photos and text by Damon Crain
William J. Blenko founded the Eureka Art Glass Company, a producer of specialty sheet glass with hundreds of trademark colors, in Milton, West Virginia in 1921. In 1929 the Depression sharply reduced demand for sheet glass and company began producing decorative wares, interpretations of classical Italian forms.
The most significant development in the company's history was the hiring of Winslow Anderson as design director, responsible for Blenko's new designs from 1947-53. Trained as a ceramicist and without glass knowledge Blenko gave him free reign to innovate. Thus began Blenko's remarkable transformation into one of America 's most recognized glass producers.
Blenko's second designer, Wayne Husted, was responsible for Blenko's new designs from 1954-63. His unprecedented sculptural designs took the company to a new level of sophistication. Husted's legacy is his "architectural scale" designs, several feet tall and suited to being displayed as freestanding sculptures on the floor.
Joel Myers was Blenko's third resident designer, responsible for Blenko's new designs from 1964-71. As a craftsman and designer the emerging Studio Glass movement and 1960's psychedelic re-interpretation of the Art Nouveau aesthetic proved to be crucial influences on Myers. Today Myers ranks as one of the most exhibited and recognized glass artists in the world thanks largely to his beginnings at Blenko.
Blenko is still operating today having had seven designers and produced thousands of original designs. The focus of collectors is the works of Anderons, Husted, Myers and John Nickerson (1971-74). While the vast majority of Blenko designs sell for $50-200, the truly sought after items range from $300-3,000. Collectors particularly seek sculptural non-utilitarian forms and oversized items. Though size is not a reliable indicator of value, colour is and can double a design's value. Rare colors made for 1-2 years, like Plum , are desirable, but vibrant and unusual colors like Jonquil or Persian blue are also in demand. Rarity and oddity drives value to the extreme.
Identification is difficult without knowing production catalogues, though colour is always a good indicator. Blenko had many competitors in West Virginia, all of whom emulated them to some degree. T hey share similar characteristics; bright colors, simple forms, thick walls and pontils. The vast majority of Blenko's rims are fire-polished and most bases have rough pontils. Italian copies of Blenko and comparable Italian products are more easily distinguished; lacking pontils they also have thinner glass, mold lines and less vibrant colors.