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Chihuly and the Art of Glass

I don’t know when Dale Chihuly became my favorite artist. It was a long time ago.


I do know exactly when glass blowing became my favorite art form.

Large blown glass display with tall red glass pillars on edge, large yellow flower-like pieces in middle
Mille Fiori - A Thousand Flowers **

It was 1970. I was 13 years old. My parents loaded me in the backseat of the car and we headed south to the Ozarks and Silver Dollar City.


There’s a place in Silver Dollar City called Hazel’s Blown Glass Factory. More than 50 years later it’s still there.


When you visit you can watch as artists put glass into intensely hot furnaces, pull it out, blow into a long tube and stretch the glass in every which direction to create something beautiful.


As a newly-minted teenager I was totally absorbed. Fascinated, I stood there for the longest time, taking in everything they did. I really didn’t care about going to see other things in the park. I just wanted to watch them work.


That feeling has never left.

Clear glass bowls and vases on a low wooden bench in foreground with tall blue glass sculpture through doorway in back.
Looking from the Northwest Room to the Sealife Room with its 15-foot tall Sealife Tower. **

Several years back I did make the time to take a couple of classes and have three paperweights and a tulip to show for it. I’ve often thought about going back but, as these things go, time has slipped away.


It should come as no surprise then that my favorite artist is a glass blower and Chihuly is arguably the most well-known glass artist in the world.


Whenever I mention Chihuly’s name I invariably have a number of people share with me where they have seen his work. There’s a good chance you have as well. If not in person, you most certainly have seen images of it.

Two large chandeliers, an orange ball-shaped one in front and blue cone-shaped in back, casting large shadows on nearby wall.
Chandeliers inspired by Chihuly Over Venice installation. **

Some of them are massive sculptures, several feet in height. Or, in the case of the installation at Bellagio in Las Vegas, cover an entire 2,100-square-foot ceiling and include more than 2,000 hand-blown blossoms.


The first time I saw his work in person was on the 5,000-mile road trip Darling Daughter and I took after her high school graduation. We decided to make a stop at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. I was entirely unaware before walking up to the door that Chihuly has a permanent exhibit there, and often rotating pieces as well.


His website provides the full list of permanent exhibits as well as temporary displays in which he is often involved.

Photo from inside glass house with orange and yellow sculpture hanging from ceiling and Space Needle outside.
Glass House with Space Needle in background. **

All that is why visiting Seattle’s Chihuly Garden and Glass has long been on my check list. Chihuly is from the Seattle area.


Chihuly Garden and Glass is a permanent museum for his work, quite literally in the shadow of the city’s iconic Space Needle.


Visiting there lived up to all my expectations. It’s definitely an immersive experience into his art.


Opened in 2012, the museum includes galleries, a 40-foot-tall, 4,500-square-foot glasshouse, a garden stretching along and behind, and a theater with videos telling of Chihuly’s life and art processes.


There are also live demonstrations throughout the day in an area just outside the glasshouse. The artists work out of a small retrofitted 1967 Airstream with a 2,175-degree furnace.


One of the first things visitors see upon walking through the museum doors is Winter Brilliance, a display that first appeared as a holiday display Chihuly did for Barneys New York in 2015.

Image of eight colorful paintings made from sketches Chihuly did for his creations.
Chihuly's sketches for his glass designs, turned paintings. **

Some of Chihuly’s paintings, he does more than glass art, and the sketches he does leading up to the actual making of his pieces are also on display.


I won’t go into a room-by-room listing. I trust the photos here do a better job of conveying that than any number of words can possibly do. However, Lotte Hotel Magazine published a nice overview if you're curious.


It’s easy to spend a couple of hours or more walking through the many displays and learning more about Chihuly. There is a small refreshment stand with food available and they will be opening a new bar area later this year.


The museum is open year-round and there is a fee to enter. If you’re thinking of going up in the Space Needle too, they do offer a package price.


A little sidenote – If you live in or near the Iowa Quad Cities, stop in at Crawford Brewery in Bettendorf. They have a large hanging piece in the middle of the brewery that has to be Chihuly-inspired.


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**I allow use of my photos through Creative Commons License. I'm not looking to make money off this thing. I only ask you provide me with credit for the photo by noting my blog address, alansheaven.com, or a link back to this page.

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