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Blenko again offering WV Day piece

By JAMES E. CASTO

The Herald-Dispatch

MILTON, W.Va. — In 1980, the Blenko Glass Co. began what has become a long-standing tradition when it produced a limited-edition bowl commemorating the state’s 117th birthday.

Blenko’s 2017 West Virginia Day limited edition glass piece, “Sun Over the Mountains,” will go on sale Saturday, June 17 at the company’s Visitor Center and Gift Shop in Milton.
(Submitted photo)

Only 117 of the birthday bowls were made. Each year since, the company has continued the tradition, offering a unique glass collectible to mark West Virginia Day, celebrated each year on June 20.

“We hand-craft a numbered edition that reflects the age of our state in the number of pieces made,” said Dean Six, Blenko’s vice president and general manager. “For the 154th birthday of the Mountain State, our beautiful stoppered bottle pays homage to the majestic West Virginia mountains.”

West Virginia native Aaron Harvey was selected to design this year’s birthday piece. His stoppered bottle measures approximately 14 inches tall.

“The lush green of the mountains Aaron grew up in fades to the blue skies and is topped by a bright yellow sun orb stopper. His ‘Sun over the Mountains’ is a vibrant and appealing art glass work,” Six said.

Each of the 154 bottles will be numbered and signed by Blenko President Walter Blenko Jr. and designer Harvey.

The birthday bottles will go on sale for $154 each at the Blenko Visitor Center and Gift Shop beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday, June 17. The sale will be one to a customer on a first come, first served basis, with no advance sales and no phone orders.

Harvey also has designed a companion piece for this year’s birthday tribute that will go on sale from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday night, June 16, at the Visitors Center and online. It will be sold for $79 each through June 20 both online and at the factory.

The companion piece, “Moon Over the Forest,” is a dark night-cobalt blue bottle with a single evergreen reaching into the night sky. The bottle’s stopper is a white moon-like orb.

A native of Cool Ridge, West Virginia, and a graduate of Concord University, Harvey started his glass career at Tamarack, where he worked as a studio hand for resident glass blower John Desmules.

“Since I first saw blown glass, I have been fascinated by the process and the skill required to pull it off,” he said. “Every day I am excited by the possibilities this medium is capable of. There is always something new to learn about glass – be it history, shape, process or forms that can be created.”

Blenko’s tradition of producing a limited edition glass piece each West Virginia Day began as a joint venture with The Diamond, the former Charleston department store. The pieces later were sold at the Stone & Thomas store in Charleston. In 2005, the birthday pieces were sold at the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences in Charleston, where collectors began to line up shortly after midnight the night before. When the pieces went on sale, they were sold out within an hour.

According to the Blenko Project blog, only five complete sets of Blenko’s West Virginia birthday pieces are known to exist. The blog says early pieces in the series have sold for as much as $2,000.

Blenko is one of the few survivors from West Virginia’s once-thriving glass industry. A family owned and operated company since 1893, it moved to Milton in 1921, attracted by the region’s cheap natural gas and the presence of the Chesapeake & Ohio Railway.

Originally Blenko made only sheet glass, but with the coming of the Great Depression and the resultant decline in demand for new or replacement windows, the company began making the colorful hand-blown vases, pitchers and other glassware for which it has become internationally known.

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