Works by the Blenko Glass Company from the mid-20th century are receiving increased attention as knowledge of its integral role in the history of American Glass expands. Now, with the acquisition of 16 modern Blenko vessels, the Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) has become the first museum to own a large group of Blenko’s Architectural Series in recognition of their historical importance.
The Blenko Glass Company holds an important position in innovative American glass design between the time of Louis Comfort Tiffany and the Studio Glass Movement, according to experts in the field. As understanding of the company’s early role continues to evolve, museums are considering the purchase of mid-20th century Blenko vessels for their collections.
“The Architectural Series is one of Blenko’s most significant designs,” said Jutta Page, curator of glass and decorative arts at TMA. “In many ways it foreshadows a changing design aesthetic from the restrained forms of modernism to more decorative, flamboyant designs that emerged in the 1950s. The minimalist lines and sprawling expanse of mid-century modern suburban homes and terraces became the backdrop for these visually and technically extravagant and entirely impractical vessels.”
The series was introduced in 1954 by designer Wayne Husted. Based on an earlier idea for “Terrace Vases” by Blenko’s first design director Winslow Anderson, its name reflects the size of the objects as well as the role they were intended to play in their environment.
“Not only was their heft and scale too large to be displayed on furniture, they were conceived as architectural elements that related to the built environment in which they were placed,” said Page. “The Architectural Series was a strictly American phenomenon that dovetailed with mid-century open-concept architecture and split-level floor plans.”
These large-scale vessels sometimes exceeded three feet tall and became particularly popular in the Southern United States and in California. Due to their fragility and often exaggerated vertical form, few survive.
The Museum’s 16 vessels, five of which are from the Architectural Series, include brightly colored platters, bowls, vases and other decorative objects in unusual and creative designs. They were created between the 1930s and the late 1970s, and most were only made for one or two years.
The Blenko Glass Company was founded in 1921 by William J. Blenko in Milton, West Virginia, and is now in its 120th year of operation. The company initially gained prominence for its ability to make large sheets of glass more quickly and for the development of a ruby color that did not change after reheating.