The pandemic may have closed Blenko Glass for a while, but it was a West Virginian cryptid that kept it afloat.
Last year, the Covid-19 pandemic closed the 100-year-old glass factory, renowned for its hand-blown post-modern glass pieces, in Milton, West Virginia (population 2,533). The economic downturn that followed threatened to close it permanently.
But in October, the company presented a one-time only piece for sale by West Virginia Artist, Liz Pavlovic– a representation of West Virginia’s Flatwoods Monster.
The idea started at the beginning of the pandemic, Dean Six, Blenko’s vice president said.
“This cryptid thing, some folks came presenting to us that there are a whole lot of these folks who love this [cryptid] stuff,” Six said. “Their argument was that the Mothman Festival up in Point Pleasant [West Virginia] drew immense crowds, probably more than any other festival in West Virginia…So there’s this big arrow pointing toward the fact that these things are popular…and they are easier to market because they [cryptid aficionados] are all hanging out in the same places, talking about the same things at these different events.”
The legend of the Flatwoods Monster goes back to September 12, 1952. It was right around dusk, according to news reports at the time, when the May brothers, Ed, 13, and Freddie, 12, were playing in the playground of their school near Sutton, West Virginia, when they saw a pulsing red light shoot across the sky toward a neighboring farm.
The three went to grab Mrs. May, and then went up the hill to investigate. Others showed up as well, including 17-year-old Gene Lemon, a National Guard member. According to a local newspaper, the group reported seeing a 10-foot tall monster with a green spade-shaped face, glowing red eyes and blood-red claws. The group said that despite a heavy mist they could see that the monster was hovering above the ground, spewing gas and smoke.
The group quickly retreated and fled down the hill in terror.
Naturally, the story made the local news, and then spread to papers all over the country. It even gained the attention of the U.S. Air Force which sent an investigator, J. Allen Hynek, with Project Blue Book to look into the incident.
Hynek determined that what the group saw in the woods was a giant horned owl. Others laughed the incident off. But the Flatwoods Monster remains a legend, drawing attention to the area, and giving rise to the Flatwoods Monster Museum.
Working with Pavlovic, Blenko created a Flatwoods Monster figure – a two-piece sculpture composed of a green body topped by a red, spade-shaped head with glowing yellow eyes.
A cryptid fan herself, Pavlovic said she designed the piece with some of Blenko’s other pieces in mind, and a thought of cryptid lovers everywhere.
“I think we obviously hoped that it would do well,” she said. “I thought people would enjoy it and I know people are into the Flatwoods Monster, but I didn’t expect it to be quite as popular as it was.”
The initial offering was limited to 100 pieces over the course of two weeks. Dean Six said they thought most of them would sell.
Instead, they sold more than 800. Glass blowing artists were making the monster figures day and night for the two weeks the piece was for sale.
Six said that the piece’s popularity, along with other pivots caused by the pandemic like e-commerce and selling directly to consumers, helped to ensure the company would survive the economic downtown.
“It was one piece of a reasonably complex path to change what we do that has taken us from hanging on at the margins to being successful and anticipating years of future business,” Six said. “I would say one of the things Flatwoods Monster did for us as a company is it convinced us that we don’t have to keep playing to the same core audience.”
The Flatwoods Monster opened up Blenko Glass to a whole new audience, Six said. And that audience wants more.
Originally, Six said, the plan was to do two more cryptids this year, one in the spring and one in the fall. But supply chain issues, the resurgence of Covid-19 and other challenges have prevented the company from sticking with that plan, he said.
Instead, he said, the company hopes to release a Bigfoot piece soon. The piece after that will be a Blenko glass representation of Mothman, designed by Pavlovic, Six said. Currently, the company has two cryptid suncatchers – a 4-inch one of Bigfoot in either grey or tangerine, and a 3-inch one of Mothman in grey.
Since the limited release, the Flatwoods Monster pieces have increased in value, Pavlovic said, noting that one recently sold for nearly $800.
Six said he’s eagerly anticipating the rest of the cryptid collection.
“I didn’t buy one (of the Flatwoods Monsters) and usually I don’t regret not taking home a piece,” he said. “But now, they’re kind of like bitcoin or something. I look forward to the Bigfoot one, which is next and then after that, this crazy little Mothman fellow. It’s very interesting.”