Design #374 Vase, 1932–35
The Blenko Glass Company represents the combination of technological advances in glassmaking with original designs noted for their focus on color, a key element of the glassware’s impact.
Blenko originally produced flat glass for windows, including stained glass for the windows of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. The company earned national recognition, especially for the creation of a strong ruby red glass that could be double fired. Red, a notoriously fugitive color in glass, was generally unstable could not be fired a second time. Blenko’s glass could be double fired without loss of color, which enabled enamel decorators to paint on it. William Blenko, the company’s founder, patented the formula in 1924, ensuring its popularity with enamellers. The subsequent decision to launch a glass tableware line meant this color entered a field previously reserved for ceramics.
Blenko’s first tableware catalogue appeared in 1929, and precipitated patronage by major department stores. Some of Blenko’s early pieces emulated Venetian glass with irregular shapes and textures to emphasize the handmade elements. Blenko explored how handmade craftsmanship and modern lifestyle could coexist in a design idiom. As a testament to the popularity of Blenko’s early tableware, the White House acquired a collection.
Although the work of the company’s first designers achieved much critical acclaim, the designers were largely uncredited until Blenko hired company’s first design director, Winslow Anderson, in 1947. The role of design director was progressive for its time, as it was unusual to have a full time in-house position providing overall design direction to a firm’s output. Subsequent design directors, Wayne Husted, Joel Philip Myers, and John Nickerson, were all involved in the Studio Glass movement, as innovators or practitioners.
Blenko’s production represents a major story of the American handmade glass industry. At its peak, more than 50 glass companies thrived in the industry’s base of West Virginia. After the industry’s decline, there are now only a few firms that create handmade antique glass.
The vase proposed for acquisition is one of the earliest Blenko designs to incorporate applied decoration. It is documented as a line drawing in an early Blenko ledger, although the original drawings and ledger are now missing. The piece shows the skill of applied coil decoration in an unusual amethyst color. The vase was made with a freedom of form unusual in the United States at that time. A similar example with a Blenko label is in the Huntington Museum of Art in West Virginia.
This piece is part of a larger gift of Blenko glass proposed for acquisition. This proposed gift is from the collection of Damon Crain, one of the leading authorities on Blenko glass, and includes significant objects that tell the story of firm’s ingenuity and work of the firm’s designers, known for their use of hard-to-produce color and innovative forms. This is a rare opportunity to acquire not only the history of an innovative firm, but works by designers of significance in their own right. At the time of proposed acquisition, two of the designers represented, Wayne Husted and John Nickerson, are still active and successful Studio Glass designers. This gift represents a distinguished history of the firm not previously represented in the museum’s collection and also strengthens the museum’s holdings of American glass from 1930 to 1980.
 Eason Eige, Rick Wilson, and Richard Blenko, Blenko Glass, 1930–53, (Marietta, Ohio: Antique Publications, 1987), 136.
This object was
It is credited
Gift of Damon Crain.
Its dimensions are
H x diam.: 15.2 x 10.5 cm (6 in. x 4 1/8in.)
Cite this object as
Design #374 Vase, 1932–35. glass. Gift of Damon Crain. 2012-16-1.