At the University of Louisville, art students can learn to work in the medium of glass thanks in large part to artist Ché Rhodes.
“I think with Ché and other [glass] artists working today, particularly the ones that he is teaching, they’re giving glass as a material the kind of visibility,” says Scott Erbes, Curator of Decorative Arts and Design at the Speed Art Museum in Louisville. “They’re showing its expressive potential, just as much as painting or video art or performance art. And to actually watch a glass artist work is essentially performance art.”
Rhodes came into the world of glass art thanks to his own teacher, the late Stephen Rolfe Powell, who was a noted artist in the medium and a professor at Centre College. Rhodes gives his mentor much of the credit for Louisville’s successful program.
“I don’t think that glass would have been on the map for [University of Louisville] if it weren’t for Stephen Powell,” says Rhodes. “The awareness of glass in Kentucky is largely because of him.”
Rhodes says Powell referred him to U of L when the university was looking to begin a glass program in the early 2000s. Now, the department has several facilities, including the Cressman Center downtown and a second glass center at the Hite Art Institute.
As an artist and teacher, Rhodes is helping to expand Kentucky’s art culture and its influence in the art world at large.
“Ché looks at [glass] a little differently than a lot of people,” says Carolyn Spears, Glass Departmental Assistant at the Hite Art Institute. “That can lead to interesting investigations, so I see his work as more a constant ongoing investigation into the material and what it can do, and opening up new possibilities in glass that other people may not have explored before.
“I was in his program for three years,” adds Spears. “I graduated in 2015 and then came back as a teaching assistant for the glass program. Watching Ché teach the students really inspires me to want to teach. I see the passion that it can spark when someone finds a new material that they really connect with, like I see here all the time with Ché and his students.”
For Rhodes, creating art and mentoring students is more than just a vocation.
“I always tell people, I literally probably wouldn’t be alive or at least not a free person if I hadn’t crossed paths with Stephen Powell as a young person,” he says. “I was definitely not on a professional path in life, so it’s an honor to do the best that I can to impart some of his knowledge and his approach and his style to other people. It’s great to see this tradition continuing on.”
This segment is part of Kentucky Life season 25, episode 11. Watch the full episode.