Recently, Blenko glass collector Steve Stoops of Stevens Fine Art (Phoenix, AZ) sent me an inquiry about a vase that he’d acquired. It was the Id vase that I’d designed at Blenko in 1954, and he asked me what had inspired the design.
The Id vase is three-sided, about 23 inches tall, in charcoal gray, with a freely blown out relief of abstract figures. It’s a rare find, as not many were made.
“Glad you asked, but it’s a long explanation,” I replied. In the summer of 1954, I went to Black Mountain College in Ashville, NC, to visit with my friends David Weinrib and Karen Karnes, who were teaching ceramics. (More about them in a later blogpost.) Black Mountain College brought in famous avant-garde people like Albert Schweitzer, Robert Rauschenberg, Josef and Annie Albers, John Cage, and Merce Cunningham to conduct workshops and give lectures. At the time of my visit, Marie-Louise von Franz, a Swiss Jungian psychologist, was there as a guest lecturer. She was very approachable, and I introduced myself to her and had many conversations with her during that week.
The Id vase was inspired by those conversations. ML von Franz preached that there are two levels of reality—the psychological inner world of dreams and myths, and the outside world of daily experiences. And she explained the Freudian concept of the Id. Here is a simplified explanation from Wikipedia:
The id (Latin for "it"), is the unorganized part of the personality structure that contains a human's basic, instinctual drives. Id is the only component of personality that is present from birth. It is the source of our bodily needs, wants, desires, and impulses, particularly our sexual and aggressive drives. The Id contains the libido, which is the primary source of instinctual force that is unresponsive to the demands of reality. The id acts according to the "pleasure principle"—the psychic force that motivates the tendency to seek immediate gratification of any impulse—defined as seeking to avoid pain or unpleasure (not 'displeasure') aroused by increases in instinctual tension.
When I returned to Blenko after my week with von Franz, I was determined to create a piece that would explore my id, the personal dark images that I harbored in my subconscious.
Back in the outer world of daily reality, I brainstormed in the Blenko shop with an electrician-welder about how to make a mold for the piece I imagined. We went out to the yard where there were some junk iron plates and selected one. I drew the figures that I conjured up from my id onto the iron plate with chalk. The welder cut each of three figures out of pieces of the plate with an acetylene torch, and then these pieces were hinged together on two sides to make a mold that could be opened after the figures are blown through the cut-outs. It was a lot of fun!
That Bill Blenko, Sr. let me put this design into the Blenko line is oh so typical of how this man appreciated and respected the work of the artists he hired from Alfred University.
The Jungian influence is still strong, and 60 years later, I created what I call the “Horse and Rider” vase pictured above. Jung’s interpretation of dreaming of a horse was that you usually were dreaming of your own basic animus or self. How you commanded the horse of your dream told of how you were commandeering your life. I had the horse and rider figures cut out of sheet glass using a waterjet cutter, and then these were heated to 600 degrees, and applied to the side of the vase during the glass blowing process. This is an uncommon process in blown glass, and only six Horse and Rider vases were made, each in a different combination of colors.
CREATING NEW USES FOR OLD STUFF IS FUN
Like the Id vase, another of Blenko’s very popular designs was cut from rusted scrap metal. A stone’s throw from the Blenko plant, in the same pile of junk metal we used for the Id vase mold, I found an abandoned cornhusker.
A cornhusker is a machine that has a metal tubeabout the size of a barrel, cut full of holes. Dried corn husks are shoveled into it and as it tumbles, driven by a small motor, the dried kernels are stripped from the husk and into a pan below. “Hot damn!” I said to the welder, and before he had even taken off his welder’s face shield we were making a mold from the junked corn husker. The holes were already in the tube so all we had to do was cut out two sections and hinge them into a mold. When molten glass was blown into the mold, it flowed freely out of the holes. The size of the “bubble” varies based on the thickness and temperature of the glass. I named that vase “Vintage”, but now I call it the Cornhusker vase.
The Cornhusker vase was a very successful design for Blenko. It was made for many years in several colors, and I think we made it in two sizes.
The “Hobnail” vase, pictured next to it, has a similar bubble pattern, but the hobnail texture, a traditional Victorian pattern, is in the mold, which is made of cast metal.
In case you were wondering, I did not invent bubble wrap.