The Blenko Project was started as an initiative to preserve West Virginia glass by Dr Hillary Homburg in 2000. Hillary is a 2009 graduate of West Virginia University School of Dentistry. She finished her General Practice Residency from The Ohio State University College of Dentistry. She is passionate about Bichon Firse (small paws rescue), classic movies, theater, community involvement and west virginia glass. Dr Hillary Homburg also blogs about blenko glass for the Huntington Herald (http://herald-dispatchblogs04.blogspot.com)
As a West Virginia University’s 2000 Foundation scholar, she was awarded $2500 for studying and sighting in Europe. She, instead chose to use the money toward her lifelong passion- Blenko. She has been a blenko enthusiast since she was 3 years of age. “Watching glass made at Blenko is a delightful experience,” she said, “If you haven’t done so, I would suggest you go and spend an afternoon watching these amazing people spin hot, wet glass into beautiful bowls and other objects.”
Hillary grew up in Charleston – just a 30-minute drive from Milton, home to the 112-year-old hand-blown glass manufacturer. A lifelong glass enthusiast, her favorite childhood memories include making trips to Blenko Glass to gather scrap glass with which she and her Dad made stained glass panels. So, when Hillary heard the manufacturer was making major cutbacks because of skyrocketing heating bills and could be forced to shut its doors, she knew she had to do something to preserve the company that meant so much to she and her family.
That something turned out to be The Blenko Project, a full-fledged campaign to get community and political support for the company. The Blenko Project is dedicated to recording the past, analyzing the present and being an advocate for the growth and preservation of BLENKO GLASS.
In several interviews Hillary is quoted as saying: “Blenko has third-generation families working for the company because it treats the employees well” ." State Offices - including the Presidents Homes should include items Made In West Virginia such as Blenko Glass" ."State and Local Government should be encouraged to use Blenko as awards - Blenko can be engraved and etched".
“I think now it’s time we step up – advertise Blenko as part of the state’s tourism, put it on our state maps and assist Blenko in any way we can."
After enlisting some help, Hillary began a three-fold project. First, she conducted surveys in shopping malls in Boston, Charleston, Columbus, Huntington and Pittsburgh to see if people knew about Blenko Glass and purchased any of the company’s products. This survey highlighted the importance of Blenko advertisement and Blenko's connection to PBS. Hillary states she was surprised to learn many people thought Blenko had closed years ago - as it was no longer stocked in their department store. She also learned many anchor stores that once stocked Blenko no longer stocked any Made In USA tableware.
Hillary shared this information with Mr. Bill Blenko. Letters were written to anchor stores, to State and local Government officials touting the use of Blenko for awards, Hillary included a flyer with examples of appropriate Blenko designs, later, Hillary accepted an offer from local newspaper to blog about Blenko as a means of keeping the name of this historic company in the forefront. Phase two has involved interviewing current Blenko employees at the factory and interviewing the retired glass workers or their family members for a photo journal of the craftsmen who made up Blenko. Dr Hillary has also recorded ( oral and written ) histories from current and retired workers which was later presented as a documentary about West Virginia Glass. These interviews continue as a part of on going effort to document the history of glass. The third phase of The Blenko Project is on going advocacy, each year Hillary sends letters to School Boards with Blenko Glass literature and a link to the website and an offer to speak to classes about glass, she encourages teachers to consider Blenko Glass as their first choice for field trips.
Hillary’s message in 2005 began to resonating across the state. At her request, Gov. Joe Manchin and his wife, Gayle, met with Blenko Glass CEO William Blenko Jr. in August. In her own words, “We asked Gov. Manchin to assist and help find ways the state could help Blenko in these times of increasing natural gas prices and a flood of cheap imported glass in our market”.
“Blenko can etch and engrave almost anything and the cost is remarkably inexpensive,” Hillary said. “We all love and appreciate the fact that the glass is made in West Virginia, by West Virginia craftspeople,” she added. “We will continue to make the public aware of the struggling glass manufacturing companies. West Virginia has seen more than 100 companies close in the three decades." ...." as collectors of Blenko it is our duty to promote this unique handcrafted glass to our colleages, our friends, groups to which we belong - especially national groups."
Hillary believes in leading by example. A dentist by profession, she chose to work with under-represented rural communities and is a National Health Service Corps scholar. In spite of working full time as a dentist in rural communities, Hillary manages to take time out every week for the Blenko Project. She believes that if you can take out even 2-3 hours a week to volunteer in community, you can make significant changes in it. She believes that this is the one way to keep the fire burning in the Furnaces of local glass companies, and to support local glass manufactures. She is a firm believer in buying local, and supporting local communities by buying all-american products. Hillary requests all blenko collectors and enthusiasts to assist in this effort in what ever way you can. Please feel free to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details on volunteering opportunities.
Other pictures/videos of Dr Hillary Homburg,
Dr Hillary Homburg, for NHSC