For Vernon Brejcha and Scott Hartley, glass blowing is a natural extension of their professional pursuits.
The enthralling objects they craft by melting glass are artistic expressions of deep emotion. On Friday, the two men will exhibit several pieces at Artworks in a show that represents the tradition and evolution of the art of glass.
“Scott’s pieces are just beautiful to look at in terms of design and color,” Artworks owner Reuben Saunders said. “Vernon’s are so organic and original. These two men work on entirely different directions, and that’s what makes this show so interesting.”
Many consider the 70-year-old Brejcha to be one of the pioneers in the modern glass movement. He grew up on a farm in Ellsworth and majored in art education at Fort Hays State University. After that, he taught high school for five years just outside Wichita. In 1968, the Wichita Art Association brought in the first glass show, and he was mesmerized by the works.
“I went back every Sunday for the next month and just looked at that glass,” he said. “At the end of the school year, I quit my teaching job and just went to Wisconsin to study.”
He graduated in 1972 with an master of fine arts from the University of Wisconsin and began his career as a professor, creator and exhibitor. Now retired after being an associate professor of design at the University of Kansas for more than 30 years, Brejcha’s works have been included in the exhibitions or collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Wichita Art Museum and others, including museums throughout Europe and Asia. He counts among his most noteworthy achievements the success of his students.
Hartley, 37, began his venture into the world of glass 13 years ago. Prior to that, he had been a college basketball player and majored in biology education. Though his background is in science, he broke away from teaching to focus on creating after spending time with Rollin Karg at his studio in Kechi. In doing so, he found a unique merging of two seemingly unrelated fields.
“There aren’t many arts where you need a physicality to do them, but glass is one of them,” he said. “It’s a mix of art, science and physicality. It’s perfect for me. You’re constantly pushing yourself physically to see what your body can handle, but also what the glass can handle.”
Hartley now has his own studio and gallery in Benton, where he works full time creating and selling. More recently, Brejcha has been working there, a partnership that Hartley said has allowed him to learn a lot more about the art of making glass.
This will be the first show where the two are pairing their works. Brejcha’s creations show his farm roots, with prairie imagery such as posts, Kansas sunsets and thunderstorms. The newest works in this show are his prairie pod series. They represent seeds that are struggling. Within the coloration, he aims to show that the spark of life is in every seed.
For Hartley, vivid colors and movement are central to the pieces he’ll be offering. Many of his works feature overlapping or conjoining parts that dance around each other. Neon colors of yellow and green intersect in some of the brighter pieces, while others feature an embrace of interlocking earth tones. Both artists convey meanings that redefine the depth of glass.
“What is so wonderful about glass is the transparency, the depth,” Brejcha said. “You can put feelings into it. When you’re creating, time passes like magic. Glass is magic.”