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.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Q and A with WV Scientific Glass Blower, Mike Hale


Recently I had the privilege of interviewing a local Scientific Glassblower, Mike Hale of MATRIC.  
 Scientific glassblowers provide highly specialized glass apparatus for use in laboratory work. A West Virginia native, Mr. Hale is the only glassblower working in Research and Development in the state.

Interview Below.
Watch the blog later in the week for opportunity to buy some of Mr. Hale's holiday pieces!


I read in your Matric bio that you learned Scientific Glassblowing from your father -
Where did your dad work?  How did your dad learn this craft?  How long was he a glassblower?
My Dad got his first job with DuPont in the early 50's. He got a lay-off notice in 1958 I believe. He never returned to DuPont but shortly there after started working for Union Carbide. He worked in several different fields started out in construction where he continued to bid out into other fields such as millwright, rigger, pipe fitter to name a few. He started working in the lab at Institute in the late 60's where he became good friends with the glassblower. He would spend most of his spare time watching and learning from him. The gentleman got ill and had to retire, but before he did he was able to train my father to take his place. He worked at the Institute plant until 1978. He then transferred to the Tech  Park in South Charleston to take over the glassblowing duties for the labs.
He worked at the park until he retired in 1992 He had over 20 years in as a glassblower when he retired. He trained me to take his place.
I am working with the same equipment my father used that has been in the glass shop since the early 60's.
I have been here almost 25 years now. I was fortunate enough to be able to buy all of my glassblowing equipment from Dow Chemical after my lay-off. This allowed me to be able to stay in the area and work for MATRIC for witch I am most grateful! 

 Do you know of any other scientific glass blowers in WV?  

I believe I am the only scientific glassblower still working in the R&D industry in the state of West Virginia. West Virginia University does have a glassblower that works in the chemistry department but  I'm not sure what his capabilities are.

What is your educational background?  Is this type glass work part of any college curriculum? What is the timeline for training/apprenticeship? 
Do you know of y any schools or apprenticeship programs for people interested in scientific glass blowing? 
How many years before you mastered the skill?

I have no formal training in glassblowing. I was taught by my father and worked with him for 4 years before I was doing it on my own. I would say I have never fully masters glassblowing. I continue to learn and gain knowledge every year. In the scientific glassblowing industry it takes 10 years to be considered a master craftsman. Salem Community College in New Jersey offers a 2 year associate in applied science degree. After graduation students still face 4-6 years of apprenticeship period to become a journeyman glassblower.

 What types of items do you make for work? 
I make a wide range of scientific glassware for use in the labs at MATRIC. Glass columns, condensers, distillation equipment, air-free glassware to name a few. I also do a lot of repairs and modifications to existing glassware. I make and design glassware that is needed quickly and that cannot be purchased out of a catalog or on line. 

How did you discover you also have a talent for decorative glass blowing? 
I have always liked working with glass. So when I come to work its actually fun, especially if I'm asked to make something challenging. I love Christmas and thought it would be cool to learn how to make glass Christmas ornaments. I basically  learned by having an idea of what I wanted to make and keep shaping the glass until it looked like what I thought it should look like. So in other words just a whole lot of figuring out how to make an ornament and then keep making it until you get it right. It is really hard to explain how its made. One has to see it for themselves to understand the process.

Do you have any favorite pieces you have created? 

I like making hummingbirds and icicle ornaments. They are fun to make and people seem to like them. I also like making bells. They are fully functional and I tell people do not be afraid to ring them, they are quite tough despite looking very delicate.


Anonymous said...

Loved this article.
Seems like the 'old blog' where you talked about glass blowers and glass from all of w.va. not just Blenko.
For this talented young man to say he 'has not ' mastered glass blowing
shows an enormous amount of composure.
My husband who was a Doctor by day and a small flame glass worker by night
often said the same thing.
Thank you for this post and I'll be waiting to purchase items for my 2017 tree.
This years tree is decorated
Thank You.
ashmugen@gmail.com Anita I hate giving my address but it doesn't seem to want me to post without. If you have the ability please delete address.

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed this one.
I too will wait to see for sale items.
Thank you.

Dr.BOB said...


maggie said...

Very good article.

maggie said...

Great post

Anonymous said...

Great post

maggie said...


penny said...


penny said...

More interviews

Anonymous said...

Is the father living? Does he continue to work glass?

maggie said...