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, August 06, 2010

Blenko Stained Glass Window

Rainbow Studios in Downtown Memphis is fabricating a large outdoor stained-glass installation that Memphians will be able to view just by driving down Walnut Grove or Humphreys Boulevard.

Employees of the studio at 400 S. Front recently unloaded in its basement 10,000 pounds of 1-inch thick, 8-by-12-inch slabs of glass in 75 colors to begin work on the installation, which will sit in front of Baptist Memorial Hospital-Memphis' new 250-plus-seat educational auditorium.

A rendering shows the free-standing stained-glass panels and bell tower at the new Baptist auditorium. Courtesy of Earl Swensson Associates
The stained glass, set to be installed at the hospital at 6019 Walnut Grove in September or October, includes three free-standing panels, each 8 feet wide and 19 feet tall, and three panels installed in the auditorium's bell tower, each 8 feet wide and 45 feet tall.

The auditorium, which faces Walnut Grove, sits between two physicians office buildings, east of the patient tower.

The free-standing panels will be a few feet in front of the curved auditorium (the concrete blocks and steel framework are in place now waiting for the stained glass). The bell tower is free standing from the auditorium and will have stained glass in the east, north and west sides. The south backs up to the auditorium.

"It (the installation) will sit facing Walnut Grove, so because of its layout and its physical size, it will be highly visible. It's one of the first things visitors will be able to see," said Ric Ransom, assistant administrator for Baptist.

"I've done my research on the Internet, and the largest sculpture of this kind I've found is 6 feet," said studio owner Dan Oppenheimer. "Blenko (Glass Co.) says it's the largest as


Established in 1893, Blenko of Milton, W.Va., Rainbow's primary glass supplier on the project, is one of the oldest stained-glass suppliers in the U.S.

"It has the potential to be a real knockout," Oppenheimer said.

The hospital sent out proposal requests to three Mid-South stained-glass firms in December and opted for Rainbow because of its design approach and its long history with the hospital. Rainbow created many stained-glass features for the old Baptist Hospital on Union.

"You have to think of where it is, on Walnut Grove and Humphreys, and think in terms of if another Hurricane Elvis came through. It would flop it to pieces," Oppenheimer said. "Rather than approach it as a design component, I looked at it as an engineering problem."

With the assistance of independent designer Jerry House of Memphis, Oppenheimer proposed using the Dalle De Verre method, also known as faceted glass, first used in European churches and primarily used in architectural applications. This sets dalles, or thick glass tiles, formerly in stone or concrete and now in epoxy.

Oppenheimer and his crew begin pouring next week, and will take a couple of months to complete the process.

"It's all done by hand, which is time-consuming, because it's the old craft style," House said.

The team of six or seven will assemble 126 sections, each 3-by-4 feet and weighing 125 pounds.

The process includes cutting the glass slabs with a diamond saw to shape, laying them out on sand-covered paper according to House's pattern, and pouring the molasses-like charcoal-colored epoxy between the glass.

Workers will then chip off extruding glass to give it a "jewel-like" appearance.

"It makes this semi-circular bridge, kind of like the bottom of a Coke bottle that's been chipped, so that to people driving by, it seems extremely lively. It creates this sparkle over the whole thing," House said. "And the negative space between the glass is very much a design element as well."

House at first came up with a traditional-style design for the panels, but evolved into a more contemporary, abstract look.

"I'm going for a spirit of movement to represent life and energy," House said.

Some of the panels will feature Bible verses to represent the Baptist mission, which is "Healing, preaching and teaching."

The three verses chosen by Baptist staff members include Exodus 15:26, "For I am the Lord who heals you"; Mark 16:15, "Preach the good news to all creation"; and Psalm 143:10, "Teach me to do your will, for you are my God."

"The idea of the stained glass is something people typically associate with churches. It's a very Baptist-y thing to do, and Dan's knowledge of that preference is an important value brought to the project," said Nick Lewis, assistant director of facility services for Baptist. "Not a lot of folks can do this work. He's a specialist at what he's doing, and he's been able to come up with something incredibly durable and highly resistant in addition to being very beautiful."

Once the panels are complete, Oppenheimer says it will take about a week to install, with A&H Glass overseeing the installation.

There will be a separate dedication of the stained-glass installation following the Sept. 15 dedication of the auditorium. Earl Swensson Associates of Nashville, the architectural firm and interior designer for the auditorium, came up with the concept for a stained glass installation.

Not only is he excited about taking on such a large challenge, but Oppenheimer also hopes the project will have an infectious effect on the city.

"It's really exciting, and hopefully it will start a movement toward more public art projects," he said.

Stained glass installation at Baptist hospital will dazzle passers-by this fall.



Phani said...

Readers, Please use the word 'Blenko' in your comments. I had unlimited success when I use the word. I have seen a reduction of atleast 80% in comments for the last 1 week or more. On the other note, I hope the flood situation in Pakistan has subsided and people getting to safety. There have been horrible floods going on for the last 2 weeks and many areas got effected. Hope you are doing OK down there Bridgett.

Anonymous said...

Why are not comments about the Festival of Glass appearing?
I have written 10 times.
Did anyone get to the glass auction?
Was it good?