppers, big hobnails, textured and smooth finishes all differentiate Blenko from most other U.S. glass companies.  Fantastic cats, horses, fish, owls, bulls, goats and other creatures were specific pieces or adornments.  Unusual human figures and faces appeared, as well as a mermaid.  Some have tried to imitate, but there is only one Blenko Glass.  Imagination and singularity are hallmarks of Blenko.
 As I look at the incredible history of Blenko Glass, the term “stunning” frequently comes to mind.  In Reims, France, Washington D.C., Huntington, Colorado Springs, and other locations chapels, sanctuaries, and cathedrals share the beauty of Blenko stained glass in their windows.  Bold innovation married with a palette of colors unknown in the U.S. outside of modern studio glass has propelled Blenko through its first century.  The Bold and the Beautiful; to hell with soap operas.  That label belongs to Blenko.
 Would you like to see more Blenko or other fantastic U.S. glass, pottery, and china?  Jodi and Mark Uthe give you that opportunity at the Front Range Glass Show Saturday and Sunday, October 1 and 2, 2022, at the Ranch Events Complex near Loveland.  There will be a lot of period glass, pottery, and china; Mid-Century Modern such as Blenko, laced with Early American Pattern Glass, Brilliant Cut glass, Art Deco, and Elegant and Depression era pieces, and other wares provided by dealers from all parts of the U.S.  The Rocky Mountain Depression Glass Society will have a booth at the Front Range Glass Show, with members, including myself, providing information and insight into the local collecting as well as fascinating items for sale.  Find or indulge your own passion.  When in downtown Denver, you can constantly be amazed by exhibits at Kirkland Museum of Fine and Decorative Art, highlighting a vast array of extraordinary art in many genres.  Our Mountain States Collector friends Peggy and Jon DeStefano provide shops to explore and articles on many, many, many collectibles.  And a special thank you to Scott Montroy and David Cleveland, collectors extraordinaire, who share pictures and their incomparable knowledge with me, making this article possible.  Visit, read, enjoy, learn, and indulge.  Bon voyage!
 NOTE:  Bibliography available on request.
Cover Photo:
 Tequila Sunrise, #8310S Vase (sold only in Blenko Visitor Center)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *