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Glass art is the focus of a new exhibition at KMAC Museum in Louisville. 

Crafting the Vernacular” features contemporary artists using the medium of glass to reflect on their own experiences, culture and upbringings. 

For one of the featured artists, it’s a homecoming. 

Nate Watson is the executive director of Public Glass, an arts nonprofit in San Francisco. But he was born and raised in Louisville and is a graduate of Centre College in Danville. 

“Being invited to participate in the show was really special for me,” Watson said. “I’ve never done any work in Louisville, and that work is so much about coming home.”

His installation in the show is called “Come Hell or High Water.”

He created a separate space within the gallery that includes two large stained glass church windows that Watson believes are between 120 and 130 years old. He said the way the light comes into the space is intentional. There are also video components featuring images from Louisville and a farm Watson’s family had near the city.  

Other artists with work in the KMAC exhibition include Ché Rhodes, SaraBeth Post, Corey Pemberton, Therman Statom and Leo Tecosky. They all identify as Black. 

“Crafting the Vernacular” runs through April 3. 

Below are excerpts from Watson’s conversation with WFPL News, edited for brevity and clarity. 

Contemporary glass artist Nate Watson.Courtesy the artist

Contemporary glass artist Nate Watson.

On why coming back to Louisville, and presenting work here, comes with complicated feelings:

“I was in Louisville until I was 18. And I felt when I left and moved far, far away from Louisville that I was really trying to escape certain things that I felt were ever present. I felt scrutinized and I felt followed. I felt that just being who I am and how I am in the world was dangerous. And since then, I’ve learned that it’s that way everywhere. But sitting at home watching Breonna Taylor and the protests, and all the things that have happened and talking to friends and family back home and knowing that my family is still there in that environment, that feels dangerous. And it doesn’t feel as though things have progressed and become less dangerous. And so that feeling of helplessness. But being an artist, and having an opportunity to make work in that space, to take on some of those things, and to sort of create this new space within a gallery that welcomes everyone, but also says this is a place where maybe we need to meet, we need to talk, we need to figure some things out, you know, by ‘hell or high water,’ by any means necessary.”

On falling in love with glass as a medium for his art while at Centre College:

“I think the thing that really appealed to me about glass was that, once you gather it out of the furnace, that activity, that piece, that work, that idea is in motion. Until the piece gets put away in the kiln to cool, there is no way to stop the process. It’s like life. And so for me working in glass, the process, it’s like breathing, there’s really no way to stop it, you just deal with what comes. And so for me the process of making, it’s just so much about living.”

On working with well-known Kentucky glass artist Stephen Rolfe Powell

“It’s hard to really isolate down to one takeaway, or just even a couple. I think that his commitment to his work, and his work ethic. He just lived and breathed making. And I saw that, and it wasn’t so much that I wanted to make the things that he made. But I wanted to live the way that he lived. He lived inside of his practice. And he opened so many doors for so many people. And there’s so many colleagues of mine who came through the Stephen Powell door.”

On the lack of diversity in the visual art world, and more specifically the glass art world:

“I think the art world needs that diversity because it’s just more interesting. New work should be the goal of every curator, every collector. They should be looking and searching and excited about new things and you only get new things when you include more people. So I just think it just adds so much to the creative world to have more diversity. And in glass specifically, the issue has always been resources. So I consider everyone in the show a person of privilege, right everyone who makes this work or is able to have access to it is a person of privilege. But shouldn’t we all be curious to know what other people would do to this. People who don’t have these things, who don’t have access to materials to expensive tools and things like that. What would those folks do if they had that kind of access and could see themselves making this work?”

Support for this story was provided in part by the Great Meadows Foundation.

Stephanie Wolf is WFPL's Arts & Culture Reporter.