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170 One moonlit and starlit night, I stood atop the roof of a building on the campus of Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. There I witnessed the single most remarkable performance of all my years with the studio glass art movement. I was standing enveloped by the roar of glassmelting furnaces, the flare of gas torches, and the sound of incessant, throbbing rock music. At the center of this whirlwind of sight and sound was Stephen Rolfe Powell, hard at work. Powell, with the assistance of his team, was giving birth to a stupendous, sinuous, multicolored, four-foot-high, swollen glass vessel. As it shimmered against the soft sheen of that night sky, I realized I was witnessing something very special. I was not alone in realizing that this primal act of creation was a unique moment. Powell was surrounded by more than a dozen groupies (myself now included). This was his standard entourage of locals, collectors, and dealers who regularly witness these stupendous Stephen Powell “blows.” Perhaps I should have realized that I was in for some inimitable experiences when I saw Stephen’s work for the first time. This initial experience was at the 1990 Glass Art Society conference in Seattle. There I heard Libensky and Brychtova speak for the first time about their new freedom in Czechoslovakia. Dale Chihuly unveiled his new Boathouse showcasing Lino Tagliapietra himself demonstrating his own incomparable techniques. But no exhibit in Seattle was more dramatic that the one in a local painting gallery that featured several large contemporary Impressionistic-style canvases. Juxtaposed alongside the paintings were colorful, monumental glass vessels sporting sensual elongated necks on exaggerated bulbous bodies. This was the work of Stephen Rolfe Powell. This rich new body of work must be created by a maverick, I could not fail to realize. Who is Stephen Powell? Where did he come from? He had somehow bypassed the established academic glass programs and was not connected with Pilchuck, Corning, or Penland. How did he land this opportunity to exhibit during a GAS conference at a fine art gallery? Other dealers were asking the same questions. From that moment on, the seduction of my eyes by the luminous drops of transparent color joined together like a psychedelic dream has kept me pursuing one of the most pleasant journeys of my life. Suddenly, many dealers were dreaming of these magnificent vessels in their gallery too. I worked at my job as a dealer while Stephen worked at his as an artist. At the first Powell opening at Marx Gallery in Chicago in 1991, Stephen strolled in, tall, lean, and with long flowing hair—smiling and graciously greeting the staff and guests. His warm Southern, gentlemanly manner, enriched by his thoughtful, academic style, left everyone with fond first impressions. In my case, first impressions have only been deepened and broadened over the years by strong feelings of professional respect and personal friendship. Stephen is a natural giver and taker. He mentors well and enjoys being mentored. His favorite teacher and closest friend in the glass world is Lino Tagliapietra. The love and respect they share encompasses a rich language about their shared passion for life, glass, family, friendship, and learning. The stunning forms and colors of a Powell sculpture initially fascinated me in Seattle just as their very creation blew me away on the roof atop Centre College on that night of sound and light in Kentucky. But learning about the complex techniques Powell has created to realize his work keeps me guessing as to what he will do next. Stephen is always experimenting and challenging the material to realize a new idea. This constant exploration of possibilities keeps artists, collectors, and gallerists all eagerly awaiting the next release of work by this extraordinary maverick. Bonnie Marx Marx-Saunders Gallery Chicago, Illinois A N E X T R A O R D I N A R Y M AV E R I C K ...


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