Members of the Centre community have the opportunity to see the internationally renowned glasswork of Stephen Powell, H.W. Stodghill Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of Art, in person on a regular basis. Museumgoers in Alabama can enjoy Powell’s work in person now as well at “Psychedelic Mania: Stephen Rolfe Powell’s Dance with Glass,” an exhibition at the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA). The exhibit opened on Oct. 6 and will run through Jan. 6, 2013.
The exhibition, supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, is the biggest Powell has ever done.
“The exhibition at the MMFA has 92 pieces in it, examples from my entire career, even including several paintings I did before I was pursuing glass,” says Powell. “The work is in six different galleries in the museum.
“There are two galleries that we designed as installations and, I feel, are the most unique features of the exhibition. One gallery is 75 feet long and we placed 18 whackos—the animal-like pieces that look like aardvarks or anteaters—on custom-made wedges moving up and down chasing each across the wall,” Powell continues. “In another gallery we created a very dark space with the only light coming directly down on the new ‘Echo’ series—basically colorful bowls—that created refractions on custom circular pedestals that caught the colored refractions. The pieces appeared to be floating up and down around the darkened room.”
Powell’s exhibit at the MMFA is up during the commemoration of an important year for glass artists.
“Mark Johnson, the director of the MMFA, contacted me about doing the exhibition in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the American Studio Glass Movement,” Powell says. “I think part of their reason for choosing me for the exhibition was that I am a native son of Alabama, born and raised in Birmingham. The MMFA had acquired a piece of mine and they even brought a traveling group of patrons up to Danville to watch us work years ago.”
Powell is known best for his glasswork using a traditional Italian murrine technique, which calls for thousands of small, colorful beads to be blown and stretched into anthropomorphic shapes. Deciding what each piece will look like comes about organically for Powell.
“Usually, I light the piece up and then study the piece and see what comes to me. The colors in a certain piece can add to the personality of the piece, the emotional reaction I have to the piece,” he says. “The glass always seems to have a voice of its own, so mostly I am dancing with the glass, trying not to trip up my partner.”
As for the zany names he gives his artwork, Powell has a simple explanation.
“I love words and word combinations, so the name has to have a good sound,” he says.
Besides being a great glass artist, Powell is also a highly popular professor at Centre. His classes draw students from across the disciplines—which he greatly appreciates.
“My favorite thing about teaching glass at Centre has been working with good students. Mostly, by far, I teach non-art majors. While I do have good art students that decide glass is their thing, some of my very best students come from other disciplines. They are taking glass because they want to—it is not fulfilling any requirement,” Powell says. “They love learning about glass and seem to really appreciate not just learning about something, but they get to actually do it. They are the ones who pay close attention, ask many questions—sometimes they drive me crazy. I love it!”