Annual festival gives fans chance to craft own art glass
MILTON -- As Blenko Glass Company Vice President Andy Blenko watched Sue Parker of Huntington blow her molten glass into the mold of a vase, he said she looked like she had done it before.
Parker isn't a professional glass crafter, but rather a first-time participant at Blenko's Festival of Glass.
"I've been collecting West Virginia glass since we moved here in 2003," Parker said. "You can't collect glass without knowing about Blenko. This was my first time actually making glass. I've watched. I've toured. It's very exciting. When you are in the mold, the glass actually starts blowing back."
This is the seventh year for the Festival of Glass, which began Friday and ends Saturday. Over the two days, Blenko Glass offers numerous classes that allow participants to blow their own glass, design their own creations and learn the craft.
Andy Blenko said people from all over the country travel to the factory to immerse themselves in the glassmaking experience.
"It's one thing to watch someone, but to actually do it and feel the heat of the furnace, feel the dust and the dirt in the factory -- it's a whole new experience," he said.
Among the familiar faces are Jim and Cindy Beck from Columbus, Ohio, who travel down every year for the festival. Jim Beck, a newly retired schoolteacher, said he originally came to learn something new to teach his students, but continues to come back for the experience.
"It's a great way to spend the weekend," he said. "You just can't beat the people."
For craftsmen like Perry Bayes, the people is the reason he continues to come teach during the festival, even though he has retired.
"My favorite part is getting to work with the people," Bayes said. "It shows them what we really do. It's not as easy as it looks."
Jenny Ellis of St. Albans, West Virginia, said she has been visiting Blenko Glass since she was a kid, picking glass pieces to take home for crafts. She now comes to take part in making that glass.
"What (the glass blowers) can do with just the little brush of their hand with this little tool and it turns into this amazing bowl, vase or ornament," Ellis said. "It's just amazing, and it's something I hope is never lost. Because of the artistry of it and because it's West Virginia. Everybody needs to come down and do it."
The festival wraps up Saturday afternoon. The Blenko Glass Visitors Center is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Andy Blenko said all visitors are welcome.
"They really will have a better appreciation for glass when they see how it is made," he said. "It's truly an art. I always enjoy watching art as it cools, because when it comes out of the furnace, it all looks orange. As it starts to cool, it starts to take on the colors. It's almost like a magic show to see what it turns into."
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