In May, Linda and I drove up to Portland, Oregon to attend the annual convention of the glass collectors group, Portland’s Rain of Glass. “PROG” is an amazing group of vintage glass experts and collectors who have been meeting monthly every year for 38 years! I was one of four “experts”—each with a particular and special area of interest in glass—who gave presentations.
I learned a lot from the four other presenters that I didn’t know about glass: Sam Kissée, a professor at the University of California, Chico, displayed and talked about his huge collection of 19th century patterned seal bottles. The Forty-niners left thousands of whiskey bottles from the Gold Rush Days. OK, no surprise in that, but I never knew that many of those crystal decanters were buried, and are still being dug up from old gold mine sites.
Joann Tortarolo talked about the Art Deco-styled work of Fostoria’s renowned designer George Sakier. Tortarolo also talked about The Historical Glass Museum of Redlands that she heads, east of Los Angeles. I was most interested in a piece that was donated to the museum, a cast pâte de verre human figure created by no less than Frederick Carter, the first Corning glass artist.
Schiffer book authors Debbie and Randy Coe are antique collector/dealers who showed how everything old is new again with their collections of 1950’s functional Corningware, and vintage glass from the Art Moderne period.
I was invited to give two presentations. The PROG board requested that one presentation be about influences on my mid century designs at Blenko and other companies, and a second presentation on the other designers who worked at Blenko. (Yes, damn it, there were other designers whose designs were made at the Blenko factory besides me!)
I opened my first presentation with the slide below and remarked that this German Weimar officer was the primary influence of all of my designs. A voice from a collector rang out: “How So?”
I explained how the Bauhaus became the teaching philosophy at my alma mater, Alfred University, via professors who came from The Institute of Design at IIT in Chicago where the American Bauhaus school was founded by Walter Gropius. Walter Gropius is the Weimar officer pictured above. He fled Nazi Germany in 1936 when the German Bauhaus was forced to close.
Based on a Bauhaus principle, that “Design is Process”, I created a new way to cast aluminum molds from bandsaw-cut styrofoam patterns. The three amber decanters in the slide above were made by this process.
Charles “Daddy” Binns, who headed Alfred University’s world renowned Ceramic College for 30 years retired and was followed by Charles Harder, a teacher at IIT who was hired to replace Binns. Professor Harder morphed the Ceramic College into a broader design school with Bauhaus trained professors. I graduated from Alfred with degrees in ceramic design and industrial design.
Three fundamental Bauhaus design principles dominated and continue to influence each and every design I have created:
Architecture is the father of the arts (the first Bauhaus principle).
Designers from every historic period created chairs, dinnerware and glass for their genre and age, and all were created to work in the houses of the period. Controversial claim: It is just as eccentric to decorate a modern house with Victorian furniture as it would be to wear Victorian dresses and stovepipe hats! But hey! Mixing period designs is conveniently called “eclectic”.
Design is process (the second Bauhaus principle).
If the only tool you have is a pencil, all you can create are drawings in various widths of lead. As new processes are developed, new designs become possible. I am developing designs that are only possible tomake using relatively new processes. My current interest is to use waterjet machines to make cut glass in shapes only possible in the waterjet process.
It is not possible to teach art (the third Bahaus principle).
Only technique and process can be taught. (Of course this third Bauhaus principle always sparks debate but concludes that an artist can copy other artists but only one mind can create the original.)
Preparing for my second presentation, “Blenko’s Other Designers” demanded that I do a lot of factchecking, which was stimulating, as it demanded that I learn what happened to designers after they left Blenko, and what they’re doing now.
Of ten Blenko designers over 64 years, there were only four who were university trained, and lived full-time in West-by-God Virginia, working with glassblowers on the factory floor: Winslow Anderson (1948 to 1952), me (1952 to 1963), Joel Philip Myers (1963 to 1970), and John Nickerson (1970 to 1974). There have been several designers since 1974 who worked part-time or as consultants. (Aside: I just read a blog by a collector saying that “after 1974, Blenko designs were, and I quote, “crap”).
Winslow Anderson was a major influence on me and my work at Blenko. He was a graduate of Alfred and a student of the Bauhaus philosophy. His designs are the epitome of aesthetic integrity. He went on to design in porcelain at Lenox China. WInslow died at age 90 in 2005. The three other full time designers at Blenko continued to design in glass long after leaving Blenko.
Joel Phillip Myers opened one of the first art glass studios in the 1960s, to make his own work for prestigious galleries and is now lauded as one of the world’s most important studio glass artists. John Nickerson created wonderful glass sculptures and, now in his seventies, has returned to making awesome ceramic art pieces.
After leaving Blenko, I was hired as Director of Design and Product Development at Lancaster Colony Corporation. Later I designed for other US companies such as Anchor Hocking and Grainware, and internationally for Zilverstad Schoonhoven. I’m planning a future blogpost on my work after Blenko.
My presentation was running into the lunch hour, so I breezed through the remaining slides covering my current work: Jazz in Glass, the Rollatini cocktail decanter with jigger (this is where the Mai Tai comes in), and the latest—the Birdillini. All are still influenced by my education in the Bauhaus philosophy and principles.
Every glass designer in the world has created his version of a glass bird, including me in the 50s at Blenko. The vintage bird and the Birdillini are pure Bauhaus in that they make no effort to be realistic, but instead exploit handblown glass processes and skillfull techniques.
Follow this blog for updates of how my several projects are coming along. And feel free to comment, criticize, and add your knowledge. Remember that this blog will result in a book one day and I invite all of you to be coauthors of my “crowdsourced” book.
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