The Museum wishes to honor the memory of Stephen Rolfe Powell, a luminary in the field of studio art glass and a friend of the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts, who passed away on Saturday, March 16, 2019.
Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, Powell spent his undergraduate years studying painting and ceramics at Center College in Danville, Kentucky. While continuing to pursue ceramics in graduate school at Louisiana State, he found his passion in the excitement of glass and never looked back.
Since that time, Powell became internationally recognized for his innovative glass sculptures. A master with murine, he blew and stretched glass into suggestive, asymmetrical shapes, that along with his inventive method of swinging and torching the molten glass, offered a fresh departure from conventional vessels. His eccentric sculptural pieces, often sporting tongue-in-cheek titles, are dazzling imaginative works that pop and sizzle with rich color.
Known for his humor and exuberance, along with his grace and generosity, Powell was an unofficial ambassador for glass art and studio glass artists. Equally important to creating his own work, Powell relished his role as a professor, inspiring many students throughout the years at the glass program he founded at Centre College.
From Our Collection
Objects by the Artist
Psychedelic Mania: Stephen Rolfe Powell’s Dance with Glass
Catalogue – Psychedelic Mania: Stephen Rolfe Powell’s Dance with Glass
Publication — Stephen Rolfe Powell: Glassmaker
In January of this year, the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts received as gifts three works of art that were part of the collection of the Museum’s Director Emeritus, Mark Johnson, and his wife, Amy Johnson (pictured above). Mark spent most of his 23 years as Director of the Museum strategizing the refinement and expansion of the Museum’s permanent collection. Much of this involved the Museum’s use of endowed funds to purchase American historical paintings and sculpture (thanks to the generous bequest of Ida Belle Young) or Old Master prints (equally generously funded through the Weil Print Endowment). While he enjoyed the excitement that went along with these searches and purchases, he was personally devoted to more modern works of art, and particularly Studio Art glass and contemporary ceramics. Mark made many friends among the artists in these media, and he valued them as people as well as the art that they made.
The first gift, an intricate and exuberant ceramic platter by Viola Frey, Halo of Possessions, 1994, is currently on view in the exhibition About Face: Contemporary Ceramic Sculpture. Frey (American, 1933–2004) had an incredible influence on the trajectory of figurative ceramics in this country. Her bold and colorful platters such as Halo of Possessions were inspired by found materials gathered from junkyards and flea markets. Casting these objects in clay, Frey assembled them into rich, expressionistic, textural platters that become tableaux of our cultural lives.
Also included in the gift are two sculptures in glass by Seattle-based artist Ginny Ruffner (American, born 1952) that showcase her exceptional creativity and lampworking skills: Learning to Cat Paddle, 1994, and A Not So Still Life, 2000. Ruffner’s works combine her skills as a painter with her training as a flame worker in glass. Her sophisticated, whimsical, and narrative sculptures function as a canvas for her thoughts and dreams as seen in Learning to Cat Paddle. Sharing its title with an award-winning, full-length documentary about Ruffner, A Not So Still Life was featured in the exhibition Creativity: The Flowering Tornado, which the Museum organized and toured in 2003.
The Museum family takes great pride in the work that Mark and Amy invested in the Montgomery Museum of Fine Arts and in its success over his long tenure. We are tremendously grateful that they have entrusted these outstanding works of art that meant so much to them to our permanent collection.