Richard Jolley gives sneak peek at his $1 million installation for Knoxville Museum of Art

This is just a small part of the huge sculture. The trees are life-size.

This is just a small part of the huge sculpture. The trees are life-size.

The Knoxville Museum of Art has commissioned sculptor Richard Jolley to create a permanent installation in glass and metal for the walls of the museum’s Great Hall. The as-yet-untitled work is the gift of Ann and Steve Bailey, longtime supporters of the KMA, who donated $1 million for the project. Steve Bailey is a former KMA board chair.

When it is finished, officials say it will be among the largest glass installations in the country. Jolley, celebrated nationally and internationally primarily for his achievements in glass, lives and works in Knoxville. He has been the subject of numerous one-person exhibitions around the country, and his works are collected by art museums, corporations, and individuals (including Elton John) throughout the United States and in Germany and Japan. Last week, Jolley and his wife, Tommie Rush, an acclaimed glass artist in her own right, opened their west Knoxville studio to members of the Executive Women’s Association for a preview of the amazing work-in-progress  — and other projects.

The museum’s Great Hall, used for community events and educational programs, measures approximately 100 x 40 feet. Jolley’s work is expected to cover most of the upper walls of this monumental space.

These birds -- and many more -- will be a part of the finished piece.

These birds -- and many more -- will be a part of the finished piece.

“This is a transformative gift for the KMA, and we are grateful to Ann and Steve Bailey for providing this unparalleled opportunity for the museum and for the artist,” KMA Executive Director David Butler said in a statement when the project was announced. “The project imposes tremendous technical and aesthetic challenges, and will result in one of the largest and most significant sculptural glass works anywhere.” He added that “this signature artwork by Richard Jolley, in one of the city’s grandest spaces, enhances the landmark status of the museum building.” The KMA was designed by renowned American architect Edward Larrabee Barnes and opened to the public in 1990.

The project is expected to take three to four years to complete.

But, as big as this job is, it’s not the only thing Jolley is working on. He has an opening in Mobile, Ala., on April 21 and an installation in Italy in May.

Jolley and Rush chatting and answering questions last Thursday.

Jolley and Rush chatting and answering questions in their studio last Thursday.

Rush said the gift provided by the Baileys truly is unique. “This opportunity with Steve and Ann does not happen every day,” she said. She and Jolley said the benefactors didn’t ask to see a design for the project and didn’t ask for any kind of approval. “The only thing they said to us was, ‘All we want to do is say ‘Wow!’ when we walk in,’” she said. “Other artists are green with envy!”

The subject of the piece is earth and sky, Jolley said. “It will represent a kind of primordial energy,” he laughed. “A kind of cosmic wowie zowie!”

(OK. I’m up for that!)

On a more down-to-earth subject, Jolley said all his huge glass pieces disassemble for transport. Those trees, for instance, come apart into pieces just a few feet long. And Jolley and Rush design and build all their own shipping crates, as well as the material inside the crates that will protect the pieces. Because so many installations are coming up, the studio is filled with shipping materials right now.

Specially designed crates.

Specially designed crates

Protective foam

Protective foam

Styrofoam that will be meticulously cut to encase each piece of glass before packing

Styrofoam that will be meticulously cut to encase each piece of glass before packing

Because of all this type of work he must do, Jolley said he only actually produces his sculptures during about 2-1/2 days out of each week.

These huge patterns, cut out in cardboard, will be cast in gold tones for the final installation. So will the moon in the top photo.

These huge patterns, cut out in cardboard, will be cast in gold tones for the final installation. So will the moon in the top photo.

This huge piece is headed for the exhibit in Mobile next month. All those leaves come apart for shipping.

This huge piece is headed for the exhibit in Mobile next month. All those leaves come apart for shipping. That's EWA member Janice Greer in the photo.

This head is a great example of trademark Richard Jolley. The rest of the larger-than-life figure was wrapped in blankets getting ready for shipping.

This head is a great example of trademark Richard Jolley. The rest of the larger-than-life figure was wrapped in blankets getting ready for shipping.

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This was a huge treat for the women of the Executive Women’s Association. Because of the size of the studio, attendance was limited to 30. The guest list filled up immediately and a waiting list had to be formed.

EWA members Jeannie Dulaney, left, and Carolyn Jensen clearly have discovered the wine offerings.

EWA members Jeannie Dulaney, left, and Carolyn Jensen clearly have discovered the wine offerings.

From left, Connie Hutchins, Tommie Rush and Jenny Hines

From left, Connie Hutchins, Tommie Rush and Jenny Hines

Richard Jolley and Karen Swander

Richard Jolley and Karen Swander

Every EWA event involves mingling time!

Every EWA event involves mingling time!

Quite a bit of it.

Quite a bit of it.

Richard Jolley and Phyllis Nichols during the cocktail hour.

Richard Jolley and Phyllis Nichols during the cocktail hour.

Karen Swander takes the chance to snap a shot of the stunning piece headed to Mobile.

Karen Swander takes the chance to snap a shot of the stunning piece headed to Mobile.

Jolley and Rush discussed the project and answered questions.

Jolley and Rush discussed the project and answered questions.

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From left, Sheena McCall, Phyllis Nichols, Mary Bogert, Jenny Hines, Jeannie Dulaney and Sara Hedstrom

From left, Sheena McCall, Phyllis Nichols, Mary Bogert, Jenny Hines, Jeannie Dulaney and Sara Hedstrom

From left, Annette Winston, Sara Hedstrom and Ruth Ellis had to take a break from standing on the concrete floor.

From left, Annette Winston, Sara Hedstrom and Ruth Ellis had to take a break from standing on the concrete floor.

One of the things that struck me was a plea by Tommie Rush: “Your creative capital — that’s what makes a city. Please support all the creative entities that we have in our community.”

She also said the museum’s director, David Butler, is a treasure. “We are so lucky to have David Butler in Knoxville,” she said. “Richard and I have dealt with so many museums in our lifetimes and we can tell you that David is an amazing asset. He is invested in this community.” She said the upcoming Jolley installation is due in a large part to Butler. “He said that blank wall in the Great Hall was driving him crazy!” Rush laughed.

After the remarks, it was back to mingling! Thanks so much to the artists for giving us a chance to experience this awesome project.

Melinda Meador, left, and Christi Branscom

Melinda Meador, left, and Christi Branscom

Susan Edwards, left, and Bonnie Carpenter

Susan Edwards, left, and Bonnie Carpenter

From left, Regina Dean, Janice Greer and Sara Rose

From left, Regina Dean, Janice Greer and Sara Rose

Barbara Penland, left, and Jan Henley

Barbara Penland, left, and Jan Henley

From left, Susan Brown, Sara Hedstrom and Linda Underwood

From left, Susan Brown, Sara Hedstrom and Linda Underwood

Annette Winston, left, and Celeste Herbert

Annette Winston, left, and Celeste Herbert

Phyllis Nichols, left, and Jeannie Dulaney

Phyllis Nichols, left, and Jeannie Dulaney

6 Responses to “Richard Jolley gives sneak peek at his $1 million installation for Knoxville Museum of Art”

  1. Richard and Tommie are national treasures. Their work is outstanding and world-renowned, as you’ve mentioned. I love the KMA and it’s collection – this work will be a jewel in its crown. Can’t wait to celebrate the installation. Thanks for this, Mox!

    P.S. Loved Tommie’s comments about David and the fact that we need to invest in our creative capital. That capital is the soul of a city. We do so and could not agree more!

  2. Thanks, Ellen. I agree, too — especially about David Butler.

  3. That night was an amazing treat. For artists that are internationally acclaimed they are extremely modest. I was not only impressed with their artistic work but with their dedication to our community. They are so giving of themselves!

  4. The evening was thoroughly entertaining. I have never seen so many women in sensible shoes! Tommie is a riot, and Richard is Dickie Smothers to her Tommy!

  5. tommy and richard have been friends to me for several decades and i’m blessed just by remembering our conversations.

    i pray more people in this area will become aware of the great artists among us, appreciate them, appreciate art in public places, and then do their part to make sure art is supported at all levels, starting with the children in their families. the art in everyone’s family is the starting point.

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