Blenko Glass hosts third annual Water Bottle Week
For many who grew up in the Tri-state, a trip to Blenko Glass Company was a rite of passage.
Not only has the company produced wonderful hand-made glass products and collector’s items at its factory in nearby Milton for almost a century, thousands of Tri-state residents have toured the facility when they were a kid. To be able to watch the workers actually blowing hot glass and creating art first-hand is something that sticks in the young imagination of many who grew up in this region.
Starting Monday, Jan. 21, Blenko Glass Company will host its annual Water Bottle Week. That is where their iconic colorful water bottle creations will be made and sold while visitors participate in the fun.
Unfortunately, the six classes that Blenko Glass Company made available for registered customers to learn how to blow their own glass pieces have been filled. Still, there is a lot for visitors to do next week with special sales happening and unique glass creations being made daily.
Blenko Glass Company was formed in the late 1800s and eventually moved to its Milton, WV, location in 1921. Stained glass and industrial glass of all kinds was the focus early on. But, eventually Blenko began to make the now-famous hand-made designs that adorn the homes of millions around the world with their wonderful shapes and colors. The pieces made at Blenko continue to be beautiful, innovative and collectable.
Company founder William J. Blenko, an Englishman, originally built a factory in Indiana to try and take an entrepreneurial stab at providing stained glass for the American market. Eventually, however, the so-called Development Department of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railroad convinced Blenko that Milton would be a good place to relocate his business. In Milton, there were plenty of workers and a never-ending supply of the needed natural gas required to blow glass.
Glass of various kinds has been made in West Virginia and various other towns in the region for over two centuries. But, when Blenko decided to make more decorative household items, it sparked a renaissance of craft glass making in the area. At one time, folks could do a glass tour here in the Tri-state and visit Blenko Glass, Pilgrim Glass, Rainbow Glass, Fenton Glass, Gibson Glass and many more companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Dean Six, Vice President and General Manager of Blenko Glass Company, has been fascinated with West Virginia’s glass making industry since he was a little kid growing up in Ritchie County, WV. He studied the glass making industry in college and then eventually went to work at a big factory in Greensboro, NC. But, Six was called out of retirement and asked to work at Blenko some years ago. Six is also the Founder and former Director of the thriving Museum of American Glass found in Weston, WV.
“In college, I started with the question, ‘How many glass factories were there in West Virginia?’” said Dean Six. “Another person who was in the same program at West Virginia University before me found that there were 125 glass factories in the history of West Virginia. That seemed like an awful lot. So, as that student graduated and moved on, they said to me, ‘Ok, you do what you can with this subject.’ At the end of almost a decade of chasing and researching and looking up archives, I found that there were 473 glass manufacturers that existed in West Virginia over the last 206 years. That became my Doctoral Dissertation and I really got into it because it was a neglected part of this state’s history.”
As for Blenko Glass Company’s Water Bottle Week coming Monday, Jan. 21, a lot of cool stuff is in store for visitors who make the trek.
“The water bottle design is the thing we have made the longest at Blenko Glass,” said Six. “We have made water bottles non-stop since 1938. That is an immense number of water bottles. Other items have come and gone on the product line. We have two glass shapes that came in from the late 1940s that we still produce, and those and the water bottles are the only things that have lasted this long. They are timeless, decade after decade, as everything else comes and then goes away.”
Glass lovers from all over the world will be showing up next week, as well as Tri-state locals who want to add to their unique collections, rekindle some memories of their youth and create new ones for younger folks.
“In the last year, I have talked to people from India, Japan, England and more countries,” said Six. “I also see people every day who are originally from here or their grandma was from here and they spent their summers in the area. They have a connection that brings them back time after time. We try to get people to come and tour Blenko Glass because we hear all of the time, ‘When I was in the 4th grade, I remember watching them blow the glass,’ and it left an impression on them. Now, they are bringing their children and grandchildren. Once we get our hands on you, we’ve got you for life.”
In honor of Water Bottle Week, Blenko Glass will be creating special designs of hand-made water bottles and some collector item one-off designs as well.
“Each year, we try to make one special piece in a large number, as in ‘This is the water bottle for this year,’” said Six. “This year we will feature a crystal water bottle with a dark cobalt blue loop that goes round and round through the piece in a controlled swirl. We will also turn the glass blowers loose and say, ‘Try and make weird ones. Experiment. Play with it. Put colors together that shouldn’t go together.’ Because, if you collect these items, you want to find ones that you have never seen before.”
To visit Blenko Glass Company during Water Bottle Week, tour the creative space to watch them blow glass or just shop at the show room, visit the factory at 9 Bill Blenko Drive in Milton, WV. More information can be found at blenko.com and 304-743-9081.