Blenko: Mid-Century Masters

Rejuvenation is proud to be partnering with Blenko to bring its mid-century lamps and decanters back to the market – and to a new generation of modern design enthusiasts – more than 50 years after their initial introduction.
Carafe, Wave, and Cylinder Table Lamps

Carafe, Wave, and Cylinder Table Lamps

 

The Men Behind the Glass

Though perhaps best known as mid-century icons, Blenko has a history as richly hued as its glass. British-born William John Blenko began his career in glass at an early age, apprenticing in a London bottle factory in 1864 when he was only 10. He went into business on his own in the 1880s, using his free time to experiment with making superior colored glass – particularly an elusive ruby red that wouldn’t change color when heated.

Willliam J. Blenko

Willliam J. Blenko

Drawn by the dream of a prosperous America, Blenko resolved to become the first manufacturer of antique-style stained glass in the U.S. He came to Kokomo, Indiana, in 1893, and launched the first of a string of unsuccessful glass ventures.

After many false starts and cross-Atlantic voyages, Blenko finally found success in 1921, in Milton, West Virginia, making glass for prestigious church restoration projects.

By 1929, William Blenko’s son, Bill, had become instrumental in running the family business. _He saw that the company needed to branch out to stay viable, and decided to enter the tableware market. The younger Blenko called upon two local Swedish glass craftsmen, who trained the Blenko glassmakers in the art of blowing three-dimensional forms that still captured all the beauty of an ancient cathedral window.

Blenko supplied cathedral glass for windows like these from a c. 1923  catalog.

Blenko supplied cathedral glass for windows like these from a c. 1923 catalog.

By 1946, Bill Blenko made the significant decision to hire a Design Director. He found Winslow Anderson, a 30-year-old war veteran just graduating from Alfred University.

Anderson’s boldly sensuous and lushly colored work for Blenko – more than 170 designs in all – put him in the vanguard of the evolving field of American glass craft. In the process, he reshaped Blenko’s product line and its future.

Wayne Husted, another Alfred University graduate, joined Blenko in 1953, at the age of 23. Husted’s dramatic sculptural forms and large “architectural scale” works became hallmarks of mid-century glass. In his 10-year stint with Blenko, Husted produced more than 500 designs.

Blenko Design Director Wayne Husted

Blenko Design Director Wayne Husted

The Mid-Century Homeowner

Following the difficult war years of the 1940s, a generation of young homeowners, filled with new ideas and attitudes, changed the American residential landscape with their embrace of open-plan ranch houses and fresh takes on casual living and décor. Life was meant to be lived glamorously, and homes were meant to be as fun as they were functional.

Better Homes and Gardens mid-century ranch home c. 1960

Better Homes and Gardens mid-century ranch home c. 1960

Glassware accents in a mid-century home

Glassware accents in a mid-century home

Colorful glass decanters, a ubiquitous design element in the 1950s home, seemed to perfectly capture the decade’s earnest enthusiasm. Blenko’s “bright idea” was to turn its popular decanters into lamps, which even today provide a sense of effortless glamour with just a touch of whimsy.

Stopper-inspired glass finials

Stopper-inspired glass finials

 

Blenko Carafe Table Lamp – note the decanter-inspired finial

Blenko Carafe Table Lamp – note the decanter-inspired finial

The Lamp-Making Process

Blenko glass is still produced using glassmaking methods that have been around since medieval days. Six-person teams work together to make the magic happen. First, glass batches are handmixed from combinations of sand and other natural materials, then melted in large pots by intense furnaces. The glassblower then uses a pipe to blow the hot glass into a hand-carved mold made from _a soft fruitwood like cherry or apple. While iron molds are used for forming precise designs, the organic shapes of these lamps are best produced from wood. The mold gives the glass its basic shape. It’s then removed and carefully worked by hand until it reaches its final form.

 A Blenko glassblower at work

A Blenko glassblower at work

With hundreds of glass formulas developed over more than a century of trial and error, Blenko’s color range surely meets the initial hopes of its founder, who wanted to create hues of unsurpassed richness. In its Milton factory, Blenko keeps glass samples organized in immense antique hanging wood racks that slide back and forth in front of a large window, so the countless subtle color and texture differences can be seen and selected. From this range of proprietary color formulas, Rejuvenation chose a total of eight colors that we then used for our lamps, decanters, and vases.

Blenko glass colors c. 1956 (image courtesy of American Museum of Glass)

Blenko glass colors c. 1956 (image courtesy of American Museum of Glass)

To create our authentic reissues, Blenko’s glassmakers blow the lamp vessels in Milton, West Virginia, still using their traditional methods. We transform them into lamps in our Portland factory, where we wire and assemble them, adding the sustainably harvested Eastern Walnut bases, adjustable harps, and American-made shades.

When they were first introduced in the 1950s, Blenko lamps featured fiberglass and linen-like shantung shades. The mid-’50s brought the introduction of burlap, or “Calcutta cloth” as Blenko then referred to it. To maintain the historical accuracy of our lamps, we’ve made our shades in burlap, as well as linen in black or ivory. The edges are handrolled for a smooth, tailored finish.

A burlap shade complements a Blenko Round Table Lamp

A burlap shade complements a Blenko Round Table Lamp