Sunday, March 27, 2016

Blenko Glass Factory Experience: Eggstra Special!

If you know anything at all about collectible glass, you've probably heard the name Blenko. The Blenko factory produces its glass creations in Milton, West Virginia, just about 30 miles west of where I live. Blenko's glass production over the past near century is certainly one of West Virginia's crown jewels in its economic existence. In recent years, Blenko has made efforts to better market themselves, starting some glassmaking workshops for the public. My sister and I attended an egg-making workshop the week before Easter. What an historical experience!
We arrived at the factory Visitors' Center prior to the class, which houses both a gift shop and an exhibit area.
Blenko Visitor Center - Milton, WV
When you walk into the center, you are entering the gift shop. Below is a collage of what you see in the gift shop, as viewed from the stairway leading to the exhibit area upstairs. Iconic water carafes, limited and special edition items, and color everywhere! The windows allow light to stream in and the place just glows!
Blenko gift shop - Milton, WV
Once upstairs, we confirmed our class registration and received our safety glasses. A short wait allowed enough time to view much of the glass on exhibit within the center.
Blenko celebrates West Virginia's statehood birthday each June with a newly commissioned piece in limited production, and many of those were on display in cases, as were pieces by many of the glass artists over the factory's history (Wayne Husted, Joel Myers, etc.). Blenko has also made many commissioned architectural windows, some examples of which are in the center as permanent fixtures. Blenko windows are most notably in the National Cathedral in Washington, DC and the Cathedral of Rheims in France.
Blenko stained glass exhibits - Milton, WV
It is not uncommon to see any number of Blenko family members still on premises, and the day we were there, we saw Walter J. Blenko, Jr. (the 5th family member to run Blenko in its near century history). We also saw Ron Hinkle. Ron is an award-winning master craftsman in glass blowing in his own right, has previously partnered with Fenton Glass in designing ornaments, and has just accepted responsibility as plant manager at the Blenko factory. He will continue to run his own studio in Buchannon, WV, simultaneously.
Top: Walter J. Blenko, Jr. (bow tie) chatting with a visitor; Bottom: Blenko staff member and Ron Hinkle, master glass blower and Blenko's new plant manager
As we headed to the factory floor, the collage below captures some of what we saw. The only regulations we had to follow in the restricted area were to have closed-toe shoes, wear safety goggles, and use a glove (one) while handling the blowpipe rod. I was surprised earplugs weren't issued (the nearly 2400° glass furnaces are not only hot, but noisy). The Blenko factory has been in its current location for nearly 100 years, using the free-blowing technique, with a traditionally male-oriented workforce of glassblowers (note the HUGE men's restroom). The equipment shows signs of its age, yet is still producing, nearly 15 hours daily.
Scenes of the Blenko factory - Milton, WV
Our group class had 15 the day we participated, each getting a turn at the glassblower's bench. We chose our colors (called frits) from several options for the two eggs we made. My sister & I were at the end of the line, so we watched the first few individuals as they worked through each step of the approximate 10 minute process per egg.
Making a glass egg at the Blenko factory
The glassblower dipped out a glob of molten glass from the furnace, and rolled it onto the blowpipe rod, much like you would dip honey. He then rolled the glob in the chosen color frits (which are ceramic bits fused and granulated into the glass) and reheated it in a smaller furnace (the "glory hole"). I held a wooden cup (called a block) beneath the glob, dipped in water prior, to cool the glass while the glassblower turned the rod over it.

Next, he blew a puff of air through the blowpipe, and heated the glob-turning-egg once more. I then used what looked like oversized tweezers ("jacks") to create the actual egg shape, eventually making a narrow end for cutting, while he continuously turned the rod. The next step was to use a pair of diamond shears around that same indentation, as he turned it yet again, almost but not quite severing the egg from the rod. The glassblower turned the blowpipe vertically, and I tapped the rod with the shears, while another glassmaker caught the egg in what's call a punty - a rod with basket that resembled a lacrosse stick. The pontil (scar mark where the freehand glass egg was broken off the rod) was smoothed with a blowtorch, and placed in the lehr (a type of oven that slowly cools the glass). You can see all the steps we covered in either the frames above or below. So much fun!
Making a glass egg at the Blenko factory
The glassmakers at our station are longtime Blenko employees, one with 36 years, the other with 24 (and his father had worked there for 47 years). In spite of the nearly 2400° glass furnaces at various points of the factory floor, it was cold on the floor the day we were there (about 45° outside). The guys said it was like working in a barn - cold in winter, hot in summer, but open year-round.

While we waited our turn, we also got to tour other areas and watch the glassblowers. We watched one guy make the special edition springtime bunnies. Below is the glassblower at work, turning, shaping, torching the finished bunny.
Glassblower making a bunny at Blenko
The collage below shows a finished example of the special edition bunny, one I purchased from the gift center after our class. Standing about 6" tall, they are totally adorable, even if you thought you weren't crazy about glass collecting, ahem, like some of us. Also available in the gift shop were the 3" crystal light bases for display. The bunny, or many other of the items in the gift shop, can set upon the base to make a terrific display or nightlight, especially for a kid's room.
Special edition bunny from Blenko
Being the Panoply pickers we are, we also started eyeing things on the factory floor while we waited our turn. We saw great stuff we thought would make for some highly desirable (and saleable!) antique and vintage items. Talk about provenance! How about the tools we used (top right frame in collage below), or the molds for glass vases, or that cart?!
Blenko tools of the trade - let's go pickin'!
The folks at Blenko were smart when they planned these workshops. Not only did they time this particular one on the day before an 8 day warehouse sale, but you had to be able to return a week after the workshop to retrieve the items created, allowing for curing and packaging. My sister & I went back before the one week, so we could take advantage of the warehouse sale stock choices before they were depleted. I made another trip back to pick up my eggs.
Blenko warehouse sale - Milton, WV
I did not take photos of my warehouse purchases yet, but I will, and I'll share those in a future post. Below are the two eggs I made, along with my recent bunny purchase, and a vintage Blenko basket I bought long ago at an estate sale.
My egg creations at Blenko (foreground), with Blenko bunny and basket
Fortunately Unfortunately, one of my eggs cracked in the cooling oven. You have to look closely to see it, as it's inside the egg. I was told it may or may not ever completely break apart. Not to worry! I was allowed to pick another from the gift shop to replace it, but still keep the cracked egg! Score!
Blenko egg with internal crack
So, I picked another egg, and bought one more for good measure. I put all my eggs in one basket.
Blenko eggs, all in one basket
My Blenko bunny, my Blenko eggs, my Blenko basket, and my Blenko vase  (except the grocery flowers, which are finaling withering after three weeks!) all plan to live happily ever after. The End.
Be sure to check out Blenko's 2016 Schedule of Events, or many of the other informational tabs on their website (menu bar is at top of web page at link I provided for schedule). They also have a Blenko Facebook page, where you can follow events as they are announced. There's also a separate entity, Blenko Glass Collectors website, with loads of online information and links. If you'd like to see more of Ron Hinkle's work, he also has a Facebook page and Etsy shop.

Thanks for coming along on this eggstra special outing with me. The Blenko experience may or may not have been detrimental to my prior opinion of not wanting to collect glass. Time will tell. ;) Do you collect Blenko glass or any other type, such as Washington, Chihuly, Galle, Lalique or other?

Rita C. at Panoply

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Antiquing in Greenbrier Valley

My Panoply sisters and I took a little day trip together in early in March to Lewisburg, WV. Voted as the #1 Coolest Small Town in America in 2011,  Lewisburg is just nine miles from the famous Greenbrier Resort, and just two hours southeast of the capital city of Charleston, WV. Our day trip was leisurely, but getting our fill of antiquing was our mission, even if only to window shop. We started early, around 7:30am, stopped for a quick break, and hit the stores when they opened.
Window Display in Vintage Shop in Lewisburg, WV
Our first stop was Thymeworn Antiques, and upon linking to their Facebook page for this post, I was surprised to see the couple who own it are retiring and selling! George Underwood, the owner, was minding the shop the day we were there, and never mentioned a word about it. Hopefully, the new owners will keep the integrity we've come to expect of the shop.

We then mosied on to a couple other shops, Brick House Antiques and Patina. Both are fun stores. We each came away with a few goodies, and I actually practiced a little restraint. I've promised myself to whittle down my existing inventory as a 2016 goal, and I give myself a B grade for how well I did. I couldn't resist the Bordallo Pinheiro bunny tureen (below) that I found at a great price. This tureen was featured in my last post.
Another cool item I purchased was this WWI (1916) Army Corps of Engineers compass, made by Cruchon & Emons. Compasses like this one continued being made for outdoor enthusiasts by Ambercrombie & Fitch well into the 1930s. I found the pamphlet (online) that came with the original purchase of one of these instruments, printed a copy, and put it with the compass for my future reference.
The last item I purchased is new, but handcrafted by sheep farmers in WV. It's a felted soap and scrubby all in one! This mustachioed soap pictured here was fragranced with cedar & saffron, and had a great outdoorsy, masculine appeal.
I actually purchased a different one - a felted tulip - in a rose & honey fragrance. I love finding little local treasures like this!
We stopped for lunch at a local restaurant, Del Sol Cantina. It was good, and reasonably priced.

We headed home later that afternoon, but stopped at another antique mall along the way, the Beckley Antique Mall. I was pretty tired by that point (I did the driving), so I just walked the aisles and browsed. We made it home around 6pm.

It's always fun to shop around, to see other dealers' displays and impressions of what's trending, what's classic, and what's just good junk. We Panoply sisters have a good time wherever we go, and the drive time is where we talk shop, and catch up with each other's lives, a treasure in itself.

For more information on the town of Lewisburg, WV and the Greenbrier River Valley, you can check it out by clicking here.

Other than finding a really cool new pair of shoes or purse, I think antiquing and vintage picking/buying are my favorite types of shopping these days. What's your preference - shopping for new or old? Handcrafted or manufactured? Retail or yard sales? Have you been shopping lately?

Thanks for visiting. Your comments make my day.
Rita C. at Panoply

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Spring, Easter Tablescape 2016

Happy Spring! Today's luncheon tablescape ushers in both Spring and Easter, just one week apart on the calendar in this leap year. It's that time of year where colors are bursting, and new life is springing up daily. The predominant colors today are my happy, go-to choices of yellow, white, and green. It's a garden feast of elements, complete with bunnies, which seemed to multiply as my concept played out! The tablescape is prepared with a mix of some classics* you'll surely recognize. Let's hop to it!
Two vintage tablecloths are layered for texture, one a solid matelasse, the second a plaid damask in a diamond-weave. The 3-part plate stack is picked straight out of the garden: a yellow sunflower square charger base; an embossed, white magnolia bloom dinner; and cabbage leaf as salad plate.

Placeholder takeaways are tiny clay pots, planted with white chocolate bunnies, bird egg jelly beans and hazel chocolate carrots. Napkins are folded as bunnies.

Individual lotus bowls (with napkins) float upon the plate stack, intended for a cold soup service - a strawberry recipe, perhaps - from a bunny tureen.
The bunny tureen was an unintended, but well-priced, vintage find from the prior weekend's antiquing jaunt with Panoply sisters.

Garden veggies are wheeled onto the table with whimsy, in a wheelbarrow server no less, complete with garden tools for guests to dig into.
The birds perched on the table serve a purpose too, as a salt and pepper duo. The centerpiece florals are a grocery mix of blooming carnations, green trick dianthus, and cabbage. Marble eggs in cupholders and a metal, verdigris bunny round out the centerpiece.
Dessert is a classic coconut cake, served on Fostoria's American square pedestal.
More bird egg jelly beans are nested where white chocolate bunnies hopped into a rope basket, handcrafted by a local artisan. Pass the bunnies, please!

The sunlight was streaming in and out of the sunroom as I was creating this tablescape. I started early, then came back at various times to do a little more. In the evening, as I was breaking down the tablescape, I found my best angles of the sun hitting the room.

My favorite time of the year, my happy colors, my happy space. It's hard to believe I ever had the winter doldrums, given the way this season is already having a positive impact on me and the way I feel. Are you coming out of winter's funk? Does moving from winter to spring do great things for your well being, too? I hope you're able to take the time to engage in a fun activity, or even just plan one with a creative vision, and enjoy the feeling, soaking in some happiness.
As always, thank you for stopping by. Your comments are always welcome. Happy Spring!
Rita C. at Panoply

serving as a standard of excellence; 
traditional, enduring; 
characterized by simple tailored lines in fashion year after year

Tablescape Source List of Classics:
Textiles - all vintage, including napkins (see below for bunny fold instructions)
Dinner plates as chargers - Fiestaware sunflower square
Luncheon plate - vintage Mikasa Magnolia (white)
Cabbage leaf salad plates (WS, new) and bunny tureen (vintage) - Bordallo Pinheiro 
Flatware - vintage Oneida
Bird salt & pepper, marble eggs, egg cupholders - vintage
Wheelbarrow crudites server, tools - Mariposa
Square cake pedestal - vintage Fostoria American cube motif 
Flower vase - WV Blenko clear glass
Verdigris metal bunny - vintage, was my mother's
Cloth rope basket - handcrafted, WV artisan, Gretchen VanNostrand
Clay pot placeholders, green glassware - Dollar Tree
Pepperidge Farm classic coconut cake, Brach's classic bird eggs (jelly beans), Russell Stover's white chocolate rabbits, Lindt's hazel chocolate carrots

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Before the Blooms...and a Winner

Before the natural blooms of spring outdoors, I helped myself to several bouquets from the grocery, on several separate occasions, through the winter.
Beginning in late January. Mr. P. would assist in selecting various bunches of blooms, then I would choose some greens, take them home, and make simple arrangements.
The flowers, and especially the greens, would last sometimes for two weeks, as long as I snipped the stems, freshened the waters, and rearranged the bouquets as the blooms withered.
I even kept the greens as simple arrangements, once the blooms were gone.
When the blooms were gone, another bouquet was chosen, varying the color schemes.
It was a fun way to keep the winter doldrums at bay. My Valentine's Day bouquet consisted of one bouquet each of whites and hot pinks/reds, with a bunch of greens added to the mix.
I even got to the point where I simply stuck the greens in a vase - without water - because they lasted so long (beyond the two weeks).
Speaking of greens, I also picked up a small shamrock plant at the grocery for a bit of Irish flair in the sunroom for this post.
Our anniversary was in early March, and Mr. P. chose a prearranged bouquet of roses for me in one of my favorite colors, coral.
I also chose some additional florals on that visit but, unlike the rose bouquet, they needed arranging.
I thought they were a perfect segue into spring....along with the seasonal bunny, which I am seeing evidence of already in my garden lawn. That wascally wabbit.......guess he's officially announcing spring in the garden, as are the daffodils.
Speaking of announcements......

MacKenzie-Childs Giveaway Winner Announcement
The winner of the Traveling Totes March 1, 2016 Giveaway is Kathleen, from The Lavender Bouquet. Congratulations, Kathleen! Please contact me with your mailing address. I will send you the gift package of the MacKenzie-Childs set of 3 enameled pots and sticky note pad as pictured below as soon as I hear from you. Thanks to all who entered, either by comment on that original post or through email referencing it.
To all my readers - thank you for stopping by my blog, whether it's your first time or a return visit. Your comments are always fun to read.
Rita C. at Panoply
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