The Power of Color: A Stephen Rolfe Powell Retrospective

August 26 through October 29, 2022

The Art Center of the Bluegrass hosted a groundbreaking Stephen Rolfe Powell retrospective August 26 through October 29, 2022. The retrospective featured pieces from Powell’s first clay works through his early Teaser series to his final Zoomer series, while also presenting memorabilia from the life of this dynamic artist. The three gallery spaces at the Art Center showcased the progression of Stephen’s work and life, which was always evolving through his love of color and his inspiration of nature.

Check out the online gallery here

We want to thank our exhibit sponsors

Mr. and Mrs. David Grissom, Bob Allen Motor Mall, Centre College, Danville-Boyle County Convention and Visitors Bureau, RW Baird – Private Wealth Management, Jim and Laurie Seabury, and Whitaker Bank.

About Stephen Rolfe Powell

Stephen Rolfe Powell was born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1951. He studied painting and ceramics at Centre College and received a Bachelor of Arts in 1974. After working as an art instructor at Draper State Prison and Indian Springs School, Powell attended LSU in 1980 and earned a Master of Fine Arts in Ceramics in 1983. It was during this period that Powell first encountered hot glass, which quickly became his obsession.

Powell exhibited his work nationally and internationally and participated in workshops, demonstrations, and lectures across the globe. He worked in Russia, Ukraine, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan and demonstrated at multiple Glass Art Society Conferences, as well as the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. One of the highlights of his travels was an exhibition of his work at Venezia Aperto Vetro in the Palazzo Ducale in Venice, Italy. Powell was one of only eight American artists invited. His intricate, colorful vessel sculptures can be found in museums across the country – from the Smithsonian, who recently acquired one of his pieces for its permanent collection, to Louisville’s Speed Museum and the Cincinnati Art Museum – as well as in private collections and the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto. Additionally, Powell’s stunning 3′ high glass vessels, shimmering with colorful Venetian murine, were displayed in St. Petersburg’s Hermitage, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, and elsewhere around the world.

Stephen Powell at Centre College

Powell had arrived at Center College in Danville in 1970 as an unfocused, rambunctious, long-haired 18-year-old freshman.  At the time, Centre had a total of one art teacher who taught all the art history and virtually all the studio classes. Powell drifted into art, focusing on ceramics and large abstract paintings. He became interested in glass much later, while working on an M.F.A. at L.S.U.   

Soon after returning to Centre on a temporary appointment to teach in 1983, he talked some suspicious college administrators into letting him build a small glass furnace using materials he’d begged from Corning, Incorporated and other local industries.  (He had a famously winsome manner.) The hot-glass program at Centre he created ex nihilo soon turned into a major attraction both at the college and in the town.

Powell was often called “the Pied Piper of hot glass” for his ability to attract so many unlikely students into hot glass professions. Over the next 32 years, many of his students—who’d been sent to Centre to prepare them to take over family businesses or become doctors or lawyers—were captivated by Powell’s hot glass and went on to successful hot-glass careers in start-up companies and universities across the country. 

As a testament to his passion for glass education, Powell was honored with Kentucky’s “Teacher of the Year” award in both 1999 and 2000. In 2004 he was presented with the Acorn Award by the Kentucky Council on Post-secondary Education and in 2010 he received the Artist Award of the Governor’s Award in Arts. In 2012, Powell was presented with the Distinguished Educator Award from the James Renwick Alliance in Washington, D.C.

Stephen Powell and His Community

“Powell’s restoration of the old Coca-Cola Bottling Plant on Stanford Avenue was part of the resurgence of that side of town. He turned the building into his studio, exhibition space, and visitor center complete with two pool tables saved from Main Street’s storied Ace Billiards.”

Mark Lucas

“Steve had close ties with the industrial glass experts at Phillips Lighting in Danville and Corning in Harrodsburg. He deeply valued their technical advice and was a grateful recipient of firebrick and raw materials from their storerooms,” said Mark Lucas.

Stephen Powell and the Art Center

Stephen Powell was one of the founding members of the Community Arts Center (now Art Center of the Bluegrass). In 2003, a group of dedicated art-lovers undertook a $1.4 million restoration of a historic federal building, originally constructed as a post office in 1909. Serving on the initial Board of Directors for the art center, Powell helped secure the necessary funding for the project and shaped the vision that brought the organization to life. Today, the Art Center serves as a creative hub for the southern Bluegrass region.

In 2019, the Art Center was honored to acquire two of Powell’s glass “Zoomers,” the series he was exploring at the time of his death. These two 5’ tall glass pieces, displayed in the entrance lobby of the Art Center, feature a honeycomb pattern of colors that represents the way nature grows from circular forms to hexagons. Powell selected the pieces himself for the Art Center prior to his death, identifying them as ideal pieces for the space due to their beautiful interaction with the light. Memorial contributions funded the majority of their acquisition. Other work by Stephen Powell can be found locally at the Boyle County Public Library.

About the Retrospective Exhibit

On August 26th the Art Center of the Bluegrass will open The Power of Color exhibit, generously supported by a range of local businesses and townspeople devoted to his memory.  The money raised that isn’t needed to cover the exhibit costs will be put into the art center’s Stephen Powell scholarship fund for children’s art programming.

To view pieces, visit the beautiful online gallery and check back soon to browse items for purchase related to the exhibition: an art print, commemorative tea from Elmwood Inn, and more!

About the Stephen R. Powell Memorial Garden at Centre College

The memorial garden will feature a 25-foot-tall sculpture that spectators can walk through, as well as a garden, a walking path, three custom-made artistic benches, and a small amphitheater that will serve as an outdoor classroom.

The centerpiece will be a 30’-high metal and glass sculpture inspired by one of his 3’-high “screamers.” Brook White, one of Powell’s students who now creates major glass installations and owns and operates Glassworks in Louisville, helped Centre raise more than $400,000 to create this Powell memorial in front of the college’s own performing arts center. 

Buildings and rooms and gardens and programs at colleges and universities are named for wealthy donors or foundations.  Centre’s remarkable honor to one of its own faculty members—and to an artist, no less—is perhaps unique.

Visit The Power of Color retrospective at Art Center of the Bluegrass, 401 West Main Street, Danville, Kentucky from August 26 – October 29, 2022.  Open Tuesday – Friday, 11am – 7pm and Saturday, 10am – 5pm. 

For questions and media inquiries, contact Niki Kinkade at the Art Center of the Bluegrass at 859-236-4054 or

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