Ron Hinkle, Glassblower

We visited Ron Hinkle’s Buckhannon, West Virginia glass studio shortly after the January 2006 Sago Mine disaster that claimed 12 miners’ lives. Alie talked with the brother of one of the victims and his wife, a friend of the sole survivor; I’m not sure we talked with Ron.  We did buy a Christmas ornament.

This September we went back to Hinkle’s just to see a glassblower work, but  it became a unique experience.

Arriving early on a Tuesday, we were the only visitors.  Ron stopped work he was doing on a trailer and invited us into his studio.  He asked Alie her favorite color “today.”  She said green, and he replied he would make the base color a forest green.  [The most popular color is cobalt blue followed by red and then purple.  Green didn’t make the normal list.]

Ron Hinkle’s studio.

He invited us to stand close so we could see better; standard practice is to make people stand behind a barrier, both for safety and so that a few don’t block the view for others.  While he worked, his assistant for the last two years, Aaron Harvey, explained what he was doing.

After gathering glass on a “blowpipe” from the main 2400 degree furnace, he rolled it in carefully laid out lines of crushed colored glass on a flat steel “marver.”  He then used tools to pull swirls and streaks in the molten glass. Blowing a puff of air into the glass and letting it expand made a hollow spot in the center.  Between each step, he inserted the work into the “glory hole,” a 2300 degree fire, to keep it at the correct temperature.

At this point he cooled the glass slightly before inserting it back into the first furnace to gather a layer of clear glass over the colored glass; this way the heat of the new glass would not collapse the air bubble inside the piece.  He continued to work the glass making it bigger with the blowpipe and shaping it with a wet ladle-like cherrywood “block,” a flat “paddle” and “jacks,” steel tweezers.

With the help of Aaron, he reversed the work onto a long solid steel “punty” so that there was now a small opening facing out.  This he enlarged with another cone-shaped air pipe and continued to shape and work the piece.

Finally, again with the help of Aaron, the piece was removed from the punty and the rough spot on the bottom smoothed.  A maker’s mark was stamped in.  Then, to keep it from shattering while it cooled, it was put into an annealer to slowly cool over 12 hours . The final step was to sign and date the piece with an engraver.

The finished product, a Ron Hinkle vase, 2017

Hinkle grew up on his family’s farm.  When he was 16, rather than doing hay in the summer, he asked for a job in the Louie Glassworks.  He was told to sit down and do whatever he was told.  Two weeks later they asked him for his name and social security number and paid him.  He stayed with Louie and its successor for more than 19 years before becoming an undercover investigator for his brother-in-law in New Jersey.  After two years in New Jersey, he returned to the family farm and built his own glass furnace.  He has had his own business for 24 years but also worked two years as a Vice President at Blenko Glass for whom he still consults.

In all, Hinkle has 44 years as a glass blower.  He made glass peaches to be given to dignitaries and guests at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games.  His ornaments have been on trees in governors’ mansions and at the Pageant of Peace at the White House.  He has been featured in national publications.  He has 8 children, 22 grandchildren and a great grandchild.  But most of all, I am pleased to say he is a really nice person.

View the slide show to see how the vase above was made:

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About ralietravels

Ray and Alie (Ralie) are a retired couple who love to travel. Even during our working years, we squeezed a trip in whenever we could, often when we had to stretch the budget to do so. We have been fortunate to vacation in all 50 states, all the provinces of Canada and one territory and a little more than 50 countries. We like to drive, but we particularly love to travel back roads to find unusual sights, people, and experiences.
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10 Responses to Ron Hinkle, Glassblower

  1. It has been a long time since I watched a glassblower work, but it is an experience not easily forgotten.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sue Slaght says:

    We had the wonderful pleasure of taking a glass blowing course from a local glassblower this year. Although I can’t say I was especially good at it the process was fascinating.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. JohnRH says:

    Fascinating and thorough slideshow.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Keith & Loraine Beckman says:

    A few years ago we had the pleasure of touring a Glass Blowing business and it truly was awesome. There is so much more to that than most people know. Now I know why the prices are what they are when coming from a factory. It is quite an art and sure enjoyed the tour. The vase you picture is gorgeous and you know after touring a factory how much went into such a beautiful vase. Thanks for more information. Love You. Loraine

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dave Ply says:

    Watching the glass blowing process is fascinating. My sister and bro in law have a glass studio as a side business so I’ve had a chance to try glass blowing a couple times, and have the mangled looking shot glasses to prove it. It really makes one appreciate the skills of the true artisans.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Dee Gilbert says:

    It’s always impressive to see a glassblower at work. Beautiful!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. We have a very talented group of glassblowers in the nearby town of Grants Pass, Ray. This summer Peggy took our grandkids over and the kids made their own Christmas ornaments. They loved the experience. –Curt

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Jane Gealy says:

    Beautiful. My partner and I attended a glass blowing workshop a few years ago, we blew (is that the correct terminology?) our own Christmas bauble. It’s like a gift that goes on giving; every year we open the box, remove the tissue paper and marvel at our creations. I’m sounding soppy, but if you can’t be soppy when talking about Christmas, when can you be?

    Liked by 1 person

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