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Maybe Dale Chihuly is all there really is?

December 12, 2012

Like my mother, and her mother before her, I am a crow. We have each loved bright, shiny, colorful things...especially glass with light shining through it. (Gallery: Glass and Me) This explains why, for the past ten years I will always make the extra effort to see the works of Dale Chihuly if they are nearby… and no matter where we travel, they frequently are nearby.

Dale Chihuly

The area around Tacoma (where Chihuly was born) and Seattle, Washington is especially well-populated with his glass installations. To my eye, the glass really looks its best in this area’s mostly cloudy, overcast light. The glowing glass installations become an “almost natural” part of the surrounding environment.


Clos Pegase Winery - Napa Valley, California - 1998: Our first Chihuly sighting!  An exuberant  chandelier made of hundreds of small multi-shaded yellow spirals. We were blown away... (Get It?)

Little did we know that once we started traveling full time, he would be everywhere. From Atlantic to Pacific, oh my, his output is terrific. (Not to mention installations in Jerusalem, Venice, Japan, Norway... over 200 world-wide.)

Dale ChihulyAnd that “big stuff” does not include the many thousands of “little” Chihulys residing in private homes. They float in backyard pools, hang theatrically over mirrored dining room tables or rest seductively in hallway alcoves.

The omnipresent gift shops at his installations flaunt walls of photographic books, reproductions of his splatter paintings, lithographs, prints, posters, rugs, umbrellas... Ok, I confess, I was tempted to get the umbrella, but considering the almost $40. price tag and my history of losing bumbershoots at an alarming rate, the decision was made to forgo this rainy day pleasure.

Dale ChihulyOur second encounter with Dale was at the Marlborough Gallery in New York City back in 2001. The size of the crowds gave us our first inkling of just how huge his following had become.  As a photographer, I found the show utterly enjoyable, but it was the lighting and play of shadows, reflections and colors produced on the walls that gave the greatest pleasure.

The more I see of his art, the more I believe in its power to give people who might never consider looking at “art” great love and pleasure. It is definitely the sort of art that casinos from Las Vegas (the Bellagio) to Atlantis love to display.

Seen in one-man shows, in dark rooms with reflective walls and floors, it is all just too damn much. The energetic and musical forms of the glass are lost in a cacophony of competing colors and shapes. Spare me one more ikebana boat floating in a sea of black glass, please.

Dale ChihulyBut when the glass is installed permanently and is sight specific, the effect of the color, the glass and the setting can be powerful. The permanent installation of the Monarch Window in Tacoma, Washington’s Union Station (now a courthouse) is just such a piece.

Trains still travel below the station all day long and the vibrations from their movement creates a magic projection like the fluttering of butterfly wings on the floors and objects in the old station. In the window, every piece is orange and the same basic shape, only the projections of the flower forms change as they dance about beneath your feet.

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We most recently paid a night visit to the Indoor/Outdoor Chihuly Glass Garden below the Space Needle in Seattle and it was packed. Many of the visitors who were there when we arrived, were still floating about in awe when we left. They moved along slowly thru this 21st Century Glass Cathedral as if under some hypnotic spell. Cell phones thrust towards the glass they composed photographs and interacted with the pieces for hours.

Congratulations, Mr. Chihuly, I aways like you and sometimes I even love you.

Inside the stainless steel cone that houses the worlds largest hot shop.

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Actually, there IS more than Dale. Many wonderful artists are working in glass and the Corning Museum of Glass has a beautiful collection of objects spanning many centuries. Here you can view a short, automated full screen PDF slideshow of some of the pieces in the museum. (34 slides)

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