Blenko Glass Company creates ‘out of this world’ design for West Virginia Day 2024

By Vanta Coda III, RealWV

With West Virginia Day just around the corner, renowned West Virginia glass company, Blenko, has been hard at work designing and creating this year’s West Virginia Day piece.

Designed by creative director James Arnett and his team, this year’s West Virginia Day piece, “Wavelength,” pays homage to the Green Bank Telescope. 

“Following these past few months’ themes of space-themed pieces, we came up with a piece on the Green Bank Telescope, due to its impact on space exploration in the state of West Virginia,” said Arnett. “We also designed some new Blenko pieces that will launch on our website with this year’s West Virginia Day piece, which we kinda modeled after 60’s space toys, to harness that inner child within our clients.”

Sorting through dozens of green 384 water bottles, Janet Collins, carefully packs orders from the online store. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

The disk-shaped piece resembles the telescope disk, the prominent feature of the Green Bank Telescope. The pieces that are coming out with the West Virginia Day piece dubbed “New Blenko Now” keep with the space theme and depict alien-like uniqueness. 

In 1981, Blenko was initially approached by a department store in Charleston to design a piece that celebrated West Virginia during West Virginia Day. Since then, Blenko has made a piece every year that reflected the beauty, culture, aesthetics, and history of West Virginia. 

Each year, Blenko produces the same number of pieces as West Virginia has been a state and made the starting price of the product at that same number. 

This year marks the 161st year of West Virginia statehood, so there will be 161 pieces made, and priced at that number.

Orange light shines on veteran glass gatherer, Ray Adkins, as he pulls a bulb of molten glass from one of the furnaces on the Blenko hot shop floor. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

Since there are a limited number produced of the West Virginia Day pieces, they tend to be coveted by collectors. 

“We ran into problems last year with having 100 out 160 of the pieces up for a flash sale, literally within 34 seconds all of them were gone, which overloaded the site,” said Arnett. “This year, we decided to take the safest possible route. We are auctioning all of them so everybody has an equal chance of getting them, so we want to make sure that all West Virginians, even the ones out of state, have a chance to own a piece.”

Portrait of James Arnett, the designer behind this year’s West Virginia Day piece. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

With all the pieces being auctioned online, this allows for workers at Blenko to throw their hat in the ring on owning a piece that they created. 

Many of the veteran Blenko workers have been avid collectors, with one of the biggest collectors and seasoned gatherer and glassblower at Blenko, Charlie Chafin. 

Chafin, or “Coach Chuck” has been working at the Blenko Glass Company for 31 years and is one of the lead mentors for teaching new Blenko factory workers, as many employees are beginning to age out. 

“This new group that we brought in is doing well, everyone that we brought in hasn’t dropped off and things look bright with them,” said Chafin. “It’s an exciting time of year you know, and for some of the newer ones as they progress with their work we hope they find a home just like we did here.”

Austin Bates picks up pieces for sorting as they come off the lehr oven, which brings glass pieces down to a temperature suitable for handling after they are made. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.

In 2022, Blenko established the first registered Glass Worker Apprenticeship in West Virginia. Partnering with the U.S. Department of Labor Office of Apprenticeship and the West Virginia Department of Economic Development, they have managed to double their workforce by offering glass-making opportunities to young West Virginians. 

With so many West Virginia apprentices joining the ranks at Blenko and with no sign of slowing down, it’s safe to say that the legendary glass company will always keep shooting for the stars in keeping West Virginia’s glass-making heritage alive for all generations. 

More images below!!

Using the trademark Blenko glass-blowing technique of blowing glass, Raine Rodgers, blows air through a metal tube into the center of the molten glass at the end. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.
Cody Myers clamps down a molten miniature 384-glass water bottle. Photo by Vanta Coda, RealWV.
Past West Virginia Day pieces sit in a case in the visitor lobby. Photo by Vanta Coda III, RealWV.
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