The Quad City Botanical Center has been gloriously beautiful for 25 years, but a hot new permanent exhibit unveiled today brings it to a whole new level.

Partnering with Davenport-based Hot Glass, the new Garden Glass features over 350 individual pieces of dazzlingly colorful glass art, combined for display into five garden beds, two ponds, and a huge hanging centerpiece in the soaring Sun Garden at the Botanical Center, 2525 4th Ave., Rock Island.

The new glass art hanging in the Botanical Center Sun Garden, 2525 4th Ave., Rock Island (photos by Jonathan Turner).

The pieces of glass art were handmade, designed, and installed into the bountiful garden landscape by talented local artists at Hot Glass in downtown Davenport, 104 Western Ave.

A majority of the glass art is installed outdoors, with a spectacular blue feature piece in the tropical Sun Garden. This handcrafted exhibit incorporates shapes, colors, patterns, and movements that complement and amplify the beauty of the gardens, according to the QCBC. The pieces were made with the Botanical Center’s landscape as inspiration.

QCBC executive director Ryan Wille said Wednesday he was looking for a new summer exhibit with wide appeal, and six months ago, Hot Glass founder and executive director Joel Ryser approached him.

QCBC executive director Ryan Wille at the Wednesday press conference, Aug. 9, 2023.

“As any good partnership is, Garden Glass is an all-around win for Hot Glass and the Quad City Botanical Center, the city of Rock Island, tourism and cultural experiences, all so valuable to the quality of life in our community,” Wille said at a press conference in the Sun Garden. “This is a huge win.”

“The collaboration that happens here in the Quad Cities is outstanding,” said Rock Island Mayor Mike Thoms, who personally donated to the $50,000 project with his wife Sara. “To benefit everybody in the Quad Cities is what it’s about – whether it be tourism, whether it be education, helping local individuals here experience different parts of life.”

Getting ready to cut the city of Rock Island ribbon Wednesday were (L-R) Matt Mendenhall, Mark Zimmerman, Marvin Christiansen, Logan Ryser, Joel Ryser, Mike Thoms and Ryan Wille.

He praised Ryser for helping people in the community, including veterans who work for Hot Glass, teaching them a craft, a purpose in life to help self-esteem.

“This is a great learning experience and we’re proud to be part of it, in the city of Rock Island,” Thoms said. “I just can’t say enough about how this educates people and helps bring tourism to the Quad Cities.”

10 years old in 2023

Hot Glass is a hands-on, nonprofit organization dedicated to the instruction, presentation, interpretation, collection, documentation and preservation of the contemporary glass art movement with a special focus on team building. It’s marking its 10th anniversary this year, and is planning a special party Sept. 23, 2023.

Hot Glass founder and executive director Joel Ryser speaks about the six-month project on Aug. 9, 2023.

Ryser said the Regional Development Authority has been supportive over the years and its president/CEO Matt Mendenhall challenged him to be more creative. The RDA gave Garden Glass a $20,000 grant, and it was also supported with $30,000 in other private donations, Ryser said Wednesday.

He, his son Logan, and volunteer combat veteran Marvin Christiansen created all 350 glass-blown pieces for QCBC in just three months.

“We’re making a place for our community to experience glass art,” Joel Ryser said, noting they are creating more pieces for the new QCBC Trending Garden, to be done by late September.

He thanked Ryan Wille for accepting his concept and running with it, inside and outside the Botanical Center.

Floating glass-blown pieces in the Sun Garden.

“I’m so appreciative to Marvin and Logan and what they bring to the shop,” Ryser said. He also thanked the QCBC head gardener, Dave Searle, other staff and volunteers.

One nonprofit helping another

“This is an opportunity for one nonprofit to help another, to bring glass art to the community,” Ryser said. “It just lifts your spirit to go out there and see something like his. It heightens your experience, and we’re just happy to be part of it.”

The main blue piece hanging in the Sun Garden doesn’t have a name, he said. “It’s just cool shapes trying to accent what’s going on in the garden,” Ryser said. A similar, larger “chandelier” was made by Hot Glass, at Crawford Brew Works, Bettendorf.

“It’s for the people of the community to enjoy,” he said of Garden Glass pieces. “Once the RDA backs you, then people say, “I’d love to help.’ We’re lucky. Matt has been a big supporter of us. When I started I didn’t know anything about 501c3s (nonprofits), and he was our fiscal agent.”

Ryser was the former football coach at Moline High before starting Hot Glass in 2013. As an avid gardener, he’s always loved the Botanical Center.

“I have collected dwarf conifers and different things. I love landscaping,” Ryser said. “Whenever I get to come to a place like this, I just love being around it. Can I do something like that in my yard?”

An outdoor glass-blown fountain at the Botanical Center.

All the Garden Glass pieces will stay out during the winter, he said. “It’s neat to see snow on it, see it melt and it comes to life underneath it.”

To see a slide show of some of the new pieces, click below.

For more information on Hot Glass programs and shop, visit their website HERE.