In Memory of Glass Artist Stephen Rolfe Powell

In Memory of Glass Artist Stephen Rolfe Powell

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The art world woke to the news today that internationally renowned glass artist, Stephen Rolfe Powell, has died.

Centre College president John Roush posted, “This is a terrible shock that I know will take all of us much time to process. Stephen was, in a word, one of Centre’s luminaries. His talents were of remarkable proportions, appreciated not only here in Danville and at Centre College but also throughout every corner of the world. He was an outstanding teacher, and all of us who knew him counted our friendship with him as a gift.” 

Powell was a 1974 Centre graduate who returned to his Danville liberal arts alma mater to teach in 1983, and then built a working studio program that helped to establish Kentucky as an international force in the world of glass art. He went on to design a state-of-the-art glass studio which Centre opened as part of the Jones Visual Arts Center in 1998.

At the time of his death, Powell was one of the most vibrant, prominent glass artists in the world, and his ongoing success was hard won. In 1991, a window shattered as he was attempting to free a bird from his Danville studio space atop the Norton Center for the Arts, severing a tendon, a nerve, and an artery in his right hand. After a complicated surgery and months of physical therapy, Powell returned to the fire and his work reached new heights. In 2004, he broke his left wrist and tore an Achilles tendon, and briefly worked on a smaller “Whacko” series while he recovered.

His legacy as a professor is as transformative as his arc as an artist.  Powell was a recipient of Kentucky’s “Teacher of the Year,” honor and received the Acorn Award from the Kentucky Council on post-secondary Education. In 2010, he received the Governor’s Award in Arts as Artist. He was presented with the Distinguished Educator award from the James Renwick Alliance in Washington, D.C.  A 2007 Louisville exhibit included work by 14 artists who apprenticed with him. Another at the Kentucky Artisan Center in Berea also included former students.
Stephen Rolfe Powell: Glassmaker, was published by the University Press of Kentucky in 2007.

Stephen Rolfe Powell story printed in Ace in April of 2000Powell’s work is featured in prominent collections as well as public spaces like Baptist Health in Lexington, the Maker’s Mark Distillery, the Denver airport, and the Tennessee Aquarium.  In addition to his university home in Kentucky, Powell also worked in Russia, Ukraine, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan and demonstrated at multiple Glass Art Society Conferences, as well as the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.

Memorial info will be posted as it becomes available.

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This article also appears on page 8 of the April 2019 print edition of Ace Weekly.

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