When meeting West Virginia native and glass artist Ron Hinkle you are talking with a craftsman who has spent a life time working in West Virginia glass. A man who is passionate about keeping the tradition alive and educating every one he comes in contact with about its importance to West Virginia history.
West Virginia was once known as the number one producer of tableware glass and crystal in the United States. Early in the 20th century, Fostoria glass company of Wheeling, West Virginia employed more than 900 workers, making it the largest glass tableware factory in the country.In addition to table wares, factories across the state produced plate-glass for windows, pressed glass bottles,jars and marbles.Fortunately for workers in West Virginia, the Pittsburgh Plate Glass Company located one of its plants in Clarksburg in 1916, and the Libbey-Owens-Ford Company established a plant in Charleston in 1916, sustaining the industry in the Mountain State into the 1970’s. Buy the mid 1950’s Louie Glass in Weston,West Virginia is said to have made over 50% of all the table wear glass in the United States. Even with reduced production caused by the importation of cheep glass from Mexico and China some companies continue the tradition of hand blown glass in the state.
Blenko Glass in Milton,West Virginia is known for its vivid colors of hand blown glass. The historic business has faced many challenges in its 100 years of production. Ron says “The thing that makes them[Blenko Glass] endearing,is the same thing that makes them struggle.”So today Ron Hinkle works diligently as Vise President to make sure that the history and tradition of West Virginia glass continues into the future. With years of experience in every position in the factory, from bit boy to blower, Ron has a unique view of the factory glass business. His success as a glass artist within his home studio also brings the company a creative way of looking at its historic products.Together these skills work to keep blown glass alive in West Virginia.
Ron’s fascination for glass began at the age of twelve when he discovered the mysterious qualities of melted glass, melting glass tubes from a chemistry set over his mother’s kitchen stove. Following that interest Ron took a job at a local glass factory while in high school and continued to work near by,in Weston at the Louie Glass for the following twenty years. Working every job in the factory, Ron learned a wide verity of skills and soon was experimenting with art glass.Ron found making the intricate designs within paper weights fascinating. With little money and over 4 years Ron personally built his own glass blowing studio,the holding tank and glass furnace. He refurbished tools and struck out on his own.Ron says,” never make choices that you can’t recover from.” Building and expanding his art glass business slowly even when at times he was overwhelmed with orders.
The quality of the glass products that Ron creates has made his work collectible around the county and is available in 37 states and at times internationally. In 2005 the company changed names and simply became Ron Hinkle Glass. His work has appeared numerous times on the West Virginia’s Governor’s Christmas tree and the Christmas Peace Tree at the White House in Washington D.C. He is the creator of “While You Were Sleeping” a massive glass installation in the grand hall of the Culture of the WV State Capitol Complex that was then moved to its permanent home at the Archaeological Complex at Moundsville, West Virginia. He has been written about extensively and gained many collectors over the years.
Ron Hinkle represents what is best about West Virginia Artists in so many ways. He is a man of faith that has taken a historic craft that at one time incorporated 474 factories in our state and brought it to the community in a new way. He took time to learn from past masters and kept our culture and history alive.He is currently passing those skills on to Aaron Harvey,studio assistant and co-worker at Blenko. He is a family man who is welcoming to every one he meets and he shares his passion with all of us.