Art as tribute in Danville
Campus landmark serves as an endearing reminder of the late artist Stephen Rolfe Powell’s legacy
A steel and glass tribute to a beloved instructor and alumnus, considered the “Godfather of Kentucky Glass” and one of the foremost glass artists in the world, towers above the campus of Centre College in Danville.
Unveiled in the fall of 2022, the Stephen Rolfe Powell Memorial Sculpture Garden features a 25-foot-tall sculpture created by Louisville artist—and Powell protégé—Brook Forrest White, Jr. Its shape reminiscent of Powell’s iconic large-scale vessels, breathtaking with their use of colorful and intricate Venetian murrine, it is evocative of a genie’s bottle with slender illuminated neck flaring out into a walk-through dome—and it is pure magic.
“The space invites visitors to follow the color and discover a bit of Stephen’s personal vibrancy,” said White at the memorial’s dedication. White was the force behind the nearly three-year initiative to create this tribute to his mentor. He is a 1991 Centre College graduate and the owner of Flame Run Gallery in Louisville, where the colorful glass discs embellishing the sculpture were crafted.
Recalling his former teacher, who died on March 16, 2019, as “larger than life,” White said he hoped the memorial would “reflect some of his energy and personality.”
The memorial sits adjacent to Centre College’s Norton Center for the Arts. In addition to the sculpture, whose illuminated circle incorporates shards of Powell’s blown glass art pieces at ground level, there is a garden planted with the help of the Danville Garden Club and lush with hundreds of daffodils and tulips, crepe myrtles and forest pansy redbuds.
Three custom-made steel and glass artisan benches represent different parts of Powell’s life and are lit at night. A walking path and a small amphitheater with Kentucky limestone seating serves as an outdoor classroom.
Artists Paul Nelson and Paul Hugues, both 1992 graduates of Centre College, are among a cadre of former Powell students who helped create the benches and sculpture, which contains 16 steel ribs crafted by Louisville artist Dave Caudill.
“The memorial is another example of Stephen’s impact and influence on the community,” says Professor of Art Patrick Martin, who graduated from Centre College in 1986. Martin returned to Centre last year to lead the hot glass program his mentor began, nearly 40 years after his first class with Powell. “It is a unique and visionary design for an outdoor classroom very much inspired by Stephen’s glass work.
“The site is a welcoming, calming, inspiring—a beautiful classroom for all to enjoy,” Martin adds.
Powell not only taught the hot art glass program at Centre College for three decades—a program he founded and brought to prominence and through which he inspired generations of students—but the college was the home of his glass art studio and the space in which he created his artistic and professional legacy.
Powell’s stunning glass art works have been displayed around the world, from Japan to New Zealand to Russia and many more places in between. One piece is in the permanent collection of the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC. Additionally, Powell’s showstopping “Time Zippy,” a 1,500 pound, multihued glass sculpture featuring 365 glass orbs in a vibrant color palette of red, yellow, orange, blue and purple, is suspended from the ceiling in Boyle County Public Library’s rotunda.
Magical and irresistible in color and vibrancy, the Stephen Rolfe Powell Memorial Sculpture Garden is located on the campus of Centre College adjacent to the Norton Center for the Arts. The sculpture and gardens are open daily. Watch a video of the late artist working in his studio with students here.
600 W. Walnut Street
Danville, KY 40422