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17671 Candlewood Court
Penn Valley, CA, 95946
United States

415.433.4656

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.

 

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.