Emporia's Empowered Arts


Travis Ison, Emporia, spot torches a piece at the bench.To an untrained observer, the activity inside Emporia State University’s glass studio looks like a well-rehearsed dance.

A long tube carrying a glob of molten glass efficiently moves from “glory hole” to work table.

Back and forth from the oven to the bench, the glowing orb slowly evolves as the artist’s imagination controls the sculpting tools. A helper skillfully applies a blast of heat from the torch, a few minutes later instinctively knowing the precise moment to break the completed work from the tube.

The scene repeats itself countless times each year. The resulting artwork fills senior exhibitions, is featured in regional galleries and has frequently brought national recognition to their creators.

ESU’s glass forming program is the only university program of its kind in Kansas. And, says Patrick Martin, associate professor, it’s one the few programs in the region.

Addison Hanna's careful application of heat helps the piece take shape.While some might say Emporia’s relative isolation from the arts communities of large cities puts it at a disadvantage, Martin has forged a partnership with a Kansas City art gallery that provides ESU glass students a place to exhibit their work.

“Having that show gives us a presence in Kansas City,” says Martin. “What’s important is that Kansas City is a major art city, and our students are doing a show in a gallery in the heart of that city’s arts district.”

Each piece of glass requires several trips back to the fire for reheating.Every two years, Millennic Glass opens its gallery space for a show of ESU student artwork. In Kansas City’s Crossroads Art District, where boutique shops and unique restaurants mix with art galleries and creative businesses to create a lively neighborhood, the show gives ESU students valuable experience in dealing with a professional gallery setting in one of the most concentrated gallery districts in the nation.

The exposure also helps Martin recruit new students for the glass forming program, as does the annual Glass Blowout held each spring on the ESU campus. This year’s event, April 9, will feature Karen Willenbrink Johnsen and Jasen Johnsen, glass sculptors from Bow, Wash.

Calm vs. Chaos, Christa Westbrook, Ft. Worth, Tex.Robot v7.0, Kevin Miller, OlatheStudents in ESU’s glass program have distinguished themselves in the arts and academia. Two examples include Kristin Elliott (BFA 2010), a finalist in the recent NICHE Awards competition. Michael Hernandez (BFA 2003) finished his graduate degree at the prestigious Alfred University in New York. He’s now an instructor-technician at Ball State University, Muncie, Ind.