It’s clear: Wichita is a glass act.
From inspiring installations by renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly at the Wichita Art Museum to pieces created by acclaimed local artisans, glass is an art form that resonates here.
Rollin Karg began creating glass art using a five-foot blowpipe 26 years ago and remains passionate about his work, which he says demands strength, concentration, patience and skill – as well as creativity.
After a career in sales, Karg became a woodworker. A trip to upstate New York where he watched glassblowers at Corning Incorporated for hours on end changed his life forever.
“The designs just sort of bubble out of me,” says Karg, whose Karg Art Glass studio and gallery are located in nearby Kechi. “Ideas for me are pretty easy, but [then] it’s getting the idea into some kind of form that can end up in somebody’s home. You can imagine stuff, dream it up, draw it and start making it, refine it and turn it into something people pay money for. There’s a lot of work involved in that.”
The glass is heated in furnaces, “gathered” on the blowpipe, shaped, cooled, reheated, and more color or a pattern is often added.
Karg’s creations range from small objects, such as paperweights, starfish and small disks to much larger works.
Six people work in the shop with Karg, who has his art in galleries worldwide.
“I do like the variety of it,” he says. “When I started, you couldn’t buy glass equipment; we had to learn to build it. So we were in the process of learning along with everyone else in the glass business.”
Another area glass artisan, Scott Hartley, whose Infinity Art Glass studio and gallery are in Benton, taught biology before turning to glassblowing nine years ago. Hartley describes creating glasswork as “a process.”
“When you first start, you’re not making things that are really all that aesthetically pleasing,” Hartley says. “As you progress, you’re constantly pushing your skills and trying to develop new techniques. If you do it long enough, you’re going to improve.
“I try to do a huge variety of different things,” he explains. “I want people to enjoy the glass as much as I do.”
Hartley, who has work in galleries across the U.S., says he loves having visitors watch him because he can draw on their excitement and wonder.
Glass art is used to create that same reaction at the Wichita Art Museum, which welcomes visitors with two of Chihuly’s works prominently displayed in the entry and great hall.
Both sculptures were commissioned during the museum’s renovation in 2003.
The Persian Seaform installation is a 20-foot, second-floor bridge that visitors can view from below when entering the museum and then actually walk on when upstairs. The Confetti Chandelier is 14 feet high with 680 pieces of glass, says Crystal Walter, museum public relations coordinator.
With so much of the medium incorporated into the surroundings here, it makes sense that some are even inspired enough to pursue the craft themselves. To answer that need, CityArts, a not-for-profit organization located in Old Town, offers classes for would-be glass artists who are age 16 and older.