Centre to honor the life, art and teaching of Stephen Rolfe Powell ’74 through new sculpture garden and outdoor classroom

by Kerry Steinhofer

Centre College News

Centre College has unveiled the design for the Stephen Rolfe Powell ’74 Memorial Sculpture Garden in honor of Powell, a renowned glass artist, Centre alumnus and long-time faculty member who passed away in 2019.

Made possible by philanthropic support from Powell’s friends and former students, the new space is the brainchild of one of Powell’s former glass students Brook White ’91. Construction will begin in April 2022, with the goal of completion by the fall, followed by a dedication ceremony to be held during Homecoming 2022. This time frame also coincides with a retrospective exhibit of Powell’s glass work at the Art Center of the Bluegrass in Danville

“The more people I talk to about this, it has been incredible to hear their stories about Steve. Their energy and support have been amazing,” said White.

“Our goal is to create a sculpture garden and outdoor classroom that will stand as a lasting memorial to Steve and become a new landmark on campus,” said Brian Hutzley, Centre’s chief financial officer.

Centre was not only Powell’s alma mater but the epicenter of his artistic and professional accomplishments.

According to White, as Powell’s artistic career skyrocketed, he sang the praises of Centre around the globe. The College allowed him to pursue a career that not only defined his artistic talent but placed Centre on the map internationally as a glass headquarter in the middle of the Bluegrass.

“I took Steve’s hot glass class at the beginning of my sophomore year,” White said. “I was so hooked that by the end of that first semester, I was on Steve’s work team. Little did I know, my life was forever changed.

“Steve touched so many lives like that,” he continued. “What better way to remember and celebrate him then creating a sculpture garden that embodies his energy and passion? The design has captured the imagination of the creative team working on this.”

Located near Grant Hall in the Norton Center for the Arts, this project will include a metal and glass sculpture to honor Powell. The sculpture will stand 25-feet tall, which will allow individuals to walk through it. In the middle of the floor of the sculpture, there will be an illuminated circle that will have actual shards from some of Powell’s pieces.

In addition to the sculpture, there will be a garden, a walking path and a small amphitheater with Kentucky limestone seating that will serve as an outdoor classroom. Seasonal landscaping will keep the space lush with flowers, shrubs and trees—a core idea honoring Powell’s fascination with nature’s colors.

“It’s so good that this garden is going to be a brilliant outdoor classroom,” said Alfred P. and Katherine B. Jobson Professor of English Mark Lucas, who was a close friend with Powell. “Steve loved teaching Centre students, both the superstar kind on their way to glass careers of their own and the brave last-term seniors seeking a wildly different learning experience.”

Jim Seabury ’87, former vice chair of the Board of Trustees, who has been involved in the creation of this project, believes that having architecturally interesting spaces at Centre with outdoor learning possibilities is positive for the campus community.

“COVID-19 showed that Centre needs more outdoor classroom opportunities,” he said, “which are helpful to the overall ability to learn at a place like Centre.”

The space will also include three artistic benches symbolically representing the College’s three centuries. One will acknowledge the Class of 2020, marking the beginning of Centre’s third century, who collectively raised and donated a remarkable sum to help move the memorial forward.

This project is made possible by the generosity of donors and will be fully funded through donations and in-kind services. The Corning Incorporated Foundation also provided Centre a grant of $25,000 in support of the permanent legacy of Powell’s life, art and teaching.

“This project has renewed my belief in the Centre community and its legendary sense of purpose,” White concluded. “As I describe this project to those that knew Steve well, I have said that I want to pull off one last Steve project in true ‘Steve Powell style.’ That comment brings a smile or laugh from each one of those people.”