Born in 1952 in Wichita, Kansas, Jolley moved to Oak Ridge, Tennessee in his youth. In 1970, he began learning under glass artist Michael Taylor at Tusculum College in Greenville. He followed Taylor to George Peabody College—now part of Vanderbilt University– in Nashville, Tennessee and completed his BFA there. Later, he learned more about glasswork under Richard Ritter at Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina. Jolley has now lived in Knoxville, Tennessee since 1975.
When Jolley began working with glass in the early 1970’s, he knew he had discovered his muse. “There is a seduction with glass. It is such a beautiful material. I was trying to use non-traditional materials for art and at that time Jackson Pollack was using industrial painting techniques and developments were happening in plastics. It’s not a stretch to say sculpting glass is as non-traditional as any of these media.”
Jolley’s works often focus on natural subjects like birds, dogs, plants, and the human form. Even though he is a skilled master at various techniques for creating glass sculptures, Jolley says he hopes to disguise the techniques used in the finished works. “I want the work to feel free, not labored over. I want it to not reflect the tedium of life.”
Jolley has participated in over 65 solo exhibitions across the country, as well as in Japan and Europe. Since 1973, the artists’ work has been extensively collected both privately and by public institutions. Found in over 33 public collections, notable establishments including the Carnegie Museum of Art, Corning Museum of Glass, Knoxville Museum of Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC, and the Frederick Weisman Art Foundation in Los Angeles. Richard Jolley has additionally been honored for his art through a variety of awards, commissions, and invitational workshops in Tennessee and abroad.