December 31, 2015
West Va. Glassblower Ron Hinkle Flourishes
In A (sort of) Dying Art & Helps Out At Blenko, Too
By Mary Wade Burnside
The Exponent Telegram
Buckhannon, WV (AP) Ron Hinkle pulls a blowpipe with a glowy orange glob at one end from a 2,100-degree Fahrenheit furnace in his glass studio. He rolls the orb in a dish of pale pink glass chips and then places the piece in a smaller, 2,400-degree furnace called a glory hole to fuse the color to the glass.
When that emerges, he rolls the future vase in a shaping block, rubbing it with a wet, folded newspaper that sparks with tiny flames over his work.
He repeats the process again and again, adding chips of different hues, including green and purple, sometimes taking a tool that resembles large tweezers called jacks to pull a glob — the consistency of honey or molasses, Hinkle said — of melted color down the length of the expanding vase to create a design.
The colors deepen as he goes from furnace to shaping block to glory hole, and the finished product — before he puts it into an annealing furnace to slowly cool for 24 hours — resembles a colorful, tie-dyed creation with pinks and purples and greens.
``Once you get experience, the glass will talk to you,’’ said Hinkle’s assistant, Richard Debar, a friend from the two glassmakers’ days at Louie Glass Co. in Weston.
Ron Hinkle at work
``Colors tell you about the temperature, how hot it is. This is about trying to keep things centered and balanced, about manipulating the glass.
``We’re getting to be the last of our generation to do this. We’re the old-timers.’’
And that is why Hinkle named his studio Dying Art Glass Works when he opened in 1993 on land he grew up on just south of Buckhannon. He built the studio — featuring two garage doors to let out fumes and let in fresh air — using furnace parts and other tools he was able to buy over time during his tenure at Louie Glass, preparing for the day that he would strike out on his own.
``Later on, I changed that after I got prompting that the name might indicate that my art was dying or that it was more morbid,’’ Hinkle said in an interview before the demonstration. ``My son, who is an attorney, said, `You know, you need to be remembered for glass. You should call it Ron Hinkle Glass.’’’
And that is the name Hinkle (www.ronhinkle.com) now operates under, giving demonstrations to the customers who trek off the main road and onto a single-lane driveway to watch the glassmaker in action as he uses sand, soda ash and lime — as well as the hot temperatures — to create colorful, one-of-a-kind glass vases, drinking glasses, candy dishes, his popular Hershey Kisses, and, of course, especially this time of year, Christmas ornaments.
``The most popular color in glass — and we go by how many we’ve sold, and this is true for every glass factory — is cobalt blue,’’ Hinkle said. ``Cobalt blue is the No. 1 selling color. No. 2 is rubies and cranberries, some form of red. No. 3 would be amethyst or purple. And everything after that is your greens, golds, your blends.
``I have contemplated why that is, and I’ve never come up with a solution.’’
Recently, however, Hinkle reduced his inventory because he has taken on a new job. Since last May, he has been serving as the vice president of operations at the world-famous Milton-based Blenko Glass Co. He drives down to Cabell County each week and spends time there before returning to work in his own studio.
He was recommended for the position by a former colleague at Louie Glass, and he did not mind upending his own schedule to apply his knowledge and skills to Blenko Glass.
``Blenko Glass is a 122-year-old glass plant, and they make some absolutely beautiful colored glass,’’ Hinkle said. ``Their designs are original and their facility is ancient, and they use techniques that are very old. They haven’t changed those techniques much in 120 years. They still use hand-carved wooden molds to form their glass.
``It’s got a mystique about it. It’s something I felt when I walked into Louie Glass, and it appealed to me very much. They (Blenko) were struggling and having problems. I thought I could help them with their furnace design and other issues they were having.’’
One of Ron Hinkle’s vases
It has been 42 years since Hinkle first walked into Louie Glass Co. in Weston, about 20 miles from his home near Buckhannon, as a high school student working a summer job.
He had been drawn to the factory after playing with a chemistry set as a child that featured glass tubing that could be heated with a bunsen burner and stretched.
``That was something that just captured my interest,’’ Hinkle said. ``When I was younger, I was curious. I used to sit and read the scientific encyclopedias. This is the one thing that was real and available, and it was something I wanted to pursue.’’
After he graduated from Buckhannon-Upshur High School in 1974, he returned to Louie Glass to work full-time, but it was a while before he got up to speed as an experienced glassmaker who created the stemmed glassware and highball and whiskey sour glasses produced at Louie Glass, which closed in 2003.
``It actually took me four years to feel comfortable in the job as a stemware blower,’’ he said. ``It’s very difficult.’’
To hear him discuss the process of making glass, it is no wonder why. He worked his way up from jobs with names such as the carry-in boy, the crack-off boy and the burn-off boy to the skilled positions of gatherer, blower and finisher.
The artisan must make a stem fit on the glass ``so very close to the size so it’s within plus or minus 15,000ths of an inch of the mold,’’ he said.
During the process, the skilled glassmaker would have blowpipes in each hand, turning them constantly and also blowing into the pipe, while working pedals with each foot, one to spray water on the glass and another to open and close the mold used for each piece.
The goal for an experienced glassmaker was to lose less than 3 percent of the items made.
``When you start out, 70 percent of the products you make are unusable,’’ Hinkle said. ``You have to work your way up.’’
Another way to look at it is that Louie Glass wanted employees to make 600 pieces in four hours.
``You have to work quickly and precisely and not make a lot of mistakes. It was intense and stressful.’’
After six to eight years, Hinkle was considered a highly skilled glass worker.
``I did get to the point where I loved what I did and I thought it was cool, but it was stress every day.’’
So he prepared for the time when he could open what would become Ron Hinkle Glass, taking the skills he learned at Louie Glass and adding the creativity he had grown up with in his family, including an aunt who taught him oil painting, a mother who helped him learn crafts and a father who instilled in him the ability to fix things.
In his first year, the business grew 30 percent, and that continued exponentially for several years. He added a retail outlet a few years after he started.
``I couldn’t make enough glass,’’ he said.
He began hiring employees and at one time had six others working for him. Now that number is three, including a woman who oversees the retail outlet.
These days, in addition to Ron Hinkle originals, that retail outlet also features a corner filled with Blenko Glass. He traded glass with fellow Tamarack artists who painted murals of him blowing glass on two of the walls.
His pieces range from the inexpensive Hershey kisses to an exquisite, heavy bowl made of cameo glass with layers of a dogwood design on both the exterior and the interior that he created with cameo artist Kelsey Murphy of Fenton Art Glass Co. in Williamstown.
And year-round, the outlet features a Christmas tree decorated with his one-of-a-kind ornaments.
``Oh, we’re making thousands of them,’’ he said. ``That is one of the products we keep.’’
Twenty Years On, Brothers Reunited By Heart Transplants
By Laura Ungar
Lexington, KY (AP) Aaron Arnold lay in a hospital bed, tethered to machines and gripped by fear, waiting for a new heart.
Heart Transplant Coordinator Donna Dennis hoped to allay his concerns by having a former patient talk to him, and heart recipient Kenneth Arnold Catlett was happy to oblige.
But as soon as Catlett opened the door, the recognition on Arnold’s face was immediate, and everyone realized this was no ordinary meeting between patients.
``Hey, I know this guy,’’ Arnold exclaimed. ``It’s my brother!’’
The two men hadn’t seen each other in about 20 years, having grown up apart, met as young adults and lost touch.
But they soon learned that they not only shared a father but also the same medical condition — heart failure caused by dilated cardiomyopathy, which affects the lower and upper chambers of the heart and is more likely to strike men than women.
And that chance meeting at the University of Kentucky Albert B. Chandler Hospital — where both got new hearts a year apart — led to a renewed bond, a deeper spirituality for both of them and a bigger sense of family.
``Not only did we give them new hearts,’’ Dennis said. ``We gave them each other.’’
``It was destiny, as they say in the movies,’’ added Catlett
Kenneth Catlett & Aaron Arnold.
Both men grew up in Lexington, sons of different mothers.
Neither of their moms was married to their father, although Catlett said his mother came close. Family members said their dad is now in his 80s, and they don’t have current contact information for him.
Neither brother knew of the other while growing up. Arnold, 56, grew up with two siblings but never spent time with his father as a child. Catlett, 55, also grew up with two siblings but saw his father occasionally when his mom brought him to a local pool hall for visits.
Over time, each brother said they saw subtle clues of each other’s existence. Arnold’s grandmother on his father’s side hinted to him that her son may have had other children. And acquaintances sometimes asked Catlett if he was related to members of the Arnold family because they looked similar, and because Catlett’s middle name is Arnold.
Catlett put it all together after meeting Arnold’s sister at a Christmas parade around the mid-1990s. When he told her his dad’s name, he said, ``She had this recognition on her face.’’
The brothers met just after that and kept in touch until life pulled them in different directions.
Catlett, who was in the Army, moved around a lot, and at one point settled in Alabama to be with his only son, whose mother he separated from, before eventually coming back to Lexington and working various jobs in hotels. Arnold, a former factory worker, said he never married or had children but stayed in Lexington and kept to himself most of the time.
So when Catlett became the first of the brothers to get sick, Arnold never knew.
At first, Catlett’s only symptom was occasional leg swelling, along with the feeling that each leg weighed about 80 pounds.
UK cardiologist Dr. Navin Rajagopalan first began caring for Catlett after shortness of breath brought him to another hospital’s ER, and a chest X-ray showed his heart was enlarged. Rajagopalan said he did pretty well for a few years, but eventually came to UK in shock and needed ventricular assist devices for both his left and right ventricles - and a long hospitalization.
When Rajagopalan told him he needed a heart transplant, he said Catlett was resistant at first.
``That was a world shaker,’’ Catlett said. ``I’d never had major surgery... It was a devastating blow, mentally as well as physically. It was just a mind-blowing experience to know your life hangs in the balance.’’
But he came through the eight-plus-hour operation in September 2014, and recovered well, experiencing no problems with the anti-rejection drugs he must now take for the rest of his life. In fact, he felt so good — and thankful to his doctors and nurses — that he began making regular trips to the hospital as a ``patient ambassador.’’ He visits with other patients whenever he stops to pick up his medicines or see his doctors and nurses. He wears a mask around crowds to keep from catching a virus, but otherwise has returned to normal activities, even renovating a family home.
``He had the desire to be better,’’ said Dennis, a registered nurse. ``That’s half the battle: The desire to want to be better.’’
Arnold came to Rajagopalan through his nurse practitioner. He’d been diagnosed with heart failure years earlier and began slowly getting worse in December 2014, requiring an intravenous medicine that he was able to take at home through a port in his body, and eventually needing an LVAD. Like Catlett, he was reluctant about the idea of a new heart, but eventually came around and went on the transplant list in late winter.
His condition worsened this summer, landing him in the hospital in August.
Eventually, Dennis told him a heart had become available - leading to the hospital room meeting with his half-brother.
``We try to prepare them. But there’s nothing to prepare you for when the heart becomes available,’’ Dennis said. ``The best way to prepare them is to have them meet another patient.’’
But the first heart didn’t work out for Arnold.
When the doctors saw the organ, Rajagopalan said it didn’t look right, so they rejected it. But they accepted the next match that became available, and Arnold received his new heart on Sept. 12, becoming one of 49 adults who had heart transplants this year in Kentucky. Forty-two of them were done at UK, a record number for one Kentucky hospital.
Rajagopalan now suspects the brothers’ condition is likely genetic. Rodney Arnold, a brother with whom Arnold grew up who used to take their father to doctor’s appointments, said their dad doesn’t have the same condition but does have a pacemaker.
Catlett visited Arnold throughout his recovery, which Dennis said helped immensely, since ``the only thing that can help you through (this) is a strong support system.’’
``You couldn’t have anyone better than your own brother,’’ Arnold said, adding that he only wishes he could have been there to help Catlett through his recovery.
During this holiday season, both brothers, who are Christians, say their new hearts and new bond aren’t their only gifts.
Going through this ordeal with the help of his brother has made Arnold less reclusive; after this, he said, ``I felt more obliged to be around people.’’ Catlett even hopes to convince his brother to join him as a patient ambassador.
Both he and Catlett have gained new appreciation for little things, like the warmth of the sun on their skin — and a renewed sense of God’s presence in the world.
``A higher power intervened,’’ Catlett said. ``A higher power has a purpose, and he is not finished with us.’’