BUCKHANNON — A local master glass artist has returned to his business full time and is ready to get back to crafting handblown works of art with some new inspiration.
For the last 2 ½ years, Ron Hinkle has been a full-time employee at Blenko Glass in Milton and a part-time employee in his own business, Ron Hinkle Glass, creating glass art on Saturdays before heading back to Milton for the Monday-Friday work week.
That changed this summer when Hinkle decided to leave a job he loved for his business he prized.
“It was a fantastic experience,” Hinkle said of his time at the 124-year-old glass manufacturing institution. “It was hard, it was educational and it challenged me. I think that is one of the reasons I might have been getting a little bit stale before is I needed to be challenged. After two years at Blenko as their vice president of operations, I decided I wanted to come home.”
There were several factors that influenced this decision, including his wife Betty who had retired a year ago.
Hinkle wanted to spend more time with his wife, children and grandchildren but also realized Ron Hinkle Glass might have to close if he didn’t return.
“One of my main workers retired and if I didn’t come back, I was going to have to fold it up,” he said. “I came back home. I left Blenko in good hands with Dean Six, vice president and general manager. I am coming up with more designs. I have a fresh new helper here, Aaron Harvey, that is 26 years old. He learned glass blowing from Tamarack. I’m watching him and learning and he is learning from me.”
Now that Hinkle is back full time at his own business, he hopes to use his newfound inspiration to create old favorites but also to experiment with glassblowing in unique ways.
“I would like to make some large mold-blown pieces,” he said. “I have some large molds that have been sitting around forever. Some are old Pilgrim molds, some of them are old Masterpiece Crystal molds. When various glass factories shut down, they sold these molds off. I ended up with several of them. I want to put some of my designs and my patterns in these mold-blowns. I also want to add more things like handles or appendages to the glass to make wings on the glass or snail handles. There will be a lot of experimentation coming up.”
Hinkle began his own glassblowing career at Louis Glass before going into business himself for the past 24 years. He credits his wife and the small business approach he takes to his success.
“I’ve had tremendous support from my wife Betty and that is essential to me being able to hang in there,” he said. “This is a tough business to be in. Virtually everyone else in the state who makes glass has gone out of business.
“I think it’s easier to control the costs when you are a small business,” he said. “We try to invest in the right things, things we know we will use and turn into products. Instead of just focusing in one area of glassmaking such as just tableware or just art or novelty ware, we have done the spectrum of all these things. We take custom orders, commissioned pieces; we work with organizations for gifts. We work with people who want to do custom lighting. We have done all of the above. We make some art glass, some functional glass and some gift glass.”
Hinkle now sells to retail customers in 37 states.
Ron Hinkle Glass invested in a new technologically savvy furnace which was installed at the beginning of September after Hinkle and Harvey dismantled the old one.
“This new furnace has a heat-recuperation system,” Hinkle said. “The heat that would normally go up the flue is captured by this heat expander and it preheats the combustion air for 700 degrees. Virtually, it is saving me around 30 percent on my gas bill plus I can control the temperature right down to the exact degree and it doesn’t make any bad glass.”
For those familiar with the art of glassblowing, the glass is blown and shaped after being heated hundreds of degrees, then must be cooled. The glassblowing itself is over in a matter of minutes as the glassblower must have the piece in constant motion to prevent it hardening before the design is finished.
“The original melt when I put the sand in needs to get up to 2400 degrees Fahrenheit for a period of — charging and melting – probably about 18 hours and then it is cooled down to about 2100 degrees to make it workable,” Hinkle said.
Besides, Hinkle and Harvey, the business includes Heidi Russell who manages the retail portion.
Since Betty Hinkle retired last year, it’s actually a four-person operation, he added.
“My wife pitches in wherever we need her,” Hinkle said.
Ron Hinkle Glass is located off the Sago Road. Watch for the blue Ron Hinkle Glass sign and make a right onto Glassworks Road.
For more information, visit www.ronhinkleglass.com or like Ron Hinkle Glass on Facebook.