City of Knoxville Tennessee Arts CommissionAmerican Alliance of Museum

Cycle of Life: Within the Power of Dreams and the Wonder of Infinity

Cycle of Life: Within the Power of Dreams and the Wonder of Infinity

Cycle of Life: Within the Power of Dreams and the Wonder of Infinity is one of the largest figurative glass-and-steel assemblages in the world. Commissioned in 2009 especially for the Knoxville Museum of Art, it is a game-changer for the KMA in a number of important ways. First, it reveals Richard’s exceptional artistic rigor and vision—an aesthetically stunning masterwork that is also an engineering marvel. Cycle of Life is also emblematic of the KMA’s commitment to the art of the region and to collecting the work of contemporary artists of international repute. Thanks to our exceptional board of trustees, generous supporters, community leaders, and dedicated staff, we are able to present Richard’s magnificent sculpture in a refurbished and expanded facility. The 25th Anniversary Campaign funded the comprehensive $6 million renovation of the museum and its campus, added to the operating endowment, and established a dedicated art acquisition fund. We are grateful to campaign chair Stuart Worden and the hundreds of donors who have made this significant investment at this critical juncture in our history. Now the museum’s landmark Edward Larrabee Barnes building glows like new and provides a fitting setting for Richard’s magnum opus. We are profoundly grateful to Ann and Steve Bailey, whose extraordinary generosity inspired Richard to ‘dream big’ (monumentally, in this case). They have immeasurably enriched the KMA experience for our visitors, and provided a new must-see highlight amid the region’s cultural offerings. In appreciation, the KMA Board of Trustees renamed the Great Hall—the Ann and Steve Bailey Hall—in their honor.




A moonlit forest of poplars—trees indigenous to East Tennessee—are studded with hundreds of sprouting leaves and buds.



A man and woman made of cast black glass slabs secured by a steel armature are shown walking out into the world together.



A flock of more than 130 glossy, blown-glass birds soar skyward, referencing the journey to adulthood.



A man and woman prepare to embrace, signifying the generative force of life.



Rising 22 feet from floor to ceiling is an ancient symbol of abundance and fertility adorned with thousands of glistening leaves, pomegranate blossoms, and doves.



A lone, massive head signals a time of quiet introspection during life’s final stages. The dark glass face is bisected by a beam of light made of acid-etched crystal, hinting at an impending transition from physical to spiritual states.



The heavens above are represented by “Universe”, a central constellation of multi-colored orbs of silvered glass, flanked by “Metaphysical”, serpentine strands of pale blue spheres.


SIZE: 105 feet long, 12 feet high (22 feet high from the base of Tree of Life to its highest branch). The Sky portion is 90 feet by 9 feet.

WEIGHT: 7-8 tons.

SITE PREPARATION: In order to safely accommodate the tremendous weight of the work, an array of structural interventions to the Ann and Steve Bailey Hall was necessary, including the addition of dozens of support beams. Jolley created three massive metal plinths—each weighing 1,500 pounds and anchored onto the wall approximately 11 feet above the floor—to serve as a structural foundation.

COMPONENTS: Thousands of individually blown and cast glass elements, and thousands of individually welded metal supports.

TIME: It took the artist and his team of studio assistants more than five years to create.

INSTALLATION: Delivered on flatbed trucks, the work’s largest sections were hoisted by crane riggers over the KMA’s South Garden wall.

photography by Elizabeth Felicella & Hei Park


Richard Jolley, internationally recognized as one of today’s most accomplished and inventive glass sculptors, was born in Wichita, Kansas, in 1952. As a youth, he moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, and in 1970 began his art training at Tusculum College in Greenville, Tennessee, studying under noted glass artist Michael Taylor. After receiving his B.F.A. from George Peabody College in Nashville (now part of Vanderbilt University), Jolley continued graduate studies at North Carolina’s Penland School of Crafts, under the instruction of studio glass artist Richard Ritter.

Since establishing his studio in Knoxville, in 1975, Jolley has participated in over 65 solo museum and gallery exhibitions throughout the United States and in Australia, Europe, Israel, and Japan. In 1997 the Mint Museum of Art in Charlotte, North Carolina, organized the first extensive exhibition of Jolley’s mature glass sculptures; and in 2002, the Knoxville Museum of Art presented the first major retrospective of Jolley’s work, which later traveled nationally to 14 museums over five years. In 2011, the Mobile Museum of Art presented Richard Jolley and Tommie Rush: A Life in Glass, featuring an extensive body of work by Jolley as well as by his wife, Tommie Rush, a respected glass artist in her own right. In addition, Jolley’s works have been showcased in numerous important museum surveys of contemporary glass, including the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art in Sapporo, Japan; the International Exhibition of Glass in Kanazawa, Japan; the Indianapolis Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, D.C.; and the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh.

At present, Jolley’s work is represented in more than 33 public collections, including the Carnegie Museum of Art; the Corning Museum of Glass; the Frederick Weisman Art Foundation, Los Angeles, the Knoxville Museum of Art; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Jolley has also been honored with a variety of awards, commissions, and invitational workshops in the United States and abroad. In 2007, he became the youngest visual artist to receive the Tennessee Governor’s Distinguished Artist Award; in 2010 the Art Alliance for Contemporary Glass named him as that year’s Individual for Outstanding Accomplishment in the Field. In addition to his Cycle of Life project for the KMA, Jolley has received several other prestigious private and public commissions, including Everything and the Cosmos (2007), installed at 7 World Trade Center, New York City. In 2011, he was invited to create a body of new work at the Berengo Studio in Murano, Italy.

For more information on the artist, visit