Vernon Brejcha wants people to know he's still here, despite the closing of his glass-blowing program at Kansas University.
In fact, his work is more in evidence in the area than in many years. A 10-year sampling of his blown glass art objects joins the work of two other artists at a show called "Earth and Fire'' in the Mulvane Art Museum in Topeka. Another show of his work is scheduled to start this month at the Kaw Valley Art Center in Kansas City, Kan.
And yet a third show will grace the Salina Arts Center starting in November.
"It's really nice to get some exposure in the region,'' Brejcha said in a recent interview at his home. "UPS has hauled my stuff around the country for so long, it's nice to have something happen at home.''
Brejcha, who was born and raised in central Kansas, came to KU in 1976 after earning a master's degree from the University of Wisconsin.
HE TAUGHT glass-blowing through the 1980s at what came to be called the Glass Barn, on 15th Street between Iowa Street and Kasold Drive. But in the spring of 1991, the university closed the barn for safety reasons. Brejcha guided remaining students through the rest of the program, which now takes no new students.
"We've had some big names go through the program,'' Brejcha said. "They've won competitions, and one senior had a work purchased by a museum. It's really rare for a student to have a piece purchased by a museum; that isn't even something graduate students have happen.''
Now Brejcha teaches basic design and ceramics classes, and he blows glass in his own studio.
The show at the Mulvane displays the two series that brought Brejcha national recognition: the "dipper'' series and the "stone post'' series. The dippers are long, delicate, sensuous strands of glass in the shape of water ladles; they come in a varity of colors and sizes.
THE STONE POST series are heavy-looking, flame-shaped glass objects with colorfully designed glass pillars mounted on the outside. The pillars, which suggest rural Kansas landscapes, are modeled on the stone posts that mark properties in central and western Kansas.
"It's kind of a retrospective,'' Brejcha said. "It shows what I've been doing for the past 10 years.''
At his home, Brejcha, a wiry, bearded artist, offers a visitor a glass of soda the glass is shaped like a beaker, except for the dinosaur tale that sticks out from the bottom. As it turns out, the glass was an experiment he performed at the Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, where he taught last summer.
"I made an impression out there during the three weeks I taught at Penland,'' Brejcha said. "I guess I sound like I'm bragging, but I am. I'm glad I hear people saying great things about it.''
THE OTHER artists in the Mulvane show also have close ties to the area. Larry Schwarm, whose photographs of fires in Kansas are included, earned a BFA and MFA at KU and is now chair of the art department at Emporia State University. George P. Timock, whose raku vessels are featured, teaches at the Kansas City Art Institute.
"All of these artists, dedicated to creating evocative, expressive forms, fuse deliberation, technical skill and swift, intuitive response to their works,'' according to the Mulvane catalog.
Since Brejcha started teaching at KU, he saw 23 other glass-blowing programs close in the United States, including two more this year. Now there are about 60 programs in the country, including a small set-up at Emporia.
"THIS ONE (at KU) closed, and the recession closed two more,'' he said. "Of the remaining programs, a lot are grouped in California, Illinois and Ohio, because those three states put glass-blowing into most of the campuses in their university systems.''
As for the future, Brejcha now is working on a commission from a Chicago collector for goblets. On this project he has free rein, but other times commissions can prove to be costly.
"So many times you do a commission, and the people will verbally explain what they want, and I develop a different image in my mind than theirs,'' he said. "Then I show it to them, and they get those looks in their faces, and finally they can tell me what they want, because there's an object in front of them. So sometimes I'm doing two, even three pieces until they get what they want, and I come out behind in the economic part of it.''
He said he feels he's at an end of the stone post series the pieces were so heavy to hold while blowing that it injured his arm. Now he wants to pursue a more delicate line of glass work: He wants to create "seed pods'' or objects that appear to be growing out of the soil, much like the crops on the farm of his childhood.
"I've been drawing these new things for five years, and I keep putting it off and putting it off,'' he said. "So now I can get into my drawer and develop a new series that deals with seed pods.
"I think seed pods have to do with life, because they're really tenacious. They really endure. It's almost going to be a multimedia project, and since I'm teaching ceramics now I can make stands for them to represent earth.''