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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.

 

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.