Thursday Salute to Originals: Illuminated Excellence Where None Have Previously Dared Tread
Few artists today can rival Dale Chihuly in inspiration, innovation, influence, ambition, and breadth. Hailing from Tacoma, Washington, Mr. Chihuly’s introduction to glass blowing occurred during his B.A. in interior design. While as a weaving student, he began to incorporate metal and glass strands into the weaving of tapestries, eventually turning to glass blowing a year later. This experienced kindled a love for artistic glass, leading him to a Fullbright Fellowship in Venice, Master’s Degrees in Sculpture and Fine Arts, and the founding of both the Pilchuck Glass School and the glass program at the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design.
Like many artistic disciplines, an imposition of limitation allowed Mr. Chihuly to perceive in ways not previously imagined. A body surfing accident in 1979 dislocated his shoulder, severely hampering his ability to blow glass. By the necessity of incorporating others to perform the glass blowing, Chihuly noted the increase of perspective he gained, stating, “Once I stepped back, I liked the view.”
His styles and interests change and evolve much like the natural and human worlds from which he draws inspiration. Instead of making his art in a heavy-handed fashion, Mr. Chihuly prefers to follow cues from the hot glass, bequeathing an organic quality unavailable by utilizing byzantine techniques. His continued changing expressions vary from the permanent to temporary, gigantic to small, incorporating both glasses and other materials, in both nature and cities, museums and buildings.
Above image: Chihuly Sculpture at Atlantis Hotel in Dubai
While teaching at Pilchuck, Chihuly held numerous outdoor exhibits including one where he blew hot glass bubbles and then set them floating on a nearby pond. When the water eventually evaporated weeks later, the bubbles disappeared as well. Not unfamiliar with social commentary, Chihuly once showed an exhibit in Jerusalem where he arranged huge blocks of Alaskan ice like a fortified wall, placing lights with colored gels behind. The melting, illuminated ice signified the beauty of breaking down human walls and the temporary nature of our animosities.
Above: Fiori Di Como at the Bellagio in Las Vegas by Dale Chihuly (Image credit: Catherinesherman WordPress)
His sculptures, instillations, towers, and chandeliers have been incorporated in public and commercial buildings for decades. He revisited his interior design roots in the late 80s and began incorporating his works into architecture. The Las Vegas Bellagio treats patrons to the Fiori Di Como, a flowing collection of 2,000 hand-blown glass pieces that hang six meters above the floor. The thirty foot tall V&A Chandelier has been hanging in the main entrance of the Victoria and Albert Museum since 2000. To commemorate the University of Akron’s Goodyear School of Polymers, Chihuly placed a forty foot sculpture made of 80 weather-proof and illuminated blue, polymer “rocks” on a nautilus-shaped base in front the building. This indicated how the amazing advancement of science and design mimics that already accomplished by nature.
Above: Dale Chihuly Sculpture at Goodyear School of Polymers in Akron, Ohio (Image credit: University of Akron)
Chihuly has been featured in over two hundred museums and has had exhibits throughout the world, including a solo exhibit at the Louvre. Many states in America and several other countries house permanent collections of his. A documentary featuring his Chihuly Over Venice demonstration was the first Hi-Def broadcast in the United States. Reaffirming his connection with nature, he has installed numerous towers, pieces, and chandeliers in botanical gardens, incorporating and accenting the look of the natural world.
Above left: Saffron Tower at DeYoung Museum in San Francisco
Above right: Persian Pond at Garfield Park in Chicago
Truly an American master, Dale Chihuly influences the world as much as it influences him. Where previously, glass was considered a craft more than an art, Chihuly has redefined concepts and elevated this neglected discipline. His continued progression and re-examination of styles indicates an artist devotion to expression and innovation. We are all richer for his art.