The Blenko Project was started as an initiative to preserve West Virginia glass by Dr Hillary Homburg while she was an undergraduate student and Foundation Scholar at West Virginia University.
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 campaign to get community support and wider recognition 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.
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, and to State and local Government officials touting the use of Blenko for awards.
Phase two 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 also recorded histories from current and retired workers which were later presented as part of a documentary about West Virginia Glass.
The third phase of The Blenko Project is ongoing advocacy.
By 2005 Hillary’s message began to resonate 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”
While working on this project Hillary also accepted an offer from local newspaper to blog about Blenko as a means of keeping the name of this historic company in the forefront. She blogged for the Herald Dispatch from 2005-2020. An archive of those blog posts can be found on this site.
Hillary believes in leading by example. A dentist by profession, she chose to work with under-represented rural communities and was a National Health Service Corps scholar. She has held
leadership roles on local, state and national levels promoting oral health access for all. Dr. Hillary also proudly serves as a Dental Officer with the WV Air National Guard.
Other pictures/videos of Dr Hillary Homburg
The Blenko Glass company has seen a resurgence in popularity of its timeless pieces and currently has a wonderful staff and many voices both locally and nationally who promote it.
The Blenko Project website remains an archive of the project’s preservation and advocacy efforts and as a resource for those hoping to learn more about the company and it’s beautiful, colorful products.
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