Retiring University of Kansas associate art professor Vernon Brejcha has turned his retrospective show into as much a celebration of his career as an educator as that of his work as an artist. Brejcha, who ran the glass program for the art department from 1976 until the program was closed in 1991 is justifiably proud of his students.
Successful, working artists and educators from coast to coast call Brejcha their mentor, and many represent an interesting story in his history as an educator. Brejcha has asked for, and received work from a variety of his former students for inclusion in his own retrospective.
Brecjcha recalls a childhood where drawing and painting were his main pursuits, though activities like football were virtually compulsory for youths in a town as small as his hometown of Holyrood, Kansas, a town he describes as "the only town in the state where Main Street is a dead end."
To forgo football was to court suspicion, "especially when you were the weird kid that was drawing all the time," remembers the lanky, graying artist. "I hated football," he continues, "especially since I had to leave the game before the end of the first half to change into my band uniform and play tuba at halftime, then change again for the second half."
When he headed off to college at Fort Hays State, his educational ambitions were vague. "I figured I'd become a teacher, the town already a TV repairman and the supermarket was closing," says Brejcha. But during his first semester there he had a life-changing experience. Wandering into an art classroom he saw his future.
He remembers telling his father of his intention to become an artist. "He asked me three questions when I told him," says Brejcha; "Don't artists all starve, aren't all artists (Gay), and how am I going to hold my head up in the pool hall?"
He needn't have worried. Brejcha is an honored and well-known glass artist, having been recognized around the world for his talents. This month Brejcha was one of only two American glass artists selected for inclusion in the International Exhibition of Glass in Kanazawa, Japan. Brejcha was elected to "Who's Who in American Art in 1978.
After completing both his undergraduate degree in 1964, and a Masters of Science in 1967, both at Fort Hays State, Brejcha went to study glass and earn is Masters of Fine Arts at the Univeristy of Wisconsin, which he completed in 1972. From 1964 until 1969 Brejcha taught art at Circle High School in Towanda, Kansas.
While studying in Wisconsin the artist continued his career as an educator as an art instructor at Edgewood College in Madison from 1969 till 1972.
In 1972, Brejcha took a position as Assistant Professor of Art at Tusculum College in Greenville, Tennessee. There he headed the glass program ant what was then the smallest college in the nation to offer such a program.
It was during the energy crisis in the mid-seventies that costs forced many schools to close their glass furnaces. It was under those conditions that Brejcha returned to Kansas in 1976, to open the glass program at the University of Kansas.
Unknown at the time were the number of Tusculum students that chose to leave that college with Brejcha's departure. On his first day of class in Lawrence, four former Tusculum students turned up at his door, transfers to KU. Of the four, two completed their glass curriculum under Brejcha. One switched majors to painting and the fourth expatriated to the business school.
Among Brejcha's graduates have, and continue to make their mark in the world of art glass. Former student Sally Prash is rare in the world of art education, building a successful teaching career on just an undergraduate degree. Student Paul Lucas was the only glass artist to have work purchased for inclusion by the Corning Museum of glass while still an undergraduate, and John Burchetta has designed the glassware collection for Dansk.
Retirement will find Brejcha anything but at leisure. Currently the artist is at work on a major commission, a forty-foot tall chandelier for the New Overland Park, Kansas Convention Center.
Though it's been a while since he has taught glass students, the 59 year-old Brejcha considers himself primarily a glass artist. His most recent series of pieces are what he calls the "Tenacious Fencepost Series," which combine both glass and ceramic elements and exhibit, as much of Brejcha's work does, themes associated with this region's prairie history and culture. Also ongoing is his beautiful series of glass peace pipes. Examples of both are included in the show.
An accomplished photographer producing both personal and commercial work, Brejcha will also be exhibiting some photographs in the show at the KU Art and Design Gallery which runs from Monday, Oct. 22, through Friday, Nov. 2.