Stephen Rolfe Powell

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Stephen Rolfe Powell (born 1951 in Birmingham) is a nationally-known glass artist.

Powell was born to a Birmingham-Southern College drama professor and grew up in Birmingham. He is named for John Rolfe, the English colonist who married Pocahontas, and from whom (according to family tradition), the Powells are decended.

After graduating from Indian Springs School, Powell went to Danville, Kentucky for art school at Centre College, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in painting in 1974. He returned to Birmingham, executing large-scale paintings on his own and earning his teaching certificate from BSC. Later, he conducted art programs at Draper Correctional Facility in Elmore and worked briefly as an art teacher at Indian Springs. He then went to Lousiana State University where he earned a Master of Fine Arts in ceramics, working chiefly with raku. While in school he experimented with glassblowing. LSU was beginning a glass program at the time, but Powell found more inspiration at other places, such as Haystack, Penland, and Tulane, where he worked with Gene Koss.

He visited the Rothko Chapel in Houston and had an epiphany about the superiority of glass over paint for producing color effects. By 1984 he was on the faculty of Centre College, and working exclusively in glass, bringing to the medium the gestural vibrancy of "action painters" like Pollock and de Kooning. He continued to study glassblowing techniques at Summervail in Colorado and at Pilchuck in Stanwood, Washington, where he assisted Dan Dailey and Lino Tagliapietra. Three of his vessels from that period were featured in Corning's New Glass Review.

Inspired by Tagliapietra and Richard Marquis, Powell began adding murrini (segments of multi-colored drawn-glass strands) to his vessels to increase their complexity of surface. The process of wrapping cylinders of glass with colored beads before blowing has been his hallmark as his style matured toward color fields, recalling Rothko more than Pollock. The thicker layers of color provide a depth to the vessel surface which evokes organic or geologic bodies.

In 1990, Powell accepted a teaching post at the Muhkina Glass Institute in Leningrad and the Lvov Glass Factory and Art Institute in Lvov, Ukraine. There he confronted the distinction between the artist as conceiver and the craftsman as maker - a tradition in Russian and Ukrainian glass work. He determined to investigate the craft of glassblowing while he was there, and was able to greatly increase the size of his works.

In 1993 Powell was badly injured by a broken window and required extensive hand surgery and months of rehabilitation to recover.

Powell currently works from his 44-acre farm near Danville, Kentucky, where he has constructed that state's largest kiln, able to fire over 2,000 pots at once. His obsession with fire, central to his work in glass, which is mostly executed at night, also manifests itself in frequent bonfires and pyrotechnic displays at festivals he hosts on his property.

Powell was twice named "Professor of the Year" by Kentucky's Council for the Advancement and Support of Teaching. He was instrumental in bringing Tagliapietra to Danville as a visiting artist. Powell documented the visit in the film Lino Tagliapietra: Glass Maestro.

Powell has work in the permanent collection of the Birmingham Museum of Art, and is represented locally by Gallerie Alegria in English Village.


  • Yood, James (June/July 2001) "Stephen Rolfe Powell". American Craft.
  • Winters, Laurie G. (1997) "Stephen Rolfe Powell: Genesis and the vitreous singularity." Craft Arts International. Number 39

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