No. 7 in the LHS Pop Mini-Bio Series
Kenneth Paul Rosenfeld: The Quiet Road Warrior of Paperweights
We all know Ken Rosenfeld … or do we? This button-down but genial artist graduated from the University of California with a BA in art in 1972. From there he attended Southern Illinois University, where he abandoned his earlier focus on ceramics, falling abruptly for the seductive siren call of glassblowing. Ken says that having an uncle on faculty made the choice of SIU more appealing. Despite the fact that Ken reached adulthood during the Age of Aquarius in Timothy Leary’s California and then traveled to SIU—he quietly earned his MFA and emerged apparently unscathed from college life, to apprentice at Correia Glass Studio back in Southern California. He also increased his skill level during a short employment that followed, with Radnoti Glass Technology Inc.—a scientific glasshouse that nonetheless found time to manufacture fancy lighting fixtures for premier Las Vegas hotels. (Must have been important clients … )
Correia was “a tough place to work,” Ken remembers. During his stint there, Ken, nurturing more artistic ambitions, attended the 1981 PCA Convention in New York City where he hoped to meet the leading lampwork artists, and familiarize himself with the culture he was considering joining. He remembers positive engagements with the Kontes brothers and Victor Trabucco. Ken left Correia with no regrets and by 1983, he had established his own studio where he began creating his own fine glass paperweights.
By 1990, Ken and Marilyn, his wife of thirty years, also left California with no regrets, drawn to the quiet neighborhoods around Portland, Oregon with their shockingly clean air and better availability of housing. Marilyn is retired after three decades in administration at Blue Cross Blue Shield. Ken remembers first meeting her at a dance in his hometown Los Angeles. Back to the quiet neighborhood. It was 2006, and Ken and Marilyn have recently moved from another home and studio on the other side of Portland. Ken was close with Gary Scrutton of Parabelle fame, and Ken hired Gary’s brother, Stan, an award-winning architect, to create an efficient glass studio of about 320 square feet for his work. Spare and simple. (And Stan worked in exchange for paperweights, every artist’s dream!) On the outside, it is styled to closely copy the appearance of his home, just a few paces feet away. It is here that the Rosenfeld magic occurs.
Rosenfeld weights are well known for their carefully constructed, straightforward designs and pleasing, often radiant colors. His delightful flower arrangements run the gamut from spare and stylish to lavish, but it is in other creations such as his contemplative roosters, shimmering Koi fish, and festive scrambles that his wry humor and quiet affection for his subject matter are fully on display. It really looks like the artist had fun bringing all these elements to life in glass. Ken says, “I like the directness of lampwork; it’s straight from brain to fingers to glass!” He then added, “And to the fingers of the collector!” He feels that there’s an immediate understanding, a more visceral connection between the artist and the beholder, that is made possible by employing lampwork, than by working with other techniques.
A surprise came when we realized that this business-like and soft-spoken artist (born in 1950) is also an enthusiastic biker who has, over the years, burned through a dozen motorcycles including four Harleys! (We further realized that Ken is really smart when he said he would never ride in Chicago!) Currently he powers his Suzuki Boulevard C50 on the Oregonian backroads. “It’s a diversion, you’re really just IN the moment,” he emphasizes. So during our first phone call, we abandoned our planned list of stultifyingly technical questions (you’re welcome). Armed with this new information, we switched to a more appropriate topic, and began to ask questions such as what did he think of “The Great Escape,” the 1963 film classic, and did he think he could have made his stolen motorcycle jump the barbed wire fence as well as Steve McQueen? Ken slowly furrowed his brow, (yes, we could actually hear it compressing over the phone) as he silently pondered whether we were off our medications…
Taking the hint and fearing he might hang up the phone, we switched subjects again. We asked, “Is it true that behind every great glass artist is a spouse ready with burn ointment?” Crickets. Fortunately, Ken reports no serious burns over his long career combining glass and flame. We also inquired about other issues of personal interest; including whether he collects artworks himself, and what were his other hobbies. What about cooking? Ken said he only dabbles in the kitchen and he favors Italian cuisine. On the actual collecting front, Ken is the proud owner of a single, fine Parabelle weight. He also once owned a serious and “fabulous” coin collection which he sold years ago. He began with American coins, and later focused on the ancient Greeks and Romans. Later still Ken grew enamored of Spanish colonial silver cob coins, with a fascinating history all their own! He also at one time enjoyed the challenge of finding collectable and valuable Kewpie dolls. Don’t smile; did you know a 1913 small-sized German-produced bisque Kewpie is valued as high as $20,000? (For you younger readers, collecting was at one time actually a delicious hunt, a daunting but addictive challenge, right up until the all too bittersweet introduction of the internet.)
Ken also has an overwhelming passion for painters and painting; he especially loves the landscape and western artists whose exhibitions he attends. Two favorites are Howard Terpning and Mark Maggiori. He has no immediate plans to trade a torch for a brush, but he does find inspiration in the dedication, craft and attention to detail that are the hallmarks of these stunningly beautiful oil paintings by the best artists in the field.
While in the studio, Ken spends a great deal of his time and energy with research and experiment. Some days he spends hours studying design and naturalist imagery on the web for inspiration and detailed reference points. He works fairly regular hours but they’re not set in stone. And he works completely alone, with National Public Radio, the blues, and rock ‘n’ roll, often playing in the background. He performs all of his own cutting and polishing, preferring not to have to deal with the exigencies of outsourcing the finishing touches. When he first decided to begin finishing his own glasswork, Ken did some reading, and then went out and bought a protractor, a compass, and stencils of different sizes to teach himself the art of faceting. He would then transfer a pattern he had created on paper, onto the surface of the weight, holding the pattern in place and outlining it in permanent ink. “It took months to master,” he says, although the artist humbly adds that his faceting is fairly rudimentary, created only when he decides that it will improve a weight’s design. Ken is assisted by an engraving machine and a “sphere” machine in his one-man-band operation. So when Ken says, “It’s a choreography to produce a paperweight,” he’s not exaggerating. Schott’s advanced optical glass is the artist’s absolute preference to work with and he rues the day when the last available Schott slug is accounted for. And Ken employs a pair of Cress ovens that subsequently heat and then anneal his Schott glass creations. It’s engrossing work, and the artist mused aloud, “I do lose track of time when I work. Time stops. Maybe aging stops – maybe I can stay young that way!”
Let us know, Ken, but at least your wonderful glass sculptures will always be (as the bard Rod Stewart sings) “Forever Young!”
Word on the street reports that in the film, McQueen’s stolen motorcycle was a 1962 modified Triumph TR6R (disguised as a German BMWR75) and that Steve’s friend and stunt double Bud Elkins did the actual jump. After principal shooting, McQueen (no longer hampered by a silly contract that stated he needed to stay alive long enough to make the movie) did indeed accomplish the jump. And we know that Ken could have, also!