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17671 Candlewood Court
Penn Valley, CA, 95946
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Back in the 1950s, when he was fresh out of college, Wayne Husted was hired as Director of Design at the venerable Blenko Glass Company in Milton, West Virginia. During his ten years at Blenko, he created over 60 new designs every year, resulting in over 600 unique designs, many of which are included in museum collections and sought after by private collectors nationwide. Think of mid-century modern glass design, and you picture Wayne’s distinctly sculptural, often nonfunctional “architectural scale” designs.

 

Now, at the age of 88, Wayne is still designing in glass, working with glass studios nationwide, developing new techniques that push the properties and capabilities of hand-blown glass in the creation of big and colorful art glass. He is currently working with Effetto Glassworks, Slow Burn Glass, and Public Glass in the San Francisco Bay Area on the new Jazz in Glass Collectors Series of designs that recall his work of the 1950s, as well as other new art forms in glass.

 

This website will have a blog “Can We Talk?”, written by Wayne Husted, and a store in which Wayne’s current designs, including the Jazz in Glass Collectors Series line of art glass, will be sold.

Can We Talk?

Wayne Husted writes about his experiences and career beginning as design director of Blenko Glass Company from the 1950s to 1960s, and subsequently as a product designer for many U.S. and international manufacturers. He also discusses his current work, including the Jazz In Glass Collectors Series, and invites readers to ask questions about his designs and their art glass collections.

 

A FACE FROM THE PAST

Wayne Husted

 Close up detail of my 1962 sun face decanter.

Close up detail of my 1962 sun face decanter.

The year is 1961, I am 34 years old, and I’ve been creating designs at the Blenko Glass Company for nine years. It’s Sunday morning, and I’m sitting in the small house that I built in Milton, West Virginia in the year that I moved there from New York to take the job as design director. The television is on, I’m watching “On the Road with Charles Kuralt,” and when the show breaks for a commercial, the iconic sun face comes up on the screen. And an inspiration enters my mind.

 Sun face logo of CBS Sunday Morning show that inspired my sun face decanter design.

Sun face logo of CBS Sunday Morning show that inspired my sun face decanter design.

On Monday morning, back at work, I cut my own version of the sun face into one half of a styrofoam block, and a sunburst on the other half. I invented the process for making glass mold patterns in styrofoam. It allowed me to carve different looking textures than those carved into wood. I had the styrofoam patterns cast in an aluminum alloy. I chose the color tangerine. This color is produced by selenium, which only turns red when it is heated and cooled twice, a process called “flashing” by glassworkers. Years later, Blenko renamed the color “tequila sunrise.”

 The sun face decanter first appeared in Blenko's 1962 catalog. Note the textures on all of pieces pictured, which were all carved in styrofoam.

The sun face decanter first appeared in Blenko's 1962 catalog. Note the textures on all of pieces pictured, which were all carved in styrofoam.

I introduced the color after consulting with the editors of House and Garden magazine, during a trip to New York. House and Garden had a huge wall chart showing trends in home products, and orange and charcoal were emerging to replace avocado green and harvest gold that had permeated the market for products from stoves and refrigerators, to drapes and pillows.

I contemplated making the sun face design as a round vase but decided that would interrupt the circle too much, and went with a flat-faced decanter. Why a pointed stopper? Maybe because the sun was worshipped by ancient cultures, and I saw the stopper as a kind of spire. Or maybe because the sun face idea came to me on a Sunday morning, with the sun rising over the American landscape behind thousands of rural churches like the ones in which my father preached.

 My sun face decanter, vintage 1962.

My sun face decanter, vintage 1962.

This design, number 6218, (18th design of my 1962 line) became, and still is a favorite of knowledgeable collectors. Making the sun face decanter requires great skill—the base must be free-gathered and dropped onto a smooth iron plate, then the stick-up boy (that’s the term they used) guides the blown sun face onto the molten foot, making sure it doesn’t sag. And if that isn’t enough of a challenge, the foot is attached at the thinnest part of the sun face which creates more stress than just about any other place for attaching a foot or handle to hot glass. We ended up with a lot of seconds—with the sun face tilting forward or backward. I asked the Blenko VP about four years ago, “Why aren’t you making the sun faces which were so popular, when you’re making so many of my other vintage designs?” He answered that they were too difficult to make well.

My textured molds are still evident in the Blenko line 50 years after I invented lost styrofoam patterns. Regrettably, the texture was picked up by many plastics manufacturers to make molds that were much cheaper than polished ones, and became ubiquitous in popular houseware designs.

ONCE IN A BLUE MOON AND THE PAWPAW MYSTERY.

About ten years ago, I was surprised to see that a Blenko employee had taken my suggestion and used my sun face mold to blow a blue moon. How great was that? But it disappeared quickly, as I suspect that it was made on the QT.

 On the left, the blue moon face decanter, made from my sun face decanter mold. On the right, the "pawpaw" sun face decanter, made in 2018. (Photo from the Ebay website.)

On the left, the blue moon face decanter, made from my sun face decanter mold. On the right, the "pawpaw" sun face decanter, made in 2018. (Photo from the Ebay website.)

A new pawpaw version (shown above right) really tweaked my curiosity. I first noticed it when it appeared on EBay with a curious caption:  “…only seven would be made and numbered and each would be sold to the highest bidder.” When I clicked on it to make a bid, it had already sold. I was able to contact the buyer, who promised to let me know who’d listed it but I never heard back from him. The graffiti-like etchings on the bottom are really intriguing, including the date of 2018, the inscription “First Edition,” and Walter Blenko’s signature. I’d like to have one, and of course learn the story of its origin.

Incidentally, the sun face design, like all my Blenko creations, were work for hire, so Blenko still holds all the rights. Those that are over 30 years old, I am advised, are free for anyone to copy.

THE TURQUOISE HEAD BOTTLE

Two months ago, out of the blue, I received an email from British author and authority on antique glass, Andy McConnell. Andy has been working on a book about glass decanters through the ages, from the earliest civilizations up to present day.

When he got to Mid Century Modern designs, of course Blenko appeared on his radar, and in researching information about this American company and its designs, my name popped up, Andy sought out Jim Heffner (of Blenko Collectors Group on Facebook) who gave him my contact info. In his first note he expressed surprise: “Lo and behold, you are still alive!” Thus, began a flood of emails which continues to this day. McConnell is an expert on the British Antique Road Show (which actually began in England). He sent me thumbnail photos of over 40 of my decanters asking me to identify and comment on each and every one of them.

It reminded me of that old tv show that began with “There are eight million people in the Naked City and behind every one of them is a story.” I have enjoyed recalling the stories that inspired many of the decanters, including identification of the mistakes—mismatched stoppers, and otherwise poorly made pieces. As is true of all good authors, getting it all perfect takes time, and in this case, we ran out of it. Andy had reached the publication deadline for his book. So what was to be a whole chapter on my decanters did not make it to the printers in time. Nevertheless, the chapter about my decanters will be published as a separate magazine article and used to bring attention to the book. If you send me your name and email address, I will try to see that you get a copy of the article and info on the book.

 The purple Head Decanter that was recently sold at auction in London.

The purple Head Decanter that was recently sold at auction in London.

Andy was especially intrigued by one of the designs, shown above, that he found in purple at an auction for Ł70. I WAS able to solve the mystery of the Head Decanter. A turquoise version of it (below) appeared in Leslie Peña’s book BLENKO COOL 50s AND 60s GLASS. It was mistakenly credited to Blenko designer Don Shepherd. But the truth is, I created the design for it in 1962. The mold was seriously flawed, and we couldn’t blow good samples. The mold cavity was too shallow and the nose and back of the head too thin. We never attempted to make a stopper. Only a few were made, and we never put it into the line or catalog.

Who knows how it made it to a London antique auction. It’s amazing that it survived the trip.

turq head+caption.jpg

With the help of a new friend and super talented artist and craftsman, Don Augstein, I am creating a new mold, and will have new Mystery Man Head Decanters made. Let me know if you’re interested in placing an order. It will be offered on this website, and also on chairish.com.

AND FINALLY, THE MAN-IN-A-HAT

One day back in 2015, I was working with Guido at Effetto Glassworks. He was blowing the Jazz in Glass “Green Dolphin Street” decanter. We decided at the end of the session to try something different. Make it shorter, don’t pull it out at the top, add facial features to it. Maybe even a moustache. What about a hat for a stopper? And there he was, the man-in-a-hat. Get him here, in the Gallery Store.

hgl stache single.jpg

 

 

 

FAIR TRADE

Wayne Husted

 Left: 1960 cover for Chicago Tribune Magazine, featuring the city’s exhibition hall McCormick Place. Right: Inside the hall at the Chicago International Housewares show at McCormick Place.

Left: 1960 cover for Chicago Tribune Magazine, featuring the city’s exhibition hall McCormick Place. Right: Inside the hall at the Chicago International Housewares show at McCormick Place.

Over my 65 years of designing everything from glass to plastic to automotive accessories to food packaging, I must have attended more than 200 trade shows and consumer fairs that have ranged from ten-foot booths to a huge 60-foot booth with a second floor and a snack bar.

During my ten years at Blenko, there was at least one major show every year. In 1952 when I joined the company, trade shows were held in hotels. At the Pittsburg China and Glass Market, every room in the William Penn Hotel was occupied by exhibitors. Buyers from Macy’s and Gimbel’s, small gift shop owners whom we affectionately referred to as “Minnie Twitches,” and writers from House Beautiful and House & Garden roamed the busy floors. That first year, Cary Grant was a celebrity guest at the show.

 Blenko’s exhibit at the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburg, showcasing their new lines designed by me, circa 1954.

Blenko’s exhibit at the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburg, showcasing their new lines designed by me, circa 1954.

Blenko stood out, attracting special attention by offering 30 or 40 new “out there” designs by me each year, while larger companies like Lenox China might only feature one or two new dinnerware designs.

I had both triumphs and failures over the years. The big pitcher with a loopy Rococo handle (shown below) was a hit in 1954, the year that I introduced charcoal as the new color for Blenko. Other designs, like the Sun Face and Jigger Bottle also created excitement at the shows, and were very successful mainstays in the catalog year after year.

 Left: Charcoal pitcher with Rococo handle that was introduced in 1954. Right: Sun Face decanter.

Left: Charcoal pitcher with Rococo handle that was introduced in 1954. Right: Sun Face decanter.

After several years of hits, I finally had my comeuppance.  My three "Rs" Raindrop, Regal and Rialto lines were introduced in 1960. Raindrop and Rialto bombed. (Buyers and editors shrugged and walked away with comments like “It doesn’t look like Blenko.”) My mistake was not recognizing that color was a hallmark of my wild forms, and without color it just wasn’t Blenko enough. That Monday after the show, I was summoned to the office of “King” William and “Queen” Marion Blenko (as the workers and townspeople of Milton called them behind their backs), and told “Wayne, maybe it’s time for you to move on.” My heart sunk. I never learned why they didn’t follow through, but I went on to spend another three years creating 50 to 60 new designs every year.

 We introduced my "Three Rs", Rialto, Raindrop and Regal lines in 1960. Only the Regal line (lower right) was a hit. Sadly, the Raindrop and Rialto lines were not. Only a limited number of items were made of the latter two. Buyers didn't find them to be "Blenko enough."

We introduced my "Three Rs", Rialto, Raindrop and Regal lines in 1960. Only the Regal line (lower right) was a hit. Sadly, the Raindrop and Rialto lines were not. Only a limited number of items were made of the latter two. Buyers didn't find them to be "Blenko enough."

It’s sad to realize how many of the great glass factories that spread along the Ohio River—Fenton, Indiana, Viking, Pilgrim, Imperial, Bischoff—gone now, or Kokomo Glass up the river, like Blenko, reduced to a very small presence compared to what they were. It just became too hard to compete with imports from Eastern Europe, Mexico, and China, and later, studio glass shops making more decorative art glass.

 The Imperial Glassware factory closed its doors in 1984.

The Imperial Glassware factory closed its doors in 1984.

Trade shows grew in scale in the 40 years after I left Blenko in 1963. In the 60s and 70s, the age of conglomerates, I worked for Lancaster Colony Corporation, who sold everything from salad dressing, to car mats, to dish drainers. In 1965, I introduced the Optica line, repurposing optical lenses from Lancaster Glass into sculpture and dinnerware. This was also the era of great growth in plastic. (Remember the line “plastics, my boy” from the movie “The Graduate”?) I designed the first plastic dish drainers that had tongue-like clips that could hold cups, a fold-over plastic facial tissue box holder, and a line of bath mats and waste baskets that were featured in the Miss USA beauty pageant. All of these products succeeded due to the willingness of the companies to invest heavily on expensive molds.

 Lancaster Colony Annual Report of 1972, showing my Lens Art sculpture on the cover.

Lancaster Colony Annual Report of 1972, showing my Lens Art sculpture on the cover.

In 1967, the venue for the International Housewares Show in Chicago, McCormick Place, burned to the ground with its hundreds of booths and all that merchandise. While it was being rebuilt, the Housewares Show took place in a makeshift building next to the Chicago Stockyards. In August, when temperatures can typically rise to the nineties, the smell from the stockyards was sickening, which made this one of the more memorable trade shows for all the wrong reasons.

 McCormack Place where the Chicago International Housewares Show is held, burned down in 1967.

McCormack Place where the Chicago International Housewares Show is held, burned down in 1967.

After Lancaster Colony, I was retained by Anchor Hocking Corporation as a consultant. For 15 years, their VP of Marketing and I would cover the Milan Trade Fair, and the international trade show or “Messe” in Frankfurt, Germany. These shows were so large, it took days to “walk the show” as the saying goes. I was required to observe new trends and report on them.

 Exhibition hall at the Fiero Milano (Milan Fair).

Exhibition hall at the Fiero Milano (Milan Fair).

The Italian and German fairs were as different as their cultures. The reputation that the Italians have in the design world is one of “coraggio” or courage so evident in their new products. They were bold enough to build a mold as big as a car for the earliest fully injection-molded plastic chair. In the 80s, I was impressed and influenced in my designs by Ettore Sottsass’ radical Memphis designs for Alessi (pictured below).

 Left: The Ibebi stackable polypropylene chair is an early fully-injection molded Italian design. Right: Memphis-style room divider designed by Ettore Sottsas.

Left: The Ibebi stackable polypropylene chair is an early fully-injection molded Italian design. Right: Memphis-style room divider designed by Ettore Sottsas.

The German designs are more formal, but wonderful in their detail, as you can see in Rosenthal’s Pompadour dinnerware set, and the mid century Schott Zweisel glasses shown below.

 Left: Mid century glassware by Schott Zweisel. Right: Pompadour Rigoletto dinnerware by Rosenthal.

Left: Mid century glassware by Schott Zweisel. Right: Pompadour Rigoletto dinnerware by Rosenthal.

Walking the streets of Frankfurt, I was amazed to see German gentlemen with three-inch-long fencing scars across their cheeks like in WWII movies (they were elite graduates of Heidelburg University). One year my Dutch client, Zilverstad Schoonhoven, booked me into a German guesthouse in a room decorated with a huge, musty, stuffed eagle and portraits of Nazi officers.

 A line of silver and ceramic candlesticks and bowls that I designed for Zilverstad Schoonhoven

A line of silver and ceramic candlesticks and bowls that I designed for Zilverstad Schoonhoven

I met brothers Arne and Arie Pluut, who ran the silver gift company Zilverstad Schoonhoven, at the Frankfurt fair. I traveled to Schoonhoven, Holland many times to create new designs and we became life-long friends. In fact, the Pluuts convinced my wife, Linda, and I to have our wedding in Schoonhoven, and we were crazy enough to take them up on it. Amazingly, many friends and family came over from the US to share in the adventure.

 Our wedding reception at the Hooiberg (Haystack) Restaurant in Schoonhoven

Our wedding reception at the Hooiberg (Haystack) Restaurant in Schoonhoven

Last year, I was a featured speaker at the Modernism Show in Palm Springs, a hustling, bustling annual event that impressed upon me how popular mid century design is still.

vintage Cincinnati.jpg

This year, I had plans to attend the 20th Century Cincinnati Show and Sale that is featuring Blenko as its special guest. Show policies, and an unexpected boycott threatened by someone in Blenko management, forced me to abandon my plans for this year’s show. It created a quick storm of protests from collectors (Thanks for your support!), but the storm blew over, and for the better—I can now concentrate on next year’s show, where I’ve been assured “special guest” status. In addition to a better venue, I’ll finally be able to meet in person some of the collectors of my work.

I’ll also have time to further develop my current projects, including the Jazz in Glass Collection, the “Sonoma” big platter series, a new tech-age Tiffany lamp and clock combination, a giant public sculpture of a bunch of glass grapes on a copper leaf, and who knows what else.

 

 A portrait of me with my “Sonoma Sun” platter. On the right, a sketch for my new “tech-age Tiffany lamp/clock”

A portrait of me with my “Sonoma Sun” platter. On the right, a sketch for my new “tech-age Tiffany lamp/clock”

I was recently featured in the Designer issue of Atomic Ranch Magazine. You can see the article at this link: http://pocketmags.com/us/onlinereader/html5_reader/false/159445

As always, I’d really like to hear from you with feedback and questions.

POPULIST vs. ELITIST GLASS

Wayne Husted

 On the left: The Napolean Decanter, designed by me for Blenko in 1957. On the right: Victorian Hand Blown Cranberry Decanter. Photo: ParadeAntiques.co.uk

On the left: The Napolean Decanter, designed by me for Blenko in 1957. On the right: Victorian Hand Blown Cranberry Decanter. Photo: ParadeAntiques.co.uk

I have a new understanding of the term populist.

I was one of four presenters at this year’s Portland’s Rain of Glass Annual Convention in late May. VP of Marketing at Blenko, Dean Six, had a very interesting presentation titled "Flasks, Fruit Jars, and Soda Bottles." Another speaker, Sam Kissee, gave a talk on early cut glass and Victorian art glass.

Both Dean’s and Sam’s presentations surprised me with an AHA! moment when I realized the distinctions between populist and elitist glassware.

Simple and common as the antique flasks and jars were, they were well-designed and useful in the home—as decanters, for food storage and packaging, etc. Raised letters or other graphics on the surface were designed to be decorative, but also functioned as a grip aid on a liquor decanter, or, advertising for the company that made the product within.

  On the left: A common flask in olive amber, mold blown at Stebbins and Stebbins in Connecticut, circa 1824. Collection of the Corning Museum of Glass. On the right: An elitist cut and gilded vase, blown from four layers of glass, made by the New England Glass Company, probably for display at the 1853 New York world’s fair. Collection of the Corning Museum of Glass.

On the left: A common flask in olive amber, mold blown at Stebbins and Stebbins in Connecticut, circa 1824. Collection of the Corning Museum of Glass. On the right: An elitist cut and gilded vase, blown from four layers of glass, made by the New England Glass Company, probably for display at the 1853 New York world’s fair. Collection of the Corning Museum of Glass.

Sam showed examples of elegant and intricate glassware from the Victorian era—formal designs created (and priced) for the elite classes. This shed a light on the important differences between ornamental glassware that reflected the upper class status of its owners, and the simple glassware typically found in homes of commoners of that era.

  On the left: An elitist Tiffany ”Dragonfly” lamp, after 1902, Favrile glass with bronze vase. Base-stamped “262/Tiffany Studios New York. On the right: A populist Mid-century Blenko table lamp, designed by me in the 1950s.

On the left: An elitist Tiffany ”Dragonfly” lamp, after 1902, Favrile glass with bronze vase. Base-stamped “262/Tiffany Studios New York. On the right: A populist Mid-century Blenko table lamp, designed by me in the 1950s.

Glass for Masses

I remembered that in the 2002 PBS film “Blenko: The Story of Three Designers,” a curator from MOMA in New York described my designs as “populist,” and at the time I understood him to mean popular.

 On the left: My punch bowl in copper bue, designed in 1957. On the right: Cut glass punch bowl, made by Indiana Glass in the 1890s.

On the left: My punch bowl in copper bue, designed in 1957. On the right: Cut glass punch bowl, made by Indiana Glass in the 1890s.

In my job interview at Blenko in 1952, I was seated across the desk from William Blenko, Sr., and he asked “what do you know about glass?” Without thinking, I blurted out “nothing.” Oops. That would have ended most job interviews, but Mr. Blenko responded “Great! You will try things that you wouldn’t if you knew anything about glass.”

My mid-century designs at Blenko Glass, influenced by the Bauhaus School of Design, WERE essentially populist—utilitarian and decorative, designed for middle class homes of the era.

 Two of my 1960s populist decanters in a popular S&H Green Stamp promotion.

Two of my 1960s populist decanters in a popular S&H Green Stamp promotion.

Early in my career at Blenko, I was given carte blanche to do whatever I wanted, and I tried to do it all. Following Bauhaus principles, I tested what could be done with the material—glass. It can be pulled, pushed, twisted, stamped, pressed, spun. It can be made small or big, and molded into any shape.

One typical experiment resulted in the 5413, a free-form bowl, which some now refer to as the “Giant Spoon Rest” was both useful and sculptural. I took a blown shape and wound it with glass, crushed it, flattened it, and closed it with a bit at the top. We lost a lot of these, even after they made it to market, so they are more rare than many other of my experimental designs.

 One of my early designs at Blenko, now known as "The Giant Spoon Rest."

One of my early designs at Blenko, now known as "The Giant Spoon Rest."

Following another Bauhaus tenet that form follows function, I was inspired by the milk carton on my breakfast table. I went to the factory, and designed the lidded bottles shown in the 1954 catalog, the 547, 548, and 549—new and elegant forms for ordinary daily function.

 Form follows function with these milk and cream pitchers. Photo courtesy of Bob Porath.

Form follows function with these milk and cream pitchers. Photo courtesy of Bob Porath.

Again and again, following the “try everything” principle, we experimented with processes. With the 5419 decanter, we used sheers to cut a notch in the stopper. In 1957, I created the “Napolean” Decanter (seen photo at top and below), cutting the stopper twice. (If one is good, two is better.) Also in ’57, I created the “Big-Ass” floor pieces. This was my transition from the functional to just-to-look-at, non-functional pieces.

 The one-notched 5419 decanter, and detail of the two-notched "Napolean" decanter. Photo on the left by Gordon Harrell.

The one-notched 5419 decanter, and detail of the two-notched "Napolean" decanter. Photo on the left by Gordon Harrell.

 Collection of "Big-Ass" Decanters as shown in Blenko's 1959 catalog.

Collection of "Big-Ass" Decanters as shown in Blenko's 1959 catalog.

Ironically, some of my vintage Blenko designs have become “elitist” given the high prices that they’re selling for in the collectors market.

Fast-forward to today. One would be hard-pressed to actually use the decanters in my Jazz in Glass Series. Pouring wine out of the tiny spout of the “Night in Tunisia” decanter is a challenge. I’ve revisited the “big-ass” concept with the “Ruby My Dear” and “Take Five” decanters. Jazz in Glass is decorative in the populist sense, but in a totally different way than the Victorian style.

 The "Night in Tunisia" genie decanter from my current Jazz in Glass Series (on the left) reprises the non-functioning, pulled-out spouts of the 1959 decanters. Photo on the right by Gordon Harrell.

The "Night in Tunisia" genie decanter from my current Jazz in Glass Series (on the left) reprises the non-functioning, pulled-out spouts of the 1959 decanters. Photo on the right by Gordon Harrell.

You can collect the Jazz in Glass series by visiting the Gallery Store on this website. We’re offering the line as a limited edition, hand signed and numbered, and delivered with a Certificate of Authenticity.