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Arts Toolkit

Arts Toolkit: Visual

Kentuckians in Visual Arts


Glass Artist Kenneth vonRoenn Jr.
Louisville, Kentucky

vonroenn

Who Kenneth vonRoenn Jr. began his career in glass in 1970 after suffering an athletic injury that prevented him from entering law school. He took a job at the Louisville Art Glass Studio facility, starting at the ground level by performing basic cleaning and maintenance duties. The job allowed him access to both the facilities and the staff, and he soon began working after hours in the studio, developing a fundamental knowledge of glass-making techniques through a more personalized training. In 1981, he earned a master’s in architecture from Yale University, then went on to work as an architect and glass designer and to teach part-time at the University of Kentucky School of Architecture. VonRoenn considers his architectural degree a critical step in his development as an artist because it helped him understand architectural fundamentals, with a focus on art’s relation to architecture. In 1991, vonRoenn bought Louisville Art Glass Studio and renamed it Architectural Glass Art, Inc. He serves as head designer and president, managing a staff of about 30, and has expanded the company, redirecting its concentration to focus on new roles for glass in architecture. The studio has become recognized nationally and internationally for its innovative application of new technologies in the fields of design, architectural art, and glass making. Meanwhile, vonRoenn has executed hundreds of projects around the world—including the world’s largest glass sculpture, which crowns the top of Wachovia Bank in Charlotte, North Carolina. His work has been published in numerous books and in every major design magazine.

Examples of vonRoenn’s works are found in the Kentucky Artisan Center gallery of the Kentucky Virtual Art Museum CD-ROM.

vonroenn

What “I perform a wide range of tasks as both president of the studio and as the head designer. I participate directly in every aspect, from designing of a project to communicating with clients and project assistants; overseeing production while working with our craftspeople; making presentations; keeping abreast of emerging trends and technologies; and doing general business work, such as estimates, contracts, bookkeeping, scheduling, and correspondence—though thankfully other people do most of the business stuff.”

When “I don’t really have a typical day or a set schedule of hours, but most of my time is dedicated to the design and production of new work.”

How “Over time, this is what I’ve discovered, both in maintaining a business and a career as an artist: In the beginning stages it is most important that you maintain your integrity as an artist with a vision. There is a real pressure to survive while you cling to your own goals and methods, and there is a huge temptation to accept work and influences on your work that are below your standards just for a paycheck. You have to consider protecting your vision as an investment and forego easy roads to financial ease, because once you minimize or weaken your own passion, it will undermine the development of your reputation as an artist. But you have to also realize that if you stick to your own standards, the limits of what you can do won’t be realized until the future. In the mid-career stages, it is important that you keep a consistent focus on the direction of your work, while at the same time maintaining a wide-ranging education of emerging trends and technological developments in your field. Staying consistent in one direction ensures the development of your work into something both authentic and true to your passion. Also, this keeps you from becoming a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. Lots of artists crave instant success, but it’s important to realize that people who succeed usually take a lifetime of hard work and commitment to get there. The newness of a few early successes fades quickly, so it is really key that you always keep your focus intent and your vision true. In the later years of your career, all of this focusing will allow you to be very selective in the kinds of projects you attempt, which allows you to really expand the horizons of your work because your foundation is very solid.”

Why “I enjoy applying the elements of art and design to the functions of architecture, as well as working at the cutting edge of the development and application of new technologies. AGA is really expanding what glass can do to the whole composition of a building or other structure.”

Getting There “In any design-oriented business, once your organization has grown large enough, add people who complement your skills. In other words, know what you don’t do well and turn that over to someone you know can do it better. This is the key to building any good organization: knowing what to expect of your own work and the work of your peers. Once you have defined your role within the organization, you must continue your own education in that area. For instance, as the creative director of AGA, I have to stay current concerning technological advancement and trends in art and architecture, as well as continue my own experience with new design ideas. But you have to know when you need to teach yourself something and when you should listen to yourself instead. And the most important quality you have to recognize is your own passion. Every individual should be really honest with him- or herself and ask all the hard questions about their own passion. To sustain yourself in the arts is very different from any other kind of career, because you have to be motivated by your passion first and foremost. It is this passion that provides the strength to get through the really hard years. If it isn’t there, then you have to ask yourself if you really have to be an artist or you will feel empty. But many people don’t understand that you can still appreciate and practice art and enjoy it without having to rely on it for a living. I think it’s necessary for everyone to find the appropriate place for art in their life, and this doesn’t always mean becoming a practicing artist.”


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