By Austin Johnson
The union of beautiful glass and brilliant bourbon is a marriage as old as the drink it’s self. Glass is as much a part of bourbon as more common thought of materials such as oak and ice. Now ask yourself when was the last time you drank bourbon out of something other than glass. Its a hard one right? The glass you drink your bourbon out of establishes a mood. At the Maker’s Mark distillery the Stephen Rolfe Powell exhibition brings the union of bourbon and glass to a whole new level.
Powell is one of Kentucky’s most celebrated and influential artists. Powell was internationally known for his distinctive, imaginative glass creations which are featured in museums and private collections around the world, including a rare commissioned piece that Maker’s Mark has displayed for several years.
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.
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.
Powell had been planning a large exhibition at the distillery before his untimely passing early this year. To honor his memory, vision and significant impact on the world of art glass, Powell’s family elected to move ahead with the project. His studio has coordinated the selection and display of 43 pieces of his work from his personal collection spanning various phases of his remarkable career, some of which have never before been displayed publicly.
The exhibition is an experience like none other despite it starting in the visitors center and looking and feeling like any other curated exhibition in a museum. Exiting the visitors center the uniqueness of the location starts to elevate the exhibition. The picturesque back drop for Powell’s work along with natural sunlight dancing through the colored glass is stunning. By far the most unique venue for the art is in the warehouse. The juxtaposition of the well lit, fragile, clean, colorful glass in the dark, robust, aging, earth toned warehouse is not lost on any viewer of the exhibition. The whole exhibition evokes emotions not unlike pressing a glass to your mouth and sipping the liquid that golden brown fills the barrels that surround you.
Powell’s work at the Maker’s Mark distillery in Loretto opens Friday, August 2 and runs through November 30.
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