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Heart of Glass - Blenko Glass

Blenko Glass is a West Virginia treasure that spans generations. Nothing symbolizes the state of West Virginia better or more beautifully than Blenko Glass. We will discuss current and former craftsmen and designers and how important it is that Blenko and West Virginia glass be appreciated and valued by the younger generation.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Charisma


Charisma is more than just the last great Specialty Line Blenko made; it is an uncommonly beautiful and eloquent swan song for Blenko's historic period of 1947-74 courtesy of John Nickerson in his first full year as Blenko's design director. With a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor and a knowing nod towards some of the absurd names given to Blenko designs, I will call this the Charisma "cover girl" decanter (I hope I don't regret that!). This particular design is, after all, the one chosen to represent the Charisma line by being pictured, hovering and alone in the spotlight, on the 1972 catalog cover. It was in fact the first and only time that Blenko ever featured a single decanter on the cover, and a more perfect candidate does not exist.

As discussed on the Blenko Museum's website, "A Specialty Line is a themed group of designs that are technically 'special' or different from Blenko's normal production, and consist of multiple shapes that are aesthetically related. [the] Specialty Lines were an important departure for Blenko and indicate an impulse to innovate and experiment in spite of the risks. The Specialty Lines are a testament to a company in its prime."

To borrow from my explanation of Charisma published in the 2007 issue of Miller's Guide, the Charisma line consist of 10 designs executed in crystal with an internal garland pattern Ruby colorway. The technique was an appropriate and historically relevant one as it was essentially a revival of a technique used in the mid-Atlantic region of America circa 1860-1880. Mid-Atlantic glass is recognized as an important milestone as it was the first large scale iteration of the American glass industry, established in 1739.

Charisma was a significant, if short-lived, move towards more technically demanding and elaborate work at Blenko. It represented their first instance of the use of an internal colorway as well as the revival of the concept of the Specialty Line which was formally established in 1960 by Wayne Husted (Rialto , Regal and Raindrop). This revival is surprising in that the 1960 experiment was a financial disaster for Blenko and can perhaps be interpreted as a last resort; Charisma was effectively a line in the sand against the encroaching competition of Studio Glass. Sadly this line was ultimately crossed against Blenko's favor.

Returning to this particular shape, it is based on a traditional form known as a "ship's decanter" because the broad bottom with low center of gravity ensures stability at sea. In effect we have a very historically aware design here - quoting both important technique and form - but reinterpreted in a very modern way, a very uniquely Blenko way. I would personally place this shape as among the most important designs of the line, not the least of which for its self-evident beauty. Charisma is easily one of Nickerson's most insightful and important innovations at Blenko, one that deserves its place in history.

*Article and photo by Damon Crane, taken with permission from Vintage Modern Glasshouse

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hilary
You don't believe what this man wrote about swam song do you?
Why does he think he is so important?
Margie Hale

Phani said...

Wow, This is a great design

Hillary J Homburg said...

Margie
I didn't edit his post - he has a right to his opinion, just as we do.
We both know - Blenko has 'survived' and 'grown' even more popular over the years!

Anonymous said...

Blenko blenko blenko
Was your board successful?
Sol

Phani said...

I believe if you view this glass-jar in darkness with light coming from the bottom or a certain angle, it would just be spectacular!

Anonymous said...

Is he Crane or Crain?

Anonymous said...

Has anyone heard from the 3 Rs
Roxie Ram and Ravi?
Also Mountain Rita has been very quiet and Sweetdoc. These are negative comments me thinks about your glass.

lewisdvmphd said...

I must buy something from this gentleman, I have visted the site several times.
Maturity is what allows you to listen to this negative view of blenko. Wisdom allows you to
choose your own path.
Bully for you Ms. Hilary.

lewisdvmphd said...

I must buy something from this gentleman, I have visted the site several times.
Maturity is what allows you to listen to this negative view of blenko. Wisdom allows you to
choose your own path.
Bully for you Ms. Hilary.

bridgett said...

This photo of charisma is beautiful
I've purchased some God Awful
Charisma
whats the difference?
Why is mine ugly?

westvirginiajanis said...

Bridgett: Regarding some attractive and some "ugly" Charisma (or other glass):

From my point of view, the challenge comes from the unknown results one gets when mixing colors-- in the case of Charisma, clear and ruby. Sometimes you throw two or three colors in the liquid mix and beauty results. Sometimes the results are dull, muddy, clumpy. A great example of this is when milk glass is mixed with colors (like Akro, Fenton, Kanawha). You never know exactly what will result-- part of the fun and part of the frustration a glass maker experiences!

WV Janis