The Falcon   |   Volume 83, Issue 53

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Chihuly’s glass blows minds

Glass exhibit reveals artist’s inspirations

By , Staff Reporter

Published: October 24 2012

Under the Space Needle in downtown Seattle sits a newer refuge for the artistic explorer. 12,208 square feet of indoor pavilion space and 16,000 square feet of an outdoor garden feature artwork by the internationally renowned Dale Chihuly. This most recent exhibit, Chihuly Garden and Glass, shows off primarily blown-glass pieces along with some his drawings and paintings. A few of his collector items are there, too.

From Tacoma, Wash., Chihuly has been involved in glassblowing since the late 1960s and has quite often been referred to as jump-starting the contemporary (American) “glass movement.”

He studied interior design at the University of Washington, experimented with basket-weaving, enrolled in ceramics at the Rhode Island School of Design and was admitted into the hot glass program at the University of Wisconsin where he received a degree in sculpture.

History, architecture and landscape usually motivate his designs, and most of Chihuly’s exhibits feature large-scale compositions. Many of his pieces have also been stated as being “autobiographical.”

Within its walls, nine rooms and an outdoor sanctuary glisten and gleam from light beams bouncing off tall towers, hanging chandeliers and sculptures—all constructed out of various glass designs.

In one room, delicate sea stars, octopuses, shells and various other creatures dance around 15 feet of swirling shades of blues and whites stretching up to the ceiling.

In the “Northwest Room,” Chihuly’s Basket Series not only displays layered sets of basket-looking glass bowls, but incorporates strands of real gold. Additionally, this section, with its Native American theme, showcases Chihuly’s own collection of Native American photographs by one of America’s most prominent photographers, Edward S. Curtis. It’s the second largest known collection; the biggest one is in the Smithsonian.

After passing under a hyper color reflective ceiling, a step through the doorway opens up to a large dark room illuminated by fluorescent green grass blades, red bending buds and what looks like a combustible pillar of red and yellow. A posted fact sheet citing his mother’s garden as inspiration adds sentimentality to the glowing display.

But these magnificent pieces aren’t all you’ll find here. Charcoal sketches, acrylic paintings and inspirational photographs deck the walls, too. Another bit of posted information reveals Chihuly’s loss of sight in his left eye and how drawings became a visionary technique for communicating with his artistic teams.

And before reaching the garden where botanical sensations of glass mingle with the landscape, a 100-foot long chain of chandeliers in a 4,500 square foot custom built glass “home” show off Chihuly’s 19th century architectural motivation.

Personal touches add a characteristic flare to each themed room. For example, in his Ikebana and Float Boats set-up, Chihuly incorporates two of his own personal row-boats and a wall hanging highlights his inspiration: watching the fishing nets in the Puget Sound and observing the boats on a trip to Japan.

Regardless of your opinion on art, the precision and techniques used for creating some of these glass pieces are fascinating, especially in the presence of the detail and enormity of each section. In the Glass Forest for instance, tall stalks of “grass” were achieved by standing on top of a stepladder and blowing while pouring down molten glass at the same time.

Not only has this new establishment paired up with non-profit organizations for furthering artistic education and participation, but has turned globs of greasy old pavement into a bright and colorful refuge—an invigorating retreat from the city’s gray skyline. A chic café also gives you a place to relax and grab a bite to eat.

Although its permanence doesn’t ring out a sense of urgency, Chihuly Garden and Glass (the world’s largest Chihuly exhibition) gives a getaway spot from the busy rush of the city and emulates a creative aura of inspiration to perk yourself up during one of those (many) days of drizzle.

General Admission is usually around $19 for adults, but they do offer a “King County” price of $15 for such residents. Photography is allowed, and re-entry is OK.

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