Words to Live By
Definitions adapted from "An Illustrated Dictionary of Glass" by Harold Neman, "Glassblowing" by Harvey Littleton, "20th Century Factory Glass" by Leslie Jackson, and The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary.
1. Pontiff, Pony Tail, Pontil I regularly hear people confound these.
A chief priest. A bishop of the early Christian church. Now, the Pope.
What one finds hanging from the rear end of a horse. Also a hairstyle in which the hair is drawn back, tied, and made to hang down like a pony's tail.
a) Pontil (sometimes 'puntee' or 'punty'): The name of the iron rod to which a partly made molten object is transferred to from the blow pipe on which the glass has been gathered from the melting pot and tentatively shaped by blowing. The final shaping, attaching of handles and applied ornamentation, etc., are done when the piece is on the pontil. In order to make the molten object adhere to the pontil a small gathering is first attached to the end of it.
b) Pontil Mark: A rough mark in the center of the bottom of a glass object where the pontil was attached (in common usage referred to in abbreviated form as the 'pontil' in spite of the fact that the word alone refers to the tool and not the mark it leaves).
2. Free Blown, Off-Hand, Hand Blown, Mouth Blown, Mold / Mould Blown.
Hand blown, mouth blown:
Blown glass made entirely by hand by skilled workers, without mechanical intervention. Blenko and Empoli are hand or mouth blown glass.
Glass formed without a mold, shaped solely by the process of blowing with the use of a blow pipe and shaped by manipulation with tools. Purists argue that even use of a cup shaped paddle is a mold and that use of a mold of any type disqualifies the use of these terms. Practically speaking the terms are archaic and have come to include the non-mechanized use of molds as a primary shaping tool to achieve the basic form that is then further finished with hand tools. This topic could be a hotly contested dissertation in itself so I will end there.
Mold or Mould:
A form used in shaping glassware. Some molds are used to give the glass its final form, others to give a patterning or basic shape which is subsequently worked over, sometimes extensively. An enormous variety of molds exists, ranging from single-use clay molds, hand carved wooden molds (which last for only a limited number of uses, changing slightly each time) or industrially produced iron or graphite molds (which last virtually in perpetuity, unchanged).
Mold or Mould Blown:
Glass shaped with the aid of a mold either by hand or by machine. 'Still' Mold-Blown glass has a relief pattern or textured surface and can usually be identified by the joint lines of the mold. 'Turn' Mold-Blown glass has smooth walls and no mold lines are apparent as the glass is spun around while being blown into the mold. Both Blenko and Empoli make use of molds to varying degrees depending on the design - though some designs are free-blown.
NB: not to be confused with Mold-Pressed / Press-Molded Glass, Pressed Glass or Cast Glass, techniques which rely entirely on the mold for shaping and do not involve blowing.
3. Finisher / Gaffer:
The head and most skilled member of a glassblowing team in a factory, responsible for the most skilled and intricate work and controls the procedure of the team until the object is completed.
4. Chair / Shop / Team:
The group of skilled workers who assist the Gaffer, usually consisting of 5 to 6 craftsmen and apprentices.
Flask with stopper, 1927
Courtesy of Christie's Auction House
Triple Loop, 1978
12 x 10 x 8 inches
courtesy of Wexler Gallery
Untitled, from the Emergence Series , 1975
8 3/4 X 5 3/4 inches
courtesy of Wexler Gallery
5. Production Glass Vs. Studio Glass; I recommend understanding these terms not as binary opposites but as overlapping areas on a spectrum.
This term is derived from the Studio Glass Movement, widely regarded as originating in the early 1960's in America but with noteworthy precursors including Maurice Marinot of France. Many books have been written on the Studio Glass Movement and so I will only attempt the briefest of summaries:
The intent was, with the aide of new technology (glass formulations and furnaces) to devise a way in which individual artists could cost-effectively produce blown glass work independently in order to free them of practical factory constraints and make glass equal to artwork in other media like paint or clay.
The founders of record of this movement are Harvey Littleton and Dominick Labino working together at a seminar sponsored by the Toledo Museum in Ohio in 1962. Studio Glass is now taken to mean glass-as-art produced by, or under the direct control of, one artist. It is worth noting that perhaps the most well known name in Studio Glass today, Dale Chihuly, runs an operation larger than many factories and often delegates even the most creative aspects of his work.
Borrowing from the term "production line" (aka assembly line) used to describe factory produced work. This may not be the most enlightening term as virtually all glass, including much Studio Glass, is made in an assembly-line type manner in that it is made by a team of workers. The term in common usage however refers to glass made in a factory. This does not mean it is mechanically made and in fact leaves a reasonably blurry line between Production Glass and Studio Glass, both of which are made as products for sale.
The underlying assumption that the "art" value is higher in Studio Glass is not a safe one as some factories, like Blenko during the Historic Period, had a policy of giving the artist or designers free-reign - and were sometimes hands-on - meanwhile many Studio Glass artists are sadly lacking in talent or innovation. In Production Glass commercial constraints theoretically superseded creative ones, though they may well be (and often were) complimentary.
The safest generalization that one can make is that, typically, Production Glass is made in larger quantities (at a very minimum by the dozen, practically speaking, and usually much more) and Studio Glass is more about the production of unique items (though often made in editions of sometimes up to many dozen). It is also worth noting that, regardless of quantity, each piece of hand-made glass, whether Production or Studio, is unique - if only subtly so based on the skill and interpretation of the finisher.
6. Controlled Bubble Vs. 'Uncontrolled Bubble', Seeded; I am not sure if it is sad or amusing when a seller tries to promote badly made glass with unintentional seeding as "controlled bubble."
An internal pattern of evenly spaced and sized air bubbles. The key here is 'controlled' 'pattern' and 'even' as opposed to the following term. Click image of Turquoise controlled bubble Blenko decanter below for an enlarged detail.
Seeded ('uncontrolled' bubble):
Internal bubbles of random and varied occurrence, position and size - intentional or not. "Pulegoso" is the term for a technique for intentionally introducing seeding, to create glass densely infused with foam-like bubbles (from the Italian slang word 'pulega', meaning small bubble). See image of Chartreuse heavily seeded Blenko vase below.
|Click for detail of controlled bubble
# 6736 Turquoise decanter by Joel Myers.
|Click for detail of seeding
#918 Terrave vase in in Chartreuse.
(NOT acid etched) signature
used from 1958 to 1961.
7. Acid Etched Vs. Sand-Blasted
Decoration technique done to the cooled glass, where the surface of the glass is partially covered with a wax or resin resist, then submerged in acid, which removes the exposed area. Also used as a method for signing glass wherein the end of a metal branding iron is dipped in acid and pressed into the glass; in this usage called "acid-stamping."
Use of compressed air to force fine particles of sand (or other material) at high velocity onto the glass surface to create a pattern. Also used as a method of signing wherein a metal template with the cut-out signature is put against the glass and then sand-blasted. This is the method that Blenko used from 1958 to 1961 to sign their glass - see detail of Blenko's signature above.
8. Soda-Lime Glass:
This is the generic name for various types of glass made using a combination of sand (silica), soda (in the form of sodium oxide or sodium carbonate), and lime (in the form of calcium oxide or calcium carbonate). Sometimes magnesium is used in the place of calcium. Sometimes potassium is used instead of sodium, in which case the material is described as soda-potash glass. Soda-lime glass is widely used for window glass, container glass, and everyday domestic glass. Both Blenko and Empoli are soda-lime.
For more glass terms I recommend the Corning Museum of Glass' online Glass Dictionary.
1. Blown from the top:
Try this simple demonstration at home: grab a balloon, and inflate it from the bottom. Having trouble? OK then, now you know why the term "blown from the top" is redundant at best! Where else are you going to blow it from? I still can't believe that I had a real conversation with an ostensibly intelligent dealer once who argued the validity of the term.
|Raindrop Specialty Line items
||Regal Specialty Line decanter #9-RE desiged by Wayne Husted in 1960
||Rialto Specialty Line Vase 13-TO designed by Wayne Husted in 1960
||Charisma Specialty Line vase
2. Specialty Line:
A term unique to the Blenko Glass Company. A Specialty Line is a themed group of designs that are technically "special" or different from the company's normal production, and consist of multiple shapes that are conceived and labeled as an aesthetically related and cohesive group. This term is not as subjective and flexible as some would have you believe. In the Historic Period this term applies exclusively to Raindrop, Regal, Rialto and Charisma (see sample images above). Anything else is instead a "thematic line" (read related newsletter) which is a flexible and open-ended term.
Colors from left to right (click on image to enlarge):
1. Aqua, 2. Peacock, 3. Teal, 4. Sky Blue, 5. Marine Crystal, 6. Ice Blue, 7. Persian 8. Turquoise
3. There is no such thing as "Blenko blue":
Every color The Blenko Glass Company used for the tableware line was given an official name listed in the catalog each year it was used. I really can't understand why Leslie Pina thought it was helpful to add in her little nickname 'Blenko blue' which in my experience just confuses people who aren't sure if it refers to Turquoise, Teal, Persian or some other blue (or all of them).
Visit this page on the Blenko Museum's site for a full accounting of all the blues Blenko made:
This link provides a list of all Blenko colors by year:
4. On a similar note; it's called "The Vineyard Line":
As in: "Vineyard vases are common - Vineyard decanters are less common but it was a very commercially successful line so a lot were made." I really can't understand why Leslie Pina thought it was helpful to add in her little nickname 'bubble-wrap vase' when it already had a perfectly good (or, actually far superior) official name given by the designer and used to market the line.
5. Blenko's Historic Period, 1947-74:
This term was coined by the Blenko Museum in an effort to distinguish the most important period of the Blenko Glass Company's work. The period is defined by Blenko's emergence as an important figure in American glass and design history. The cultural significance of this period is intimately connected with the emerging Studio Glass movement and America's dynamic cultural expansion at the time.
The hiring of the company's first Design Director, Winslow Anderson, in 1947 was a noteworthy event; at the time it was extremely forward thinking to employ a full time in-house designer. Of equal importance, Blenko made a clear decision to allow designers full and unlimited creative freedom.
The Historic Period includes the work of the company's first four Design Directors; Winslow Anderson, Wayne Husted, Joel Philip Myers and John Nickerson. Where Anderson brought modern design and a foreward-thinking aesthetic to Blenko, Husted pioneered a Studio Glass aesthetic before the movement even began, Myers carried the torch as a significant and active founding member of the movement, while Nickerson was the first Design Director hired by Blenko with pre-existing knowledge of the Studio Glass movement.
The period concluded as the company's efforts were eclipsed by the Studio Glass movement and further hampered by the death of William H. Blenko Sr., the guiding force of the company.
Preceeded by the Early Years 1921-46 and followed by the Late Period 1975-onwards. Please see this page on the Blenko Museum website for more.
1. Straw Marks:
What a gem this term is; the idea is that a glass item has an imperfection like a dimple or line in it because when it was rested on straw (packing material) that the straw deformed it. Let's think about this; most glass is molten at a temperature of 1500°C (2700°F), within minutes of being finished (formed) a glass item cools to a point where it can no longer be re-shaped without being reheated. It can take hours to properly anneal (cool to room temperature) which is done by slowly reducing the temperature (to prevent cracking resulting from rapid or uneven temperature changes; glass is a poor conductor of heat and cools unevenly) which is done in a specially designed annealing lehr (oven). Straw is highly flammable and ignites at 250°C (482°F). Clearly no glasshouse would set hot glass that is still capable of being deformed on a highly combustible material. I suggest instead using the terms "tooling mark" (the result of an error on the part of the finisher) or simply "imperfection."
2. Wayne Husted worked at Blenko in 1952 - Wrong!
Sorry, his first day was in the spring of 1953. Wayne knows this, I can easily prove this, but unfortunately several Pina books have it wrong and so does a certain website even though both I and Wayne have told them multiple times that they need to correct the information (some people actually like to be ignorant I guess; perhaps direct descendants of those who insisted that Copernicus was wrong).
UPDATE: It has been brought to my attention that the collector website that ignorantly advertises that Wayne Husted worked at Blenko in 1952 posted the following aparently in the mistaken belief that it resolves the above problem:
"Husted's employment dates come from interviews that he gave in 2003."
So, without verification they accept Wayne's verbal account in 2003, but when he corrects himself in 2009 they don't believe him? Oddly, they still don't feel verification in the form of documentaiton is necessary. Basically they know they are wrong but refuse to admit it and want to blame Husted for their poor research. Not only that, but they are admitting that they rely exclusively (if also randomly) on one verbal account for their information. Husted has since contacted them to ask them to correct the discrepancy but they refuse. Embarrassing.
I do admit my mistake for not including detailed evidence in my original posting. For the public record, here is most (but not all) of the documented and official evidence that Wayne Husted's first year at Blenko was 1953 and not 1952. Much of this has been posted for years already on the Blenko Museum website:
According to Alfred University, Office of the Registrar, on June 9, 1952 Wayne Husted was conferred a Bachelor of Fine Arts, however;
the academic year of 1952/53 Wayne Husted is officially listed as active and in full time attendance (proving that he was physically present in Alfred, NY) through to the spring of 1953
The original job offer letter to Anderson from Lenox China, dated Jan 28, 1953 , was mailed to Anderson at his Milton address.
Winslow Anderson last worked at Blenko in February 1953 . The original letter from Blenko accepting his resignation confirms this officially.
According to ALL parties concerned (Anderson, Husted, Mr. Blenko and others) at no time were both designers ever simultaneously working at Blenko.
Winslow completed the 1953 line before leaving Blenko (example: #532 pear vase, 536 tri-footed bowl, 534 pouch vase, etc) and in time for the full 1953 catalog to be published at the beginning of the year.
To commemorate his departure from Blenko, Anderson recorded all of his designs on one large blueprint drawing (including his 1953 designs that begin with '53'), and was dated 1953 by the printer as well as signed and dated 1953 by Winslow Anderson.
In 1953 Husted produced only 4 new designs to be introduced that year, for the July 1953 supplemental line presented at the summer trade show : 5313 (jar), 5318 (small vase), 5320 (small bottle), 5321 (bowl)
no Wayne Husted designs appear in the 1953 catalog, the first Wayne Husted designs appear in the 1954 catalog including the above 4 supplemental 1953 mid-year designs. UPDATE: I note that the collector website mentioned above boldly states at the top of the page "Wayne Husted's first designs appear in the 1953 catalog" yet they do not list which designs. No Husted designs appear in either of my two original copies of the 1953 catalog and I welcome evidence to the contrary. It is worth noting that Blenko may well have published supplemental catalogs mid-year but this does not do anything to change the fact that Husted's first year was irrefutably 1953 unless four independent first-hand accounts are wrong, a state university's official documents are wrong, and Winslow Anderson forged historic letters from two different sources. Additional official government records would also have to be wrong by the way.
Additional corroborating forms of documentation exist but in all honesty the above should more than suffice.
3. The 'Eureka!' Myth:
The Blenko Glass Company's first name was 'Eureka Art Glass' because the founder yelled 'Eureka!' when he discovered the formula for a Ruby glass that would be stable (not change color) when reheated (as glass often is by enamellers who use it for sheet glass in windows). The story is cute, but also a total fabrication. The Eureka Art Glass Company was registered with the City of Milton, WV as open for business in 1921. A letter written by the founder, William J. Blenko, on June 27 of 1924 establishes that the first satisfactory batch of Ruby glass was made just before the letter was written. Any possible anecdotal declaration of "Eureka" as inspiration for the company's name was then certainly not tied to a formula for Ruby. It is sadly ironic that the Blenko Glass Company was ignorant of its own history and promoted this inaccurate anecdote.
4. The 1893 Myth:
The Blenko Glass Company was founded in 1893 only in fairy tales, in reality - FALSE! This gem has also been perpetuated by the company itself for years. In fact, their promotional material has regularly stated "The Blenko Glass Company was founded in 1893 by William J. Blenko in Kokomo, Indiana." That's funny because records indicate that a Kokomo company which officially closed in 1902 (when William Blenko moved back to London, England) was actually called The Blenko Art Glass Company. When he returned to America he made two subsequent unsuccessful attempts at establishing a business in different states, none of them with the same name. How any reasonable person can argue then that the existing Blenko Glass Company was founded in 1893 I just don't know but it certainly seems disingenuous to me, if not factually inaccurate.
Note to PR people: when trying to establish a company's credibility, don't do it by creatively stretching the truth, it's counterproductive.
|Blenko's 1958 hand-etched signature
|Blenko's 1958 hand-etched signature
|Blenko's 1958 hand-etched signature
5. The 1958 Hand-Etched Signature Myth
An interesting rumor circulated that in 1958 when The Blenko Glass Company began signing its glass by hand ALL the signatures were personally applied by William Blenko Junior. Reality Check! Time for some documented facts and good old fashioned logic and critical thinking:
- I have recorded over 100 examples of the signature in question
- I have documented over 24 different designs with this signature
in 1958 approximately 800 items were produced each day at Blenko on average (based on a sampling of annual production numbers averaged out by day, admittedly not scientific, but a reasonable basis)
- 5 or 6 shops worked each day
- each shop would produce one design for at least an hour with no shop in any given day normally producing more than 4 different designs
- Extrapolation: at most, likely 24 different designs would be made in one day
Based on this, one could assume that, at a minimum, the 24 different designs I have documented with this signature represents one day's work and by extension would mean 800 items were signed this way if the signing was done for only one full day. Granted, it could have been done sporadically throughout the day, or over a period of 2 days; in itself this is not a fool-proof counterargument.
However, it is unlikely that the 100+ examples I have documented represent the total made - in fact my research on this matter indicates a fraction closer to 1/10, meaning at least 1,000. For argument's sake let's split the difference and say 500 items were signed based on the quantity I have documented. I find it unlikely that in a factory that employs approximately 160 people, at least half of whom are performing low-skill jobs, the president-in-waiting is given the job of signing 500 pieces of glass by hand. Bearing in mind the 500 number is the most conservative estimate possible and excludes the possibility of this being more than a one or two day trial - far from certain presumptions designed to result in the lowest reasonable estimate of signed items.
At this point I will add the clincher that takes my argument beyond the realm of probability; of the 100+ documented examples, there exists three consistently distinct variations to the signature (see images above), suggesting it was done by three different individuals.
My point is certainly not that I believe I am categorically right that William Blenko Jr. was not responsible for ALL these signatures, rather it is to show that there are very reasonable grounds for being skeptical of the claim. Frankly, it stretches credulity to place full faith in this anecdote, which is purportedly based on a verbal interview given by William Blenko Jr. in the recent past, about 50 years after the fact (as a 70-something year old gentleman). Given thatr this informationalso comes courtesy of the same ignorant people hwo insist Husted worked at Blenko in 1952 I'd day the credibility of the source is questionable. Unverified verbal accounts of the distant past are notoriously unreliable. I'm going to file this one under "I don't think so"; the burden of proof is far from having been met and serious doubts make it highly unlikely. Reasonable modification of the myth; William Blenko Jr. was one of three people who signed some of the pieces. The larger point is this: Don't put out unverified absolute statements as fact unless you want egg on your face and, dear readers, recognize such statements and take them with a grain of salt.
Books that you must have in your library in order to fully appreciate the importance of Empoli and Blenko.
Il vetro "verde" di Empoli; Le collezioni fiorentine (1930-1960), Edizioni Polistampa, 2002, Florence, Italy.
Unfortunately all Italian text but an excellent pictorial resource illustrating many examples.
Tra Creativa e Progettazione; Il Vetro Italiano A Milano 1906-1968 , 1998, published by Electa, Milan, Italy.
Primarily in Italian with some English translation. As part of an overview of Italian glass this book provides in English a brief overview of the primary Empoli glass companies as well as about two dozen photographs.
Blenko Glass , 1930-1953, (out of print) by Eason Eige and Rick Wilson, Antique Publications, 1987 ISBN No. 0-915410-34-6
An essential account of Blenko's origin and early years. (note: several misattributions in the color images) Includes a selection of pre-1954 Blenko catalogue pages and advertisements. Often available on AbeBooks.com
20th Century Factory Glass , by Lesley Jackson, Rizzoli , New York , 2000, ISBN 0-8478-2253-2
An excellent book for contextualizing Blenko within 20 th century glass production. The "story of modern glass producers worldwide. The book discusses over 100 factories in detail, from Barovier & Toso in Italy to Blenko in the USA .It provides a much needed overview of the century's main developments in form, style and technique..."
West Virginia Glass Between the World Wars, by Dean Six, Schiffer Publishing, Ltd 2002, ISBN 0-7643-1546-3
An overview of the work of 23 West Virginia glass companies, 2 pages on Blenko. Useful for contextualizing Blenko's early years within WV glass production.
About Schiffer's Blenko books: I don't recommend them. All of Schiffer's books on Blenko contain serious, basic factual errors. Schiffer has published four poorly produced books on Blenko glass; three of the four are exclusively re-prints of Blenko's production catalogs from 1959 to 2001 and, thankfully, have virtually no text. They are a cheaper source of reprints than even color photocopies. Only "Blenko, Cool 50's & 60's Glass," by Leslie Pina contains any writing, however, even the revised and "corrected" version contains dozens of basic factual errors (among other shortcomings) that I consider unacceptable and could have easily been prevented with basic fact-checking.
Please email me with your comments!