Pinkmania: Decorating Barbie’s Bar and CMoG’s Galleries in a Symbolic and Controversial Color

Whether you loved the summer blockbuster movie Barbie or hated it, no one can deny that pink is THE couleur du jour of 2023. The movie catapulted a new wave of pink into fashion and design, from clothes, accessories, furniture, and yes, even glass!

Klimchi’s glassware can be seen on the Barbie set alongside star Margot Robbie.
Source: YouTube Architectural Digest, Klimchi

If you saw the movie, did you notice the pink glass on the Barbie bar? To find the perfect pink glass vessels to feature in the film, Warner Brothers looked to the Czech Republic, a country with one of the world’s richest glassmaking histories dating back to the Middle Ages. After approaching the Czech glass company, Klimchi, they chose vessels from the firm’s Hobnail product line in Rosaline pink.

Beaker with Prunts, Central Europe, about 1200-1399, CMoG 2009.3.50.

Loosely inspired by the region’s medieval glass vessels decorated with prunts (blobs of glass applied to the façade of a vessel to make it less slippery when handling it), the bodies of Klimchi’s Hobnail vessels are adorned with raised prunts, while the handles are smooth. Located in the town of Kamenický Šenov in north Bohemia, the country’s glassmaking region, Klimchi’s Hobnail pattern is one of the company’s most popular products and comes in several colors and forms.

Pictured on the left is Beaker with Prunts from the Museum’s collection. This Central European beaker dating to between 1200-1399 illustrates where Klimchi found their inspiration for the Hobnail objects featured in Barbie, as seen below.

Photo Credit:

Pinkmania at CMoG

The Museum has several pink glass works that would be right at home on the Barbie set. The following are some of our favorites currently on view.  Do you have a favorite pink item at the Museum?

Dale Chihuly’s Erbium Chandelier with Guilded Putto, 1993, CMoG 2008.4.2

This blown and hot-worked chandelier by Chihuly was commissioned in 1993 to commemorate a special melt of pink glass at the Portland-based glass factory, Bullseye Glass Company, which was colored with the rare-earth element, erbium. Each of the 205 elements was dipped into a patterned mold while the glass was still molten and then blown into a curling form. The pieces were then wired onto a steel basket-like structure. A hot-sculpted gilt putto (cupid) hanging from the bottom of the chandelier completes the piece.

Frederick Carder designed over 100 colors during his almost three-decade tenure at Steuben Glass Works. This pink demitasse cup and saucer (below, left) was originally part of a set designed for entertaining at home.

An epergne is a table centerpiece that could display multiple food or decorative items at one time. This one (above, right) consists of a central column vase, which likely would have held flowers. Each of the clear, twisted lower branches held smaller glass dishes that would have contained sweet treats for dinner guests.

This style of vase and ball stopper (below, left) was a popular item in domestic interior designs of mid-19th century affluent private residences in the United States. Usually displayed in pairs, this vase and stopper likely would have decorated a parlor mantel. While the ball serves no purpose other than decorative, it showcases the glassblower’s skill in the ability to exactly match the colored threading in both pieces.

The habit of inhaling snuff (powdered tobacco) spread to China from the West following the establishment of the Qing Dynasty in 1644. Powdered tobacco was dispensed in bottles with flattened sides like the one pictured (above, right), making them easy to carry. Small stoppers were attached to tiny spoons used to inhale the snuff.

The New England Glass Company employed the innovative English artist Joseph Locke (1846-1936) who developed this specific color of glass called “Wild Rose,” a heat-sensitive glass that allowed for shading from opaque white to pink hues, which sought to imitate Chinese porcelain. This pitcher (below, left) is a delightful example.

“Blow Harder!” is one of the many sexualized commands often heard in the hotshop. This work by Suzanne Peck and Karen Donnellan (above, right), responds to the misogyny that often characterizes the hotshop and showcases the artists’ proposals of new language to make the studio a more inclusive space that was developed from interviewing many glassblowers as part of this work.

Controversial  Color

Pink is closely entwined with some of the most pressing contemporary issues today about gender, sexuality, and power politics—often in contradictory ways. Prior to the mid-1950s, pink was commonly viewed as either genderless or masculine in many Western cultures. In fact, the 1918  publication of Earnshaw’s Infants’ Department surmised the color pink “being a more decided and stronger colour is more suitable for boys, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.”

However, during World War II, traditional gender roles shifted, as large numbers of women went into the workforce in factories while male soldiers were at war. As women were removed from the workforce after the war, advertisements sought to reestablish traditional gender roles—and pink played a role in these attempts. The color was used to support gender stereotypes whereby pastel pink was used for girls (and blue for boys) and symbolized femininity, sweetness, docility, and submissiveness. 


Pink also played a historic role in subverting those very stereotypes of feminine docility and submissiveness. For example, millennials’ embrace of pastel pink as a symbol of calmness, strength, and gender-neutrality was so widespread that Pantone designated its 2016 Color of the Year to Rose Quartz 13-1520, which became known as Millennial Pink.

In recent years, pink’s use in Western men’s fashions and adrogenous streetware has increasingly challenged traditional ideas of masculinity and feminity. However, in non-Western cultures, for example, in India, pink is considered to be a much more gender fluid color and has a long history of being worn by both men and women.

Miniature Transgender Pride Flag designed by Monica Helms, Smithsonian National Museum of American History. Credit:

The color pink also has historic ties to the 2sLGBTQIA+ and transgender communities and rights advocacy. In the West, during World War II, the Nazis used pink pink triangles to identify gay and bisexual men, lesbians and bisexual women, and transgender individuals who were forced into concentration camps. The knowledge about how the color was used became publicly available in the 1970s when 2sLGBTQIA+ activists reclaimed the color pink to signal advocacy and autonomy. Likewise, the United States Transgender Flag, designed in 1999 by Monica Hels, features pastel pink and pastel blue, representing, according to Hels, traditional American feminine and masculine colors (respectively), and white, which represents those who are transitioning or consider themselves having a neutral or undefined gender.

In other parts of the world, pink is also linked to politics. Whereas, in the United States, pink is closely associated with issues about gender, sexuality, and rights advocacy for women, 2sLGBTQIA+ and transgender community, in Mexico pink is linked to national identity.

What does pink symbolize to you?

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Amy J. Hughes, PhD, joined the Museum in October 2022 as Assistant Curator. In her role, Amy assists in the exhibition planning, research, and maintenance of the Museum’s collections. Amy has over nine years of curatorial and research experience, and was a recipient of the 2019 Rakow Grant for Glass Research.

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