This article was first published in the Epoch Times on 9/19/2023.
If you find yourself in Seattle and are looking for something to do, you could do no better than to visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. It is absolutely beautiful.
Dale Chihuly is a glass-artist extraordinaire. Born in Tacoma, Washington in 1941, he studied architecture and interior design at the University of Washington, and then studied glass at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also received a Fulbright Fellowship at the Rhode Island School of Design, which allowed him to study the artistry of glass in Venice, known as the “glass-blowing capital of the world.”
After teaching glass-blowing at the Rhode Island School of Design, Chihuly began to develop an international reputation as a glass artisan.
What Makes Chihuly Glass Unique?
Glass-blowing is an ancient art. It was developed during the 1st century BC by Syrian craftsmen in Jerusalem. The Roman Empire greatly expanded the art of glass blowing. From there, it spread to the Middle East, Egypt, and Europe–especially Venice.
Blown glass was mostly used to create storage vessels such as jars, bottles, and vases. Symmetry and form were the important characteristics. What sets Chihuly glass apart, is the artist’s rejection of these boundaries.
Chihuly allows gravity and centrifugal force to organically shape his molten glass. According to his website, “Asymmetry and irregularity is a defining principle of his work.”
Chihuly glass is also unique in that it is made by a team of artisans. He used to do all the work himself, but this changed after he lost the sight of his left eye in a 1976 car accident and later dislocated his shoulder. Even though Chihuly could no longer do the heavy lifting that most of his glass work required, and though his depth perception was adversely affected, Chihuly discovered that he could still create with the help of a team. He makes drawings for the studios to reference as they carry out his designs, while he also directs them on-site in how to shape and construct his large exhibits.
Chihuly has glass in museums and exhibits all over the world. And his glass appears in unexpected places as well. For instance, there is a two-story, Chihuly glass chandelier that welcomes all who enter the Palo Alto Medical Foundation in Mountain View, California.
And then there is the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum in Seattle.
The Chihuly Glass Museum in Seattle
In 2010, Dale Chihuly was invited by the City of Seattle and the Jim Wright family (owners of the Seattle Space Needle) to build a glass museum. Per the museum’s audio tour, Chihuly was excited to accept, because he always wanted to “design and build, and incorporate a glasshouse into an exhibition.”
The museum opened in 2012. It features fifty years worth of Chihuly’s work and includes a glasshouse, an outdoor garden featuring Chihuly glass, and eight galleries. There is also a theater that shows short videos about some of Chihuly’s worldwide exhibits.
Chihuly designed everything about the museum, including the colors of the walls. A tour guide told visitors that Chihuly purposely kept barriers around displays to a minimum, because he “wants everyone to be immersed in the art.” However, she hastened to add, “please remember to not touch any artwork.”
A Sample of Galleries
The Sealife Room
Walking into the dark Sealife Room, one is immediately drawn to a tower of blue glass–20 feet high–standing on a large black disc. The multitude of glass undulates and curves like water. Golden sea creatures are interspersed among the kelp-like glass. And the black plexiglass of the disc mirrors the whole structure, like reflections on the surface of water.
The Persian Ceiling
The Persian Ceiling is in a long gallery with a ceiling that is lit from above. The ceiling holds a huge assortment of glass of all different sizes and colors, resting on a flat glass pane. Colors from the glass dance and reflect on the walls of the gallery.
The glass in the Persian Ceiling was influenced by Chihuly’s interest in Persian, Roman, and Egyptian glass. In the audio tour, Chihuly says, “In creating the Persian Ceiling I was trying to make something that people had never seen before. So you walk under there and you look up and all of a sudden you have to start figuring out what you’re looking at and what is it, and how does it make you feel? I like to make people feel good.”
The Mille Fiori room is a garden of glass. Chihuly was influenced by his mother’s garden in Tacoma, where he grew up. In the audio tour, Chihuly says, “I would get to play in the garden and be around all these beautiful, natural forms. It also had a big influence on me, I think, in terms of color.”
The Mille Fiori exhibition includes many different installations brought together for this gallery.
For More Information:
The Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum is in the Seattle Center, next to the Space Needle. The address is 305 Harrison Street, Seattle, WA, 98109.
They are open year-round, but hours vary. Please check their website for more information.