Glass Magic

By Carla Sue Broecker

Photos courtesy of Centre College

There are only a few world renowned living glass-blowing artists and the last week in October, two of them, Stephen Rolfe Powell and Lino Tagliapietra held a spectacular demonstration of their art at Centre College in Danville. With students and admirers perched on benches and stools or standing on tiptoes to get a better view, they gathered in the Corning Corhart Phillips Lighting Hot Glass Studio on Centre’s campus.

The poster promoting the demonstrations of Lino Tagliapietra glass blowing on Centre’s campus.

Powell has a national, if not world-wide reputation for his work. Born in Birmingham, Alabama he received his B.A. in painting and ceramics at Centre and earned an MFA in Ceramics at LSU. He first experienced glass blowing while at LSU. In 1983 he joined Centre’s faculty to teach ceramics and sculpture. Over the next ten years, he built a glass studio and founded Centre’s glass program as well as designed a state-of-the-art studio as part of Centre’s new Visual Arts Center in 1998.

Born in 1934 on the island of Murano, Italy, Lino Tagliapietra became a master glass blower in his early 20s and was granted that title in the 1950s. He worked for many prestigious glass companies until the 1990s when he became a free practicing artist of glass. His work is prominently featured in the world’s leading museums including the De Young Museum of San Francisco, the Victoria and Albert in London and the Metropolitan Museum of New York, as well as numerous galleries and private collections.

His relationship with Centre College is unique, and his visit this past week represents his sixth time spent with Stephen Powell and his students and admirers. In 2000, Lino served as a Humana Distinguished Professor at Centre. The PBS documentary “Lino Tagliapietra: Maestro of Glass” was produced by Stephen Powell and filmed on campus. At Centre’s 2004 commencement Lino received an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters along with Sandra Day O’Connor.

David and Pam Ray invited husband Brad and me to accompany them to Danville for the last of four Lino demonstrations on a very cold Sunday morning. We met at the Rays’ farm in Simpsonville and took the trip with David at the wheel. Perhaps not known, the Ray family’s business is Carl Ray Nursery and they have been responsible for planting some wonderful trees on Centre’s beautiful campus.

Armed with heavy jackets, gloves and even earmuffs, we were lucky enough to find seats on the aluminum bleachers facing five red-hot furnaces that heated the glass, but not the audience. The garage-like doors on both sides of the studio were wide open with a considerable breeze so the audience was happy to have dressed warmly for the occasion.

With no fanfare at all, Lino and Stephen along with many of Lino’s staff from Italy and Stephen’s staff and students entered the room and began the creation of a wonderful piece. A little nub of glass began to grow with many firings and additions of pieces of colored glass. It is impossible to explain all of the working of this process. You have to have been there. The saddest part of all was when it was finished it was grabbed up by Stephen’s huge “oven mittens” and swept off so fast to a cooling oven to temper it for a number of days, we didn’t get a picture of the finished product.

Lacking proof of what we saw, take my word, it was a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience. VT