October saw our third visit to Blenko Glass in Milton, West Virginia. The company has been around since 1893 — we are old but haven’t been here that long.
Our first visit was while pulling a trailer around the country in 2002. Alie, in particular, likes what she calls the “ballet” as the glassworkers’ hands swing or rotate the pipe. She says she watches their hands more than the glowing glass.
Although William J. Blenko, trained in England, founded the company in Indiana in 1893, Americans felt European glass was better so he shuttled his business back and forth to Europe so he could sell Americans “imported” glass.
In 1921, he opened a factory in Milton for its abundant natural gas, good rail system and hard-working laborers. He moved it to its present location in 1923.
Blenko has produced stained glass since it was founded. During the Great Depression, they expanded into household items such as dishes, bottles and vases. They produce ornaments. They have even produced the small glass discs one sometimes sees in pavements.
Their method is to blow the glass into molds before finishing it. In some ways the operation is like a small production line.
Fine glass is a difficult business in a modern multi-national era. Many small glass companies have gone out of business. Even the giant public company Corning Glass no longer makes its Steuben line.
In 2002, we were told the business was on the rocks until a television documentary revived interest in the art.
I use the word “art” deliberately. It is a craft that takes many years to perfect. But in the hands of a master, it is an art.
Comments on last week’s post demonstrated many have seen glassblowers. Nonetheless, if you have the opportunity to see one of these old masters, I urge you to take it before they are all gone.