MCM GLASS OBSESSIONS: Intro. to the Major Purveyors of Beauty
Many people are drawn to Modern Mid Century glass due to it’s beauty, fluid lines, dynamic shapes and gorgeous colors. It’s one of the rare areas where you have people who collect MCM glass even though they may not care or collect anything else in the modern design field.
Studio glass was still a pretty rare phenomenon 60 years ago so most glass was produced by major production facilities, many of whom hired brilliant designers that created iconic designs still recognizable to this day.
One exception to the “studio” rule is Francis and Michael Higgins who produced fused glass pieces from their small studio in Illinois. (An example of their work is posted on the left) However, they specialized in “fused glass” which requires far less production equipment in cost. These posts will be an overview of some of the main players in hand blown glass production that I will eventually write detailed individual posts about.
The celebrated and recognized major producers of art glass were all hand-blown creations done by expert glass artisans. You will see plenty of examples of cheap, completely mold formed pieces of glass in flea markets and ebay – usually easily to spot by the tale tale line in the middle of the piece where two halves were simply pressed together. Many of these mold pieces are simply cheap imitations of the beautiful hand blown designs of the day and are to be avoided.
Many of the modern designers working in glass were also schooled in industrial design techniques which meant they studied the actual processes that went into creating glass, the chemistry of colors and the boundaries of what could be done with the medium and ways to break those boundaries. A handful of other designers, especially Scandinavian, became interested in studying the old, ancient techniques of glass blowing and making and reviving them for the modern era.
Many countries seemed to have their own take on glass design, the ones I concentrate on are American, Italian and Scandinavian. There is some interesting cross over between the Italian and American glass, some of which verges on stolen and copied designs, which I will detail further on
BLENKO: THE GATEWAY GLASS
Blenko Glass is produced in Milton, West Virginia since the early part of the 20th century. It has produced some of the most iconic pieces of American MCM glass designs and is renowned for its color. Even though Blenko has been in production for a hundred years, and still operates today, we are really only interested in the years 1950 through 1974. Sadly, I don’t think anything Blenko has produced in the past 25 years is very notable or interesting. However, they were a powerhouse during the mid century period thanks to four main designers: Winslow Andersen, Wayne Husted, Joel Myers and John Nickerson.
Husted and Myers are my two favorite designers and their pieces are the most well known and recognizable – with good reason.
If you are interested in collecting Blenko it is highly advised to do some research, of which there is plenty online, because it seems like every piece of colored glass on Ebay or elsewhere is called Blenko even when it is obviously not. If the seller can’t give you the catalog design number for a piece of Blenko – be very leery. All Blenko pieces were assigned a design number, and beginning with Husted in 1953 the number indicated the year produced. So all pieces designed and produced in 1958 will start with 58, followed by two other digits. Many times there is a letter at the end of the number to indicate the size because many designs were available in a range of sizes, the letters used are S (small), L (large) and LL (architectual scale).
The photo to the on the right shows three examples of Wayne Husted’s work for Blenko. From left to right is a the LP20 lamp a very rare lamp and the only example I have ever found besides in the 1954 Blenko catalog and on a business card Husted produced for himself. Next is the stunning and rare 5937 decanter which was only in production for 2 years, it is scarce and there are Italian copies of it floating around. The last piece is sometimes called the chess piece decanter and it came in three sizes, mine is the small size and it is #5922S.
GREENWICH FLINT CRAFT GLASS – TOM CONNELLY’S GENIUS
Greenwhich Flint Craft (GFC) was a line of glass, produced under it’s own name but was under the umbrella of a larger glass works called “Indiana Glass.” GFC was Indiana Glass’s answer to modern glass line because they had primarily been known for more work practical glass. The first line produced by GFC were done with designs and molds purchased from West Virginia’s Bischoff Glass Company. Bischoff Glass was a company in the shadow of Blenko Glass and many times their pieces are mistaken or labeled as Blenko, though to any collectors they difference is easy to discern.
What really made Greenwich Flint Craft stand out from the crowd was when they hired a man named Tom Connally as their new head designer. I have quite a bit of information about Connelly and his work for GFC glass that I will save for an entire post dedicated to the subject.
Tom was not a typical designer, in fact he had never even trained as a industrial or glass designer like so many of his contemporaries. Tom was a Korean War veteran from Fort Wayne, IN he had worked as an artist, teacher, set designer, exhibits and display creator and then an ad in the paper led him to become a glass designer.
In all Connally did 70 designs in 5 colors, for 350 pieces total. 27 of the designs required stoppers. There are some other glass pieces out there (from the Bischoff molds) that carry a GFC sticker, but only Connally’s design have sticker of clear plastic with white ink reading ‘Greenwich Flint Craft.” Also his style was so unique and innovative I think it is very easy to recognize from the Bischoff and other pieces that used the GFC imprint before him.
The most iconic and it seems favorite pieces of Tom Connelly’s work are his “mushroom” decanters. To the right I have a photo of one of the #1183 decanters in honey and then two examples of his stunning #1163 decanters in the two sizes made. These are among my absolute favorite glass designs of all time. I can never stop admiring the slender, space age like elegance of the 1163.
Sadly, Connelly’s GFC line was only in production for 3 years, beginning in 1969 and ending in 1972. It’s our loss that he never had the opportunity to design another line of art glass. Because of the short production time and scale, not to mention the these delicate designs being easy to break or lose stoppers too, mean they are getting harder and harder to find. The #1163 in particular is becoming extremely scarce, with the few examples turning up online in recent years usually missing the stopper. I’m always on the look out for pieces of GFC and desperately want just one more example of the #1163 to complete a trio. They look amazing when displayed together in threes.
RIIHIMAEN LASI OY – FINLAND – Nanny Still
Rihimaen Lasi Oy was a Finnish glass company that employed some of the best Finnish designer of the day including Aimo Okkolin (began in 1937), Helena Tynell (in 1949), followed by Nanny Still in 1949, and Tamara Aladin in 1959. For this brief post I’m going to focus on Nanny Still because I find her minimalist designs enchanting and I managed to find a particularly rare piece of her work one day in a junk shop and I’m still in shock over it. I’m totally stumped about how this piece ended up in a junk shop in the middle of nowhere in the rural American south, but not only that it’s the only version of this particular design, called “siren” outside of the Modern Museum of Art in NYC. I sent photos of my piece, which is a candle holder, to some of the experts in Finnish and Scandinavian glass and they were as amazed as I was, having never encountered
the piece themselves.
The piece is marked on the bottom ‘Rihimaen Lasi O.Y. Nanny Still‘ I found the same design as a vase in the MOMA collection, done in a dark charcoal colored glass, as a gift from a Finnish Minister in 1956. The vase is about 2 inches taller than the candleholder and is pictured to the right.
A link to the Siren Vase at the MOMA Website is here:
KOSTA – Vicke Lindstrand
KOSTA is a Swedish glass company that has existed since 1742 and created exquisite modern designs in the 20th century. In 1976 they merged with another company and became Kosta Boda. The company is still in business today and produced high quality work and still commissions very interesting glass from famous artists and designers.
Vicke Lindstrand was Kosta’s head designer from 1950 until 1973. His body of work is immense. Unlike many Scandinavian designers Lindstrand sometimes broke away from the minimalist design aesthetic to create some very dynamic and playful work.
I’m currently doing research on Kosta and Lindstrand, because I recently found a beautiful vase he created using the controlled bubble method. It is pictured to the left. The vase has two holes, one of the bottom on the side and one on the top, so it can hold two flowers. I’ve heard these particularly vases called “Orchid Vases” so its possible they were designed with orchids display in mind – which is great for me since I grow many different types of orchids. The vase is signed on the bottom LH/1929 Kosta.
For an interesting footnote on a piece of that’s regularly misidentified as Kosta see the post below, it contains a photo of a piece by designer Eric Hoglund who did work for Kosta.
SEGUSO GLASS – ITALY
Seguso glass began as a family glass business in Empoli region and goes back to 1937. I’m still trying to get the information confirmed but the family has several branches that are involved in glass
production. One branch has glass work in Brazil, which began in the 1970’s and continues today and another produced in Italy. There are some famous designers with the last name Seguso, particularly Archimede Seguso. Many pieces of Seguso glass I have seen do not fit the definition of modern mid-century, much of it retains the classic look of Murano. However, there are some cased glass pieces they produced in the late 1960’s that are among some of my favorite glass designs. Unfortunately, it can be hard to discern which cased glass pieces were done by Seguso and which were done by other Empoli glass producers. Researching Empoli region glass can be very frustrating since they did not keep very good records. Rarely am I able to match a piece of Empoli glass to a designer name, probably because many pieces were just produced by the glass blowers themselves and they didn’t receive individual credit. Therefore, much of the modern midcentury glass has just been labeled in mass, Empoli because all that is known much of the time is that it comes from the Empoli region.
The photo to right shows two of my favorite pieces of Seguso/Empoli cased glass. The decanter on the right has a Seguso label still on it, so I positively know it is Seguso and it was produced in the last decade. The piece to the left is my favorite and it is much older, however there is no label. The similarities to is design and the type and color of the glass to other known Seguso pieces has lead me to call it that but I’d still like more proof. Generally pieces like the large on to the left are just called “Empoli Cased Glass” decanters.
(BTW the small green decanter in the middle is a piece by Erik Hoglund, who did similar “people” decanters for Kosta. However, the piece you see in the photo was commissioned by Niemun Marcus in the late 1960’s and mass produced for sale in the stores. The pieces are cute and just simple mold glass with the line visible. Though they look somewhat similar to the people decanters Hoglund did for Kosta, the quality is miles apart. The pieces done for Kosta can easily sell for hundreds of dollars, but the NM commissioned pieces should only sell for about $30. Unfortunately sellers on ebay many times try to pass off this inferior mold glass as a Hoglund design for Kosta and put ridiculous prices on it. )