Nicknamed the “Godfather of Kentucky Glass,” Stephen Rolfe Powell was an internationally acclaimed glass artist and Professor at Center College in Danville, Kentucky.
Powell, who died in 2019 at 67, had a devoted following of admirers, students and collectors. The Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC has one of his pieces in its permanent collection, as does Louisville’s Speed Art Museum.
Two years after Powell passed away, some of his former Center College students were discussing a possible memorial to pay homage to the larger-than-life artist and educator. That’s when Brook Forrest White Jr., a former student of Powell’s and owner of Flame Run Hot Shop, 815 W Market St., in Louisville, approached the college where Powell taught for more than 30 years with the idea to create the Stephen Rolfe Powell Memorial Sculpture Garden and Outdoor Classroom at Center College.
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“Stephen Powell inspired and influenced a great number of his students, friends, and peers,” White said.” After his untimely death, I felt it was important to create something in his Honor to recognize the impact he had at Center College, in the Danville community, and in the glass art world.”
Known throughout the world, Powell won awards both as an artist and professor. As famous as he was in the art world, Powell’s impact was most profound in the small community of Danville where he founded a hot glass program at Center College that became a major draw for the institution and the town.
With the support of former students, donors, and Powell’s family and friends, the vision came to life. White spearheaded the collaborative project with several of Powell’s other former students, donors, and Powell’s family and friends.
Today, the Stephen Powell Memorial Sculpture Garden features a 25-foot-tall steel and glass sculpture that visitors can walk through, as well as a garden, a walking path, three custom-made artistic benches, and a small Amphitheater that serves as an outdoor classroom and campus gathering space.
The sculpture, titled “Soaring Renegade Peacock,” is made of stainless steel crafted by Louisville artist Dave Caudill and large colorful glass discs made by White and his team at Flame Run. Its shape is reminiscent of Powell’s iconic glass vessels.
The entire sculpture is lit, and an Illuminated Circle that incorporates shards of Powell’s pieces lies in the ground beneath the towering piece. Other former students who helped create the sculpture and benches include Louisville artists Paul Nelson, Paul Hugues and John Stokes.
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“I envisioned a special place with a dynamic presence,” said White. “A space that invites visitors to follow the color and discover a bit of Stephen’s personal vibrancy. In many ways, Stephen was larger-than-life.”
Describing the finished memorial, White said, “with the help and encouragement of a great team, my vision has come together and now the Stephen Rolfe Powell Sculpture Garden exists. I hope the sculpture, surrounding garden and outdoor classroom reflects some of Stephen’s energy and personality.”
Reach features reporter Kirby Adams at [email protected]