Maker’s Mark and the Samuels family have always had an interest in art. After all, the name “Maker’s Mark” was inspired by the maker’s mark on fine silver. Several years ago, Bill Samuels purchased a collection of 1940s paintings from the Hiram Walker office depicting distillery works at various places at the Walkerville Distillery (now on loan to the Frazier Museum). Now his son, Rob, seems to have a great interest in art glass. First there was the Chihuly exhibit at the distillery, and now there is the exhibit from the late Stephen Rolfe Powell on display. No matter how many times you have visited the distillery, it is well worth the time to take the Maker’s Mark tour to see these beautiful pieces of art glass.

Stephen Rolfe Powell was a Kentucky artist who ran the art glass program at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky. He was commissioned to produce a piece that had a Maker’s Mark theme for their distillery gift shop. The Samuels family was so pleased with the piece, they asked him to do an exhibit at the distillery. He was excited to do so and came to the distillery to pick the locations for his artwork. It was well in the design phase when he passed away. Powell’s widow knew how excited he was to do this exhibit, so when Maker’s Mark asked to continue with the plans, she agreed. It is a fantastic collection of art glass.

I am not an expert on making art glass, but you can tell by looking at each piece, that it took a very talented and knowledgeable artist to make it. The collection is a mixture of styles, placed around the distillery in the reception center, outside the building, in a warehouse, and in the cave where they age the Maker’s 46. I found it very interesting the way Powell picked each location and the use of light to display the glass. 

We had the honor of getting a private tour with a person who knew the exhibit well and told us more about how each piece was made and why Powell decided to place it in the display. The regular tour guides may not have the depth of knowledge he had, but I did hear them talking to regular tours about the glass, and they were still very well informed. I am sure you will not be disappointed with what they have to say.

My favorite piece was in the reception center – a glass vase type piece with a glorious blue and green body with a red stem. Rosemary liked the piece the artist called the “Love Birds” – two pieces with long stems that intertwine like two long necked birds. 

My favorite part of the tour was the displays in the warehouse. I liked the play of light on the glass with the aging barrels in the background. We were told those barrels would not be moved until after the exhibit ended, much to the relief of the warehouse workers! The panel of glass in the cave was interesting as it was different from the other pieces. The other pieces were all back-lit to show the color and design whereas this piece was designed to be lit from the front. The result was an interesting kaleidoscope of color reflecting on the wall behind the glass.

I am glad that the Samuels family has such a great interest in art and are willing to pay for such exhibits at the distillery. It makes for a reason to return and to take the tour of the distillery, even when you have been there multiple times before. It was well worth the trip.

Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller