W.Va. birthday glass piece a big draw for Blenko
MILTON -- There is a reason people come from across West Virginia and as far away as Atlanta and even Hector, Minn., to own one of 150 limited-edition pieces of glass made at the Blenko Glass Co. in Milton.
"It's like family," said Leslie Kenworthy of Hickory, N.C. "Some people come here every year."
Kenworthy has been camping out in the Blenko lot since Tuesday and was the first in line Saturday morning to plunk down $100 plus tax for the piece produced this year -- the 150th anniversary of West Virginia becoming a state. Called the birthday glass collection, this edition is the 33rd produced at the glass company.
"I love Blenko," Kenworthy said. She saw a PBS special about the glass company 13 years ago. "I collect glass pieces. I have more than 1,000 pieces."
Heather Cooper of Atlanta made the 12-hour drive up to Milton to take home one of the special pieces of glass.
"My parents were both born in West Virginia," Cooper said. "We moved around a lot, but we always considered West Virginia home. We come up for this every year. The 150th is a very significant piece to have."
"Camping out is like a big tailgate party," she said. "You get to catch up with old friends and meet new friends."
"Everyone knows everyone," said Mark Greathouse of South Charleston. "I've been here since Wednesday. We have great camaraderie."
Debbie DeWeese of Columbus, Ind., made the six-hour trip for the sixth time to get one of the collectibles. "I fell in love with the 2008 piece. This year I completed the birthday collection set."
Not to be outdone, Cindy Schanil of Hector, Minn., made a 19-hour, 1,125-mile trip to buy one of the pieces and to spend time with a friend, Jan Williamson of Huntington. "We met on a tour in Europe 23 years ago," Schanil said.
'"I knew I had to get here early," Williamson said. "We camped out for two days. We share food, coffee and tea. We're family. We look out for each other. I'll be here next year, too. West Virginia doesn't know what a jewel they have here."
Mara Pauley of Nitro couldn't agree more. This is the fourth year she camped out in order to ensure a spot in line to get one of the 150 collectibles offered for sale Saturday morning.
"I've been here since 5:30 Wednesday," she said. "I'll be here next year, too. These are unique. It represents West Virginia."
George Jackson of Winfield was the sixth person in line to get one of the pieces for his wife. "My wife is into the collection," he said. "I like camping out. It was a lot of fun. These people all know me. It's like a little vacation in the park. These are nice people. I'll see them again next year."
The Blenko Project
The Blenko Project, www.blenkoproject.org, is a nonprofit group that focuses on archiving Blenko Glass and preserving the history of Blenko Glass, the craftsmen and the designers.
It was founded by Dr. Hillary Homburg, a Charleston dentist, in 2006. Homburg maintains a popular blog at www.herald-dispatch.com (scroll to the bottom of the page and look for the Heart of Glass blog in the center).
The Blenko Project is currently seeking photos of Blenko and collecting oral histories from glass workers and their families. If you own a collector or unique piece of Blenko Glass, If your family member worked at Blenko and you would like to assist with information about his employment or you need more information, please email TheBlenkoProject@aol.com.