I love to find the beauty in everyday objects.
– Dale Chihuly, American glass sculptor
Last Saturday, when we were purchasing our tickets for the Space Needle, a package deal was also offered for the Space Needle and the Chihuly Garden & Glass (305 Harrison Street, Seattle, 206.753.4940). Without thinking, we went ahead and got tickets for both venues, which are next door to each other. When I asked our friend John who Chihuly was, he stopped in his tracks and said, in an incredulous tone of voice, “You’ve never heard of Chihuly?” Um, no, but I’m always up for learning about people I’ve never heard of. I was all ears.
An Education on Dale Chihuly
Dale Chihuly was born in Tacoma in 1941 and graduated in 1965 from the University of Washington with a degree in interior design. While at school, he had to take a weaving class as a requirement and decided to weave bits of glass into a tapestry, which spawned his interest in glass and led him to build a studio in south Seattle. One night he melted glass between bricks in an oven and blew it into a bubble, and from that moment on, Chihuly said he wanted to be a glass blower.
He went on to the University of Wisconsin, enrolling in the country’s first glass program, and afterwards went to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). In 1968, on a Fulbright Scholarship, he worked in a glass factory in Venice and then returned to found a glass program at RISD. “I like to work on a team and that’s how they work in Venice,” he said in an interview, which I found on YouTube. “I saw how important teamwork was to glass blowing, and that’s the way I taught glass blowing at Rhode Island.”
He elevated glass as a fine art after he and a couple of his friends cofounded the Pilchuck Glass School at Washington State in 1971. Whereas at the time Seattle had few glass blowers, now the city boasts more glass artists and glassblowers than any place in the world, according to Chihuly. In 1980, when sales from his galleries exceeded his income as a professor at RISD, he quit teaching and returned to Seattle, where he said he’s been ever since. Chihuly rarely blows glass himself, which is a result of having gone blind in his left eye from an automobile accident in England in 1976. Having lost peripheral vision and depth perception, he relied on team members to blow the glass. By not being the head glass blower and not having to focus on finishing the piece at hand, he’s been able to enjoy watching his team and participating in the entire experience. Some teams numbered as high as 18, though he had more than 100 artists and craftsmen working to produce his visions.
Chihuly has many well-known works of art, but at a certain point he began to expand into doing large architectural installations and commissions for residences, hotels, and casinos around the world, including Venice, Dubai, London, and Jerusalem. His garden series has been exhibited in London, New York, and Chicago., among other cities He has done about 15 to 20 different series of works in the span of 40 years. His glass baskets series, for example, was inspired by his collection of Native American woven baskets, but his series of seashells began as a result of a piece that unintentionally turned out looking like a seashell.
Chihuly is no longer actively blowing glass. Instead, he has devoted his time to painting. The Chihuly Garden & Glass includes his paintings, as well. “I want to have a good time,” he said, of painting. “And then I want to work. Hopefully, if I work for two or three hours, I might come up with something I haven’t drawn before. A lot of it is just working. If you’re doing it, things just happen. It should feel good while you’re doing it. If it starts to feel like work, then I’ll stop.”
Amazing exhibition hall, glasshouse, and garden
I didn’t have any expectations going into the Exhibition Hall, which is the best state to be in when you’re going to view an exhibit or see a movie or attend a concert. His work is pretty astonishing, and they are expertly lit and properly displayed against lacquered black walls and floors. The colors are deep and rich, and the patterns intricate. The shapes are the result of amazing control. He could not have achieved these works without a big and talented team. I recommend this exhibit, especially the Glasshouse, a 40-foot-tall, 4,500-square-foot structure made of glass and steel, which houses Chihuly’s 100-foot-long suspended sculpture resembling flowers in reds, yellows, oranges, and amber. The Glasshouse is where I’d want to have a grand party. The Garden exhibit is equally enjoyable, with glass plants and flowers mingling with live flora.
Afterwards, we ate a late lunch at the Collections Café, which is part of the exhibition hall. The menu offers fresh and local ingredients and food that is inspired by Chihuly’s travels. The restaurant is a long rectangular shape, with 36 of his large drawings backlit on the wall facing the wall of windows. I got a kick out of the shadow box tables that displayed Chihuly’s collections of vintage and antique wares, including cameras, radios, wind-up tin toys, mercury glass, Christmas ornaments, and shaving brushes, among other old items. Tall shelves house carnival chalkware, and suspended above the ceiling were more than 80 accordions. What a great concept and way to display and share his collections. This vintage lover certainly appreciated it.