Blenko is Back
It’s a whole new era of art as this West Virginia glass factory enjoys a rebirth.
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In the last few years, Blenko Glass—one of the only remaining hand-blown glass companies left in the United States—came too close for comfort with closing its doors. Money issues and a management change put the Milton company in danger, but thanks to devoted employees, innovative design, and a little faith in an American treasure, Blenko is experiencing renewed success.
The company came to Milton in 1921 when William John Blenko, a London native, brought the art of European glass blowing to America, and in particular, West Virginia, where natural gas to fuel his factory was cheap and abundant. Eureka Art Glass Company, as it was called until 1930, became Blenko Glass when the Great Depression forced William to think outside the pane and expand the stained glass business to include the colorful pieces that we recognize today as distinctly Blenko.
Each item is carefully crafted using the same methods and tools that master craftsmen in Europe employed hundreds of years ago. Visitors to the grounds can walk the factory floor where six men per “shop”—each having a vital role in the glass blowing process—move seamlessly around one another, connected subconsciously for a well-choreographed, repetitive course of action, carrying molten hot globules and fragile cooling vases without a single human injury or breakable casualty. Tour goers are transfixed, gawking at the flaming glory holes and discovering the defining trait of Blenko—color.
“There’s a passion for the products again,” says Katie Trippe, vice president of Blenko Glass. “I would say that during the four years I’ve been with the company, we’ve been everywhere from completely lost to knowing exactly where we want to be.” And where Blenko wants to be now is in every American household—providing high quality products that are handmade in the United States and meet a specific need. For Blenko, that’s easy—it’s color! “We think everybody needs a lot of color in their lives,” says Katie.
Whether it’s Blenko’s signature water bottle, a vintage vase, or their sunflower-shaped bowls, color is in no shortage. Varieties like kiwi, tangerine, and cobalt are entrancing conversation starters on tabletops and in dining room hutches the world over. Other unsuspecting fans will be enthused to know that Blenko’s architectural division is thriving. Slab glass and glass bricks can be found in some of our nation’s greatest landmarks, like the spotlights adorning the New York City subway stations and the Washington, D.C., Metro stops. Blenko’s vibrant colors are also a vital part of buildings like The National Cathedral, The Air Force Academy’s Chapel, and the library at West Point Academy.
Reinstating Blenko to its former glory hasn’t always been easy, but this time around there’s a few key players at the helm, including Katie, who started at the company as a marketing intern and rose through the ranks; Walter Blenko, one of William’s grandsons who’s a retired mechanical engineer and attorney; Walter’s nephew, Don Blenko; designers like Arlon Bayliss and the Bayliss Design Team; and a devoted group of 49 employees. “We’ve had a chance to collaborate in the last few years with various artists. People often approach the company with a clear direction of something they want to do and we try to be as accommodating as possible,” says Katie.