From garage to gallery: Kansas artist Karg built his ca­reer on glass

The Wichita Eagle (Sunday) - - Arts & Culture - BY AMY GEISZLER-JONES

Renowned glass artist Rollin Karg’s mid-life artis­tic ca­reer started small.

It be­gan as a back­yard ven­ture in a 17x20 garage in Wi­chita – al­low­ing him to scratch a cre­ative itch and prob­a­bly a ge­netic pre­dis­po­si­tion to cre­ate things with his hands. Learn­ing to blow glass us­ing smashed up Pepsi bot­tles, he started cre­at­ing small pa­per­weights.

More than 30 years later, his workspace and gallery is spread out in two large build­ings on a cor­ner of North Oliver in Kechi, a small town just north of Wi­chita. When he started, Karg said, his was one of the first pri­vate glass artist stu­dios in Kansas.

As his ca­reer grew, so did his cre­ations and his ef­fect on the glass art genre.

Now Karg cre­ates, or “knocks to­gether” as he de­scribes it, tall sculp­tures – some 14 feet and taller – that are a mix of me­tal and glass.

His art­work is col­lected, some­times even hoarded, he said, and is pur­chased all over the world, in­clud­ing by For­tune 500 com­pa­nies. He has art­work dis­played as part of pub­lic art in Chicago, Estes Park, Colorado and else­where, and it’s car­ried by gal­leries through­out the United States. His work is of­ten fea­tured on sculp­ture walk­a­bouts in var­i­ous cities, in­clud­ing the year­long 10th An­nual Sculp­ture Walk­a­bout un­veiled by the Arts Coun­cil and City of Wi­chita in late Septem­ber.

He’s learned to build fur­naces and other equip­ment used to cre­ate glass­work and has helped other glass artists in­stall and build their fur­naces, too. He and his em­ploy­ees had a hand build­ing the equip­ment used in the glass stu­dios at Wi­chita’s Ci­tyArts.

He spent more than 20 years try­ing to recre­ate and bet­ter the process of cre­at­ing phos­phate opal glass that was once used to dif­fuse the light of can­dles and oil lamps be­fore elec­tric­ity. Work­ing with phos­phate glass al­lows him to cre­ate milky white and other light hues in the glass he cre­ates. He’s also known for his work with dichroic glass, which can be de­scribed as trans­mit­ting one color while re­flect­ing an­other.

He’s also helped train sev­eral artists who’ve worked for him over the years.

“I’ve launched a bunch of ca­reers,” Karg said. “You don’t have to look very far to find my prodigy or off­spring, as you might call them.”

The artists who’ve trained with him even have a name – Kar­gis (pro­nounced with a hard g).

Works of Karg and some of his Kar­gis, along with artists from else­where in the United

States, will be on dis­play in the up­com­ing Karg Art Glass an­nual ex­hi­bi­tion and show. The Glo­ri­ous Glass Show opens with a 6 to 9 p.m. re­cep­tion Fri­day, Nov. 9, that will fea­ture live glass blow­ing, re­fresh­ments and live mu­sic. The show will con­tinue dur­ing the shop’s nor­mal busi­ness hours through Fri­day, Jan. 4.

Karg grew up with men who worked with their hands. His fa­ther was a car­pen­ter. One grand­fa­ther was in con­struc­tion, the other a tool-and-die man who could make things out of junk. They wanted him to work more with his brain. Karg stud­ied busi­ness for awhile at Wi­chita State Uni­ver­sity and had an in­dus­trial en­gi­neer­ing and sales ca­reer work­ing with air­craft and other man­u­fac­tur­ers. But he also liked be­ing cre­ative, do­ing wood­work, work­ing with me­tal and such.

In the 1980s, on a month­long fam­ily driv­ing trip to New­found­land in Canada, Karg stopped at the Corn­ing Mu­seum of Glass in Corn­ing, New York, that fea­tures an­cient glass art and glass-blow­ing demon­stra­tions.

“I watched them and I was hooked,” Karg said.

Af­ter that trip, he took glass art classes with Richard Stauf­fer at Em­po­ria State Uni­ver­sity.

“I was 38 when I picked up my first glass-blow­ing pipe,” said Karg, 74.

He be­came a full-time artist in 1983, mak­ing pa­per­weights in that garage in the Mid­town neigh­bor­hood of Wi­chita.

“I was go­ing to be a weight man,” he said.

His son and his son’s friend, not yet teens, were his first ap­pren­tices and em­ploy­ees, help­ing run the fur­naces and mak­ing glass. The fam­ily’s base­ment liv­ing room dou­bled as the sales, pack­ing and

ship­ping area. With his work be­ing car­ried at the Wi­chita Art Mu­seum store and else­where, tour buses started show­ing up in the res­i­den­tial neigh­bor­hood to watch him work and then vis­i­tors would traipse down the base­ment steps to buy his work, with the fam­ily dog al­ways not far be­hind.

He even­tu­ally found a space in Kechi that was big­ger. Go­ing from a 340square-foot workspace to one that was 3,000 seemed over­whelm­ing, Karg said. He ded­i­cated about 450-square-feet to a gallery to sell art. But in six months, the place wasn’t big enough.

Karg’s tran­si­tion into other glass works started by ac­ci­dent. He messed up mak­ing a tra­di­tional round pa­per­weight but was in­trigued by the new shape he’d cre­ated. He started cre­at­ing more of them on pur­pose, call­ing them sculp­ture weights. He moved into mak­ing other artis­tic pieces, in­clud­ing disks and other cre­ative shapes.

About 12 years ago,

Karg Art Glass moved into its cur­rent fa­cil­ity at 111 N. Oliver, which con­sists of two build­ings. The largest – at 7,300 square feet – houses the 3,200-square­foot gallery where Karg sells his work and that of other artists, and is where the Glo­ri­ous Glass Show ex­hibit will be set up.

Be­hind the gallery, Karg and three other glass­blow­ers make their art­work in an open-air stu­dio, where fur­naces glow, burn­ing hot at about 2,300 de­grees Fahren­heit. Some of the glass used to make the art pieces is cre­ated on site, while other glass, like the frit, are pur­chased. Sev­eral bread pans hold the frit – gravel-sized glass pieces of dif­fer­ent col­ors – into which the glass blower dips the hot, sticky glass to add color.

The sec­ond build­ing, a me­tal in­dus­trial-look­ing 3,000-square-foot build­ing, is where Karg cre­ates me­tal stands to dis­play some of his art. Tow­er­ing shelves hold sev­eral dif­fer­ent shapes and sizes of me­tal pieces. Some of the pieces he cre­ates him­self, us­ing a tem­plate he ac­quired 40 years ago. Oth­ers are pur­chased.

About three years ago, he started cre­at­ing sculp­tures out of the me­tal parts, with some in­cor­po­rat­ing his glass work.

Sev­eral of his me­tal and me­tal-glass sculp­tures are on dis­play on the Karg Art Glass grounds. Welded When: Where:

Ad­mis­sion:

More in­for­ma­tion: to­gether, the me­tal parts of the sculp­tures tend to be ar­ranged in ways that give the pieces both flow and vis­ual in­ter­est. The ad­di­tion of the glass pieces give the sculp­tures a vis­ual pop of color.

Rollin Karg is known for his va­ri­ety of work in art glass, which is avail­able through his stu­dio in Kechi.

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