Photos from today’s Governor’s Awards in the Arts ceremony

October 22, 2015
Doug Crowe, a state videographer, lined up winners of the Governor's Awards in the Arts for a group photo after the ceremony Thursday at the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort. Photos by Tom Eblen

Doug Crowe, a state videographer, lined up winners of the Governor’s Awards in the Arts for a group photo after the ceremony Thursday at the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort. Photos by Tom Eblen


Gov. Steve Beshear presented this year’s Governor’s Awards in the Arts at a ceremony Thursday in the Capitol rotunda in Frankfort. This year’s winners were: journalist Al Smith of Lexington, the Milner Award for lifetime service; Bluegrass musician Sam Bush of Bowling Green, National Artist Award; fabric and bead artist Linda Pigman Fifield of Knott County, the Artist Award; Big Ass Solutions of Lexington, Business Award; Creative Diversity Studio of Louisville, Community Arts Award; Centre College music professor Nathan Link of Danville, Education Award; wood carver Willie D. Rascoe of Hopkinsville, Folk Heritage Award; Paducah Convention & Visitors Bureau, Government Award; and Kentucky Educational Television personality Dave Shuffett of Nicholasville, Media Award.

Watch a video about each winner by clicking here.

Bluegrass music star Sam Bush, right, chatted with newspaperman Al Smith after the Governor's Awards in the Arts ceremony in the Capitol rotunda Thursday in Frankfort. Bush won the national artist award, while Smith won the Milner Award for his longtime service and advocacy of the arts in Kentucky. Photo by Tom Eblen |

Bluegrass music star Sam Bush, right, chatted with newspaperman Al Smith after the Governor’s Awards in the Arts ceremony.


Minnie Adkins, a folk artist from Eastern Kentucky, made this year's trophies for the Governor's Awards in the Arts. She carves and paints wood sculptures. The blue rooster is her signature piece.

Minnie Adkins, a folk artist from Eastern Kentucky, made this year’s trophies for the Governor’s Awards in the Arts. She carves and paints wood sculptures. The blue rooster is her signature piece.


Kentucky Educational Television personality Dave Shuffett, right, received the media award in the Governor's Awards in the Arts from Gov. Steve Beshear.

Kentucky Educational Television personality Dave Shuffett, right, received the media award in the Governor’s Awards in the Arts from Gov. Steve Beshear.

In the hot-glass studio with Stephen Rolfe Powell

October 17, 2010

DANVILLE — Stephen Rolfe Powell prepares to create art the way the former semi-pro tennis player used to get ready for a match: push-ups, sit-ups and a lot of stretching.

Powell does his quick workout on the floor of an empty classroom near his Centre College studio, where a furnace is heating clear glass to more than 2,000 degrees. His four-person crew arranges tools and gets ready for action.

Powell is soon skillfully wielding a hollow steel rod, gathering more and more glass from the furnace and rolling it smooth on a stainless-steel table. When the glob on the end of Powell’s rod weighs nearly 30 pounds, he carefully rolls it over a heated mosaic of more than 2,000 bits of colored glass that will determine the finished piece’s pattern and texture.

The pace quickens as Powell and his team add just the right amounts of fire, air and motion to manipulate the glass. By the end of this increasingly frantic dance, they will have created a graceful vessel with two squiggly necks that is a symphony of light and color.

“For me, the making of the work is more important than the end,” Powell said. “If I couldn’t go in the studio and make work, I’d be a basket case. It’s a drug for me. When I’m in that process and things are going, especially at the end, I’m aware of nothing else.”

The finished vessel, which might sell for $25,000 or more, is the kind of work that has earned Powell an international reputation as a glass artist. This year, it also earned him the Artist Award as part of the Governor’s Awards in the Arts. He will accept the prize Oct. 28 at a ceremony at the state Capitol with his wife, Shelly, and their two sons, Hawk, 11, and Oliver, 9, by his side.

“I sort of feel humbled by it,” Powell said, “When someone says, ‘What do you do?’ I rarely say I’m an artist. I say I work with glass. There’s no question winning this award gives some kind of legitimacy to what I do.”

The award caps a big year for Powell, 58. The Hunter Museum of American Art in Chattanooga recently presented a major retrospective of his work. Several of his pieces were shown in The Alltech Experience pavilion at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games. Powell, who is on partial sabbatical from his job as an art professor at Centre, recently bought the old Coca-Cola plant in Danville and is converting its 23,000 square feet into artistic work space.

When singer Tony Bennett performed at Centre’s Norton Center for the Arts earlier this month, he spent some time creating glass art with Powell. Bennett, an accomplished painter, also worked with Powell the last time he sang in Danville.

Powell said his success sometimes seems surreal because it wasn’t until age 28 that he even discovered hot glass.

As a student at Centre, Powell studied painting. After graduation in 1974, he returned to his hometown, Birmingham, Ala., to coach and play tennis and paint. “I got this studio in an old office building and kept waiting for somebody to discover me, but it never happened,” he said, laughing.

Powell taught art at his old high school and an Alabama state prison. Then came graduate school at Louisiana State University, where he was attracted to ceramics because it allowed him to do new things with color and light.

Then he discovered glass.

“I fell in love with it immediately,” he said. “I like fire and excitement and spontaneity and I have an athletic background. So glass was just it.”

Powell returned to Centre to teach in 1983 and created a hot glass studio with local corporate help. “It turns out this is a glass mecca,” he said. “Corning, General Electric, Phillips — they all have plants in this area.”

Powell’s father was a teacher, and he surprised himself by becoming one, too. “I don’t know why teaching is so satisfying and such a strong part of what I do, but it really is,” he said.

Powell said most of the Centre students who take his glass classes don’t plan artistic careers. Even among the art majors, only one or two each year will focus on glass. Still, several have risen to the top of their craft.

Two former students now run university glass programs: Ché Rhodes at the University of Louisville and Lexington native Patrick Martin at Emporia State University in Kansas. Two others are rising professionals: D.H. McNabb of Seattle and Brook White, who started Flame Run studio in Louisville.

Powell’s current crew, except for business manager Mitzi Elliott, are former students. “I really depend on that crew,” he said. “What I do is a real team effort.”

Powell said Centre’s support also has been critical to his success. “I just can’t imagine I would have had the same experience at another college,” he said.

One example: Centre awarded an honorary doctorate in 2004 to Powell’s mentor, Lino Tagliapietra, a Venetian glass master who never attended college. “When I said he’s the best in the world, they trusted me,” Powell said. “That meant a lot.”

Powell has focused his artistic expression on creating vessels because it is a form everyone can relate to. But he tries to keep experimenting with shape, color, pattern and effect. His vessels often have sensuous shapes, and he gives them wacky three-word names, such as Autumn Jealous Cleavage and Bombastic Moxie Gulp.

Now that he has more work space in the old Coca-Cola plant, Powell is interested in experimenting with large installation pieces. He recently completed one for the newly expanded and renovated Boyle County Public Library: 365 colored glass globes hung from the ceiling with aircraft cable.

What does Powell want people to take away from his art?

“I hope my work makes you step back and take a breath and pull away from the rest of the world and just have a moment of pleasure,” he said. “That’s about all I can come up with.”

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Artist who usually helps others shows his own work

January 17, 2010

Bruce Burris is best known in Lexington for helping other people create art — and for pushing the boundaries of what art is and who artists are.

He directs (with Crystal Bader) the Latitude Artist Community on Saunier Street, which for nearly a decade has helped people with disabilities express themselves through visual art. Latitude artists’ work has been displayed at galleries in New York and Paris, France.

Burris started ELandF Gallery, a “small-projects accelerator” for art in public spaces. It has sent poets to read in nursing homes and on LexTran buses. And it has paid small honoraria to people who wrote winning essays about why they wanted to watch clouds or read a book while sitting in a streetside parking space.

At the height of the controversy over Dudley Webb’s now-stalled CentrePointe development, Burris paid performance artists to publicly “mourn” the demolition of the block’s old buildings and to walk Main Street as “town criers,” giving dramatic readings of a defensive speech that Webb made to the Urban County Council.

Away from Lexington, Burris has gained notoriety for his own art. He has had solo exhibitions in San Francisco, Philadelphia and cities in California and Michigan, but never in Lexington. Until now.

“Nobody really knows about that aspect of his personality,” said Phillip March Jones, who organized Burris’ first solo show in a decade, which opened Thursday at Institute 193 and continues through Feb. 20 (Thursday through Saturday, 2 p.m. to 8 p.m.).

Jones opened Institute 193 last fall at 193 North Limestone. It is a little gallery with big ambitions: to showcase the work of this region’s unsung contemporary artists.

“Everything with Bruce is about Latitude or ELandF, but it’s never about him. … His own art never gets presented,” Jones said. “And, for me, it’s some of the most interesting stuff he does.”

The show is called We Will Someday, Someday We Will. The name was inspired by this season of New Year’s resolutions, when we all promise to become better people.

Burris’ sculptures, drawings, paintings and installation pieces use humor, irony and parody to comment on and raise questions about community dynamics and cultural stereotypes. He wants his art to promote activism and awareness of regional issues including poverty and mountaintop-removal coal mining. His art isn’t intended as decoration; he wants it to make viewers think.

One piece, Welcome to Lonely Mountain Community Center, is a bulletin board filled with fictional news and notices that speak to issues, concerns and cultural conflicts in contemporary small-town Appalachia.

Burris is as much a storyteller as an artist. He densely weaves words and messages into his paintings and drawings, some of which are reminiscent of funk-art album covers from the 1970s.

“What really carries the work is this text,” Jones said. “He’s dealing with the very problems we’re dealing with every day. These are serious issues, but he deals with them in a visually lighthearted way to get people into them.”

I met Burris for lunch at Third Street Stuff on a cold, snowy day. The first thing he wanted to do, before talking about himself, was to show off drawings and paintings by Latitude artists on the wall behind our table.

Burris, 54, grew up in Wilmington, Del., seeing art in everyday life. His mother was constantly taking him to museums and cultural events, “which, of course, I didn’t appreciate at the time,” he says.

He also was influenced by a boyhood neighbor, the famous artist and illustrator Frank Schoonover, who was well into his 80s but still painting and teaching. “He had an open studio where neighborhood kids could wander in,” Burris said.

“I grew up feeling like the visual arts were an approachable thing,” said Burris, who studied at San Francisco Art Institute. “But the better way for me to make art is not in an isolated environment. Collaboration and community and support; it’s a very natural thing for me.”

That belief, and a public service ethic picked up while attending Quaker schools, led him to a career that has combined art, community and social work — working with homeless and abused children in San Francisco and with disabled artists in Kentucky.

Burris moved to Lexington 16 years ago with his wife, Robynn Pease, who came to the University of Kentucky to earn a doctorate. She is now UK’s director of work life, teaches sociology and social work, and was elected last year as staff representative on the university board of trustees. They live near Southland Drive.

Originally, Burris thought he would be here three or four years then move back to San Francisco. “So I stored all my unimportant stuff in a friend’s garage,” he said. “I hope he’s had a big yard sale by now.”

After his last solo show a decade ago at a major San Francisco gallery, Burris said he ran out of steam and stopped creating work for several years. He resumed only recently, sparked by concern about mountaintop-removal mining and other issues.

Burris’ art, like the projects he sponsors through ELandF, are reactions to what he sees around him.

“I like all the projects I’ve done, but I know in my heart that they’re not innovative enough,” he said. “I don’t always feel like taking risks in this environment. You won’t see people taking these risks here; it’s a small town. But we should take risks.”

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