Kenneth von Roenn Jr. has designed and executed more than 1,500 commissions in the U. S., Middle East, Far East, Europe, Canada and Mexico. His work has been published in more than 75 books, magazines, and digital publications, and he has received more than 25 awards for work, including two hall of fames and lifetime achievement for the state of Kentucky. Von Roenn has also written and lectured on the topics of art in architecture, the evolution of architectural glass art, and the development and concerns of public art.
This Sunday, October 1, 2023, von Roenn will present examples of the architectural application of expressive glass and an introduction of what is on the horizon at the Stained Glass Association of America’s conference, Forging New Paths, held September 27 – October 1, 2023 in Buffalo, New York. Also, a new documentary film of von Roenn’s work by the noted film maker Sam Halstead has just been released.
Says von Roenn: “As an architect, I am primarily concerned with the sympathetic relationship between my works of art and the buildings of which they are but a part and parcel. Harmonious integration is achieved when the work expresses a visual dialogue with the architecture by responding to the particular character and specific needs of a building.”
Von Roenn was born in 1948 in Louisville, Kentucky. As a young man, his interests were athletic, primarily in springboard and platform diving. He attended Florida State University on a full athletic scholarship, while also pursuing his interests in fine art, philosophy and English, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1970.
Beginning his career in glass later that year at Louisville Art Glass, von Roenn was promoted to General Manager and in 1975 to President of the studio. In the early ‘70s he was an active member of the Stained Glass Association of America, serving on the executive committee and also as chairman of the publications committee. During this period, he compiled a body of innovative architectural glass artwork and established the studio as one of the most aesthetically and technically progressive in the country. He wrote regularly for several magazines on the topic of glass in architecture and taught courses in architectural art at the University of Kentucky School of Architecture from 1974 to ‘76.
Recognizing a need to pursue his evolving interest in architecture, von Roenn took a leave of absence from the studio in 1977 to pursue a master’s degree in architecture at Yale University, graduating in 1981. While at Yale, von Roenn further developed his interest in architectural art through work with the architect/sculptor Kent Bloomer, which was culminated with his independent thesis entitled, “The Primary Modalities of Art’s Relationship to Architecture: Integration, Juxtaposition and Synthesis.” While still in graduate school he founded in 1979 the von Roenn Studio Group in Branford, Connecticut, which designed and produced glass, architecture, graphics and furniture, executing commissions nationally and internationally.
In 1983, von Roenn returned to Louisville and worked for two architectural firms before establishing an architectural practice with two partners to form Bailey, Preston, von Roenn Architecture. Also at this time he returned to competitive diving, which culminated with winning 10 National Championship titles and two World Championship titles, setting two world records at the age of 41. Having achieved his earliest goal of becoming a world champion, von Roenn turned his exclusive attention to his true passion, expressive glass in architecture.
Recognizing a need for the development of expressive architectural glass, in 1991 von Roenn bought the Louisville Art Glass Studio and renamed it Architectural Glass Art, Inc. He expanded and reorganized the company, redirecting its focus on new roles and opportunities for glass in architecture. The studio quickly became recognized for its innovative application of new technologies in the execution of architectural glass art. Within the studio he served as the director of design and CEO/President, managing a staff of 30 and directing the exploration and development of techniques and technologies in glass fabrication. Von Roenn designed, and his studio produced, the world’s largest glass sculpture, which crowns the top of the 3 Wells Fargo Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. This work weighs more than 500,000 pounds, can be seen from miles away and is designed to withstand hurricane force winds.
In the late ‘90s, von Roenn’s desire to expand the studio led to his search for a new space. During this period, he joined with a group of developers and investors interested in the revitalization of downtown Louisville as well as the region’s firm commitment to the arts. The group, guided by von Roenn’s vision of a multipurpose glass facility, formulated a concept for Glassworks. From the original idea of a new home for Architectural Glass Art, von Roenn created a space for more than 50 glass artists to work and sell their art. He owned and oversaw the two galleries, a public workshop, a tour program, a special events program, the glass blowing studio, and a mobile glass blowing van powered by vegetable oil, all of which comprised Glassworks. More than 125,000 people visited Glassworks annually, which made it one of Louisville’s most popular tourist attractions. In 2012 von Roenn sold his interest in Glassworks to focus his attention exclusively on architectural glass art.
In addition to designing his own projects, von Roenn has also collaborated with several significant artists on major projects including Al Held, Jose Bedia, Laura Battle, Thomas Sayre, and Jennifer Bartlett. He has also worked with many of the leading American architects including Cesar Pelli, Charles Moore, William Turnbull, Thomas Ventulett, Graham Gund, Turan Duda, Gyo Obata, David Rockwell, Peter Marino, Mark Simon, to name a few.
Von Roenn’s work has been published in numerous books and in many major architecture magazines, including a feature article on his work in Architecture magazine. He has lectured extensively throughout North America and Canada and has written dozens of articles on art and architecture. Von Roenn has received numerous awards, including the Faith and Form Visual Arts Grand Award, American Crafts Award for Architectural Art, the AIA Allied Professional Award, the DuPont Benedictus Award, the Corning Museum Award, the Al Smith Fellowship, Tau Sigma Delta Architecture Fraternity Award, five Ministry & Liturgy’s Bene Awards and 10 CODAworx Awards. In addition, von Roenn received the Crystal Award for his design of a glass bridge for the Louisville arena. This project has been recognized as a technological tour de force for the way in which artistic glass was used as a primary structural element for the bridge. He has been inducted into the American Glass Hall of Fame as well as the Atherton High School Hall of Fame and was named one the 25 most influential art professionals in the Midwest by Dialogue magazine. He was presented with the Governor’s Award in the Arts for Lifetime Achievement in 2011 by the governor of Kentucky, which is the highest honor bestowed on a Kentucky artist.
In 2013 von Roenn decided it was time to begin to slow down (primarily at the urging of his domestic partner, Ursula Vourvoulis). He closed Architectural Glass Art and moved to Tallahassee, Florida, to work with Florida State University on the development of a new public art program. At FSU von Roenn also served as the Director of the Master Craftsman Studio as well as the founder of the Public and Architectural Art program. As a professor, von Roenn taught courses in public and architectural art as well as sculpture and creative entrepreneurship. He did not renew his contract with FSU in 2016 so he could once again turn his attention exclusively back to glass. That year, von Roenn was invited to present the keynote address to the American Glass Guild annual conference in Chicago.
With his move to Florida, von Roenn established Kaiser / von Roenn Studio with his partner Vourvoulis and serves as its Design Director. K/vR Studio’s focus is on large-scale architectural glass projects nationally and internationally. Since its inception in 2013, K/vR Studio has completed major projects in Manilla, Philippines, Dublin, Ireland, Austin, Dallas and El Paso, Texas, Nashville, Tennessee, Denver, Colorado, Los Angeles and San Diego, California, Washington DC and Miami, Florida. He lectures frequently on the topic of public art and its role in communities as well as the role of artistic glass in architecture.
Says von Roenn: “As an artist and craftsman, I emphasize the poetic expression of glass or acrylic as it is animated with light by enhancing and employing its inherent and intrinsic characteristics and qualities. In developing Fluidity and the Ordered Turbulence pieces, I was primarily concerned with ensuring that the composition involved the viewer mentally and visually in a manner appropriate to its context. I believe that if viewers are to fully understand a thematic concept, they should mentally construct their own meaning, and that my role as both artist and architect is to assist, encourage, inspire and direct that effort.”
The stained glass community will gather in a confluence of energy, inspiration and excitement for Forging New Paths: The Stained Glass Association of America’s 2023 Conference, held at The Hyatt Regency in downtown Buffalo, New York, from Thursday, September 28 through Sunday, October 1, 2023. In addition to 25 workshops, five tours, auctions, art salons, art openings, the Vendor Showcase, the Mosaic Marathon, and major networking events – SGAA will hold its General Session.
Each year during General Session, SGAA brings together speakers from around the world to speak about restoration, conservation, public art, history, and technology in the field. It is not uncommon to have roundtables to tackle emerging issues or panels of experts to provide clarity on how industry elements are being tackled across the country. Speakers and lecturers are chosen by a panel of peers for both their content and enthusiasm. The expertise of historians, conservators, and contemporary practitioners come together in a unique way to celebrate the enormous diversity of the entire industry.
In recent years, additional efforts have been made to bring notable guests and speakers to the conferences that can speak to the partnerships glass work often requires, e.g. those in adaptive reuse, metalsmithing, masonry conservation, sacred places, fundraising, and public art. There has also been a great many collaborations within the larger glass arts community as it applies to architectural art glass – kilnforming, flameworking, lamination, etc – and it is always exciting to see how connections made at the annual conference push the boundaries of new work.
Classes & Workshops
Conferences offer a unique opportunity to learn both beginning and advanced techniques and are often geared toward the unique strengths of that year’s conference host. SGAA tailored its workshops to nearby facilities and studio resources that are unique to this year’s conference location. Says McElfresh: “We have been very fortunate to work with incredible teachers from all over the globe – leaders in the field who have generously donated time to share their knowledge with our members and attendees.”
The Society of American Mosaic Artists (SAMA) is the largest nonprofit mosaic art organization in the world—a vibrant and ever-expanding group of more than 1,200 members, including mosaic artists at all levels, mosaic aficionados, collectors, materials suppliers, and art educators. SAMA has placed renewed emphasis on strengthening ties with other mosaic organizations around the globe to pursue common goals.
The Mosaic Marathon brings together members for a unique opportunity to create a mosaic in a cooperative, continuous, networking experience. The Mosaic Marathon creates a lasting piece of art that is donated to a local charity in SGAA’s host conference city. As a not-for-profit organization, this is an opportunity for SAMA to give back to the arts community and create a lasting reminder of its legacy and mission.
Tours & Field Sessions
The history and appreciation of stained glass is inseparable from both its setting as an architectural element and the very nature of the material itself. For craftsmen and artists in the field to gain exposure to the vast living museums of stained glass, they must visit stained glass all over the world whenever they can. “Installations all over the world are our museums, our laboratories, and our classrooms,” says McElfresh.
“Thus, when we come together as a group, we must take advantage of our travel and our companions to go and experience installations, to discuss them with our peers, and to investigate ongoing care and restoration concerns that affect us all. This is one of the most useful ways we can learn as a group.”
Nearly every SGAA conference includes at least one full day of site visits and installation tours. In addition, the organization has been known to schedule and participate in special travel opportunities both in the United States and abroad to experience as much stained glass as possible. The tours are almost always stand-alone events, which can be attended outside of General Session participation and are often open to the public.
Auction & Scholarships
At each conference, members have the opportunity to browse through tables laden with books, sample sets, vendor products, tools, and artwork from members. SGAA’s annual silent and live auction at the summer conference is a major source of funding for scholarship assistance. Donations directly fund scholarships for professional stained glass instruction all over the country and beyond.
On exhibition years, work is donated to SGAA’s live auction, which is an opportunity to collect autonomous work by any number of the group’s talented members.
On the Shoulders of Giants: Innovation in Stained Glass at The Buffalo History Museum, Portico Gallery, September 15, 2023 – January 14, 2024
This anniversary exhibition pays homage to skills honed over generations that have facilitated innovation in past and present-day Buffalo. Just as LaFarge and Tiffany pushed the boundaries of the medium in the 1880s, today’s community continues to move forward, fostering innovation and creativity.
This trifecta of exhibits brings together Buffalo’s unique history and legacy with future architectural endeavors. Conference attendees have the opportunity to experience how glass is a part of the city’s built environment, building momentum for the art of the future. Viewing opportunities include: The new Gundlach building at Buffalo AKG Art Museum and multiple new glass-related commissions being unveiled there this summer; Brilliance: The Stanford Lipsey Art Glass Collection at the Burchfield Penney Art Center; and On the Shoulders of Giants at the Buffalo History Museum.
States David Judson, Judson Studios: “The world of stained glass is constantly evolving with the advancements in technology. Despite being an ancient craft, new and innovative methods are being discovered every day. These advancements present exciting opportunities for the future of this beautiful medium. We are thrilled to witness the endless possibilities that lie ahead.”
Camaraderie, Networking & Celebration
Says McElfresh: “Year after year, SGAA builds on the shoulders of giants, sharing cumulative knowledge with one another. This magic is the result of providing space for the unplanned to occur: the intermingling of artist, craftsmen, business people and suppliers. They exchange ideas, have impromptu demonstrations, and socialize. It is the chemistry created by our shared passion for the glass material that keeps bringing us back together.”
She continues: “At our business meetings, we not only attend to the business of the day, we recognize those who have achieved professional recognition in the field. We seek to learn what challenges may face us next. We are just as eager to hear from emerging professionals as we are to hear from the recognized experts.” Each annual conference ends with an award banquet where SGAA celebrates Lifetime Achievements as well as up-and-coming voices.
The Stained Glass Association of America is one of our nation’s oldest trade associations. Now 120 years old, the organization is proud to produce one of the oldest continuously published art journals in the United States, in addition to providing over 1,500 professionals across the country including manufacturers, suppliers, and educators with programs, scholarships, accreditation, public education and services for stewards.
Says McElfresh: “SGAA is the advocate and ambassador for monumental stained glass art in the United States.”
From his studio in Dania Beach, Florida, Rob Stern creates his signature Windstar sculptures, dedicated to his father, a consummate stargazer fascinated by cosmic phenomena. Stern was also inspired by his surname, which means star in German. The artist often names his stars to reveal their celestial spheres. Copernica is derived from Copernicus, visible in the evening sky over Miami Beach. Polaris, known as the North Star, is the brightest in the constellation of Ursa Minor. Antares is the 15th brightest star in the night sky and is part of the constellation Scorpius. Other Windstar titles conjure colors and experiences, such as Red Dawn, which takes its name from a glowing red center or Modra, the Czech word for blue. Stern’s Windstars are a testament to his deep understanding of glass and belief that the material takes him where it wants to go during the making process.
Another iconic body of work, Stern’s Stilettos, was inspired by his wife’s vast collection of designer shoes that includes Manolo Blahnik, Jimmy Choo, and Alexander McQueen. However, these glass slippers are even more extreme with wild bejeweled designs that could make even Lady Gaga swoon.
Stern states: “My creative endeavors and sculptures are mere stepping stones towards my search for understanding life. Harmonic instances between what I sense and do are the signals that guide me through my processes and prompt daily decisions. My works act as a communicative device which seeks to connect my thoughts and my actions to the collective human consciousness. A path seeking insight and enlightenment carries me forwards and always seems to bring me back to the glass.”
His mother an art teacher and father a filmmaker, Stern attended Northside High School for Performing Arts in Atlanta, Georgia, where he was part of an elite group that performed internationally. He later pursued visual arts, receiving a BFA from San Francisco State University (1989) and an MFA from the University of Miami (2003). Other glass training includes a five-year apprenticeship with John Lewis Glass, Oakland, California, where he trained to be a metal fabricator and expert glass caster/cold-worker. Stern went on to assist Czech master Petr Novotny and worked in the Czech glass factories as a designer/maker for two years. The artist also assisted or collaborated with many masters such as Dale Chihuly, William Morris, Martin Blank, Richard Royal, Richard Jolley, Dante Marioni, Therman Statom, Stanislav Libensky, Rene Roubicek, and Vladimir Klien, among many others.
Lecturing at the University of Miami for 10 years, Stern also acted as interim professor at University of Texas Arlington in 2009. He has frequented the premier glass institutions, most notably Pilchuck Glass School, Stanwood, Washington, for a 30-year consecutive run where he has taught, been a gaffer, TA, AA, and worked with the most notable international artists. Dedicated to education, the artist has also taught at the Corning Museum of Glass, New York; the Penland School of Craft, North Carolina; The Glass Furnace, Istanbul, Turkey; Bildwerk Frauenau, Germany; and Ways of Glass, Czech Republic. Stern designed and created many centerpiece collections for various institutions including Pilchuck in 2011, and he received the Amazon award for his Pilchuck auction piece in 2021. This year he has a prominent piece in Pilchuck’s October Auction.
Currently involved in long-term residencies at YZ Center for the Arts, China, and Bezaiten Arts Center in Lake Worth, Florida, Stern will serve as the future director of glass at The Dania Art Park, now in development. Meanwhile he and his team design and create original sculpture, architectural commissions, and unique lighting that has been commissioned, exhibited, and collected internationally. Recently, the artist participated in Habatat Gallery’s Glass 51 exhibition, and several of his works were acquired by Imagine Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida. Eighty of his pieces have become part of the permanent collection of the Weiner Museum of Decorative Arts (WMODA), Dania Beach, Florida.
Says Stern: “My aesthetic resides at the crossroads where humans and nature intersect. Between organic and angular, a space connects the temporary man-made to the pre-existing and eternal cosmos. Here, we begin to measure our perspective and contemplate the perception of our place in the world as it is one that is always changing with the evolution of space, light, and time. I venture to capture moments with materials that speak to a fleeting sensibility of the permanence or importance of this balancing act. Color and form dictate emotion, and humanity is transcended as we reflect in the inherent rhythm and fractal patterning in this natural world. My constant observation of details persuades my attention to nuances in an attempt to mimic the complexity of its simplicity.”
Stern’s work will be exhibited at Kittrell Riffkind in Dallas, Texas, in April 2024.