Dale Chihuly is stalking us. Or at least that’s the way it seems.
Having never heard of the revolutionary American glass sculptor before setting out on our trip more than three years ago, we can’t seem to turn around these days without seeing his work. It’s literally everywhere, from hotels and hospitals to churches and department stores in just about every state in the union. We can’t even leave the country without being shadowed by a Chihuly sculpture.
So when we rolled into Tacoma, Washington (the city of his birth), and later Seattle (his current residence), we weren’t at all surprised to find his heavy influence.
Tacoma’s wonderful Museum of Glass owes its very existence to the father of large-scale glass sculpture, at least indirectly. It was a conversation with Chihuly that reportedly inspired former University of Puget Sound President Phil Phibbs to conceive of a museum celebrating the Pacific Northwest’s contribution to the studio glass movement. That idea is now the 75,000-square-foot Museum of Glass, and also the start of our Chihuly trail.
Fittingly everything about the museum is dominated by its working glass hot shop. Even the contemporary looking stainless-steel cone façade is just a giant chimney that vents heat from two large furnaces keeping molten glass at a toasty 2,400° Fahrenheit 24 hours a day. Inside, live glass blowing by both a dedicated museum team and visiting artists steals the show in front of a 200 seat amphitheater.
After taking in live glass blowing and admiring scores of finished glass works, including some by our title artist, make your way west on foot toward the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a 500-foot-long pedestrian bridge connecting the museum to downtown Tacoma. Three distinct installations adorn the bridge.
“Closest to the Museum is the Venetian Wall, an eighty-foot installation displaying 109 sculptures from three of Chihuly’s series: Venetians, Ikebana, and Putti.
Marking the center of the bridge are the Crystal Towers, which rise forty feet above the bridge deck. Illuminated from below, the forms glow at night and naturally by day.
Furthest from the Museum is the Seaform Pavilion, a ceiling made of 2,364 objects from Chihuly’s Seaform and Persian series. Placed on top of a fifty-by-twenty-foot plate-glass ceiling, the forms are suspended in midair and make dramatic use of natural light.” 1
Continue on another 200 feet or so to historic Tacoma Union Station for its signature Beaux-arts architecture, imposing rotunda, and – of course – its hefty collection of Chihuly art, including a 2,700-piece cobalt blue chandelier.
Head back towards the Bridge of Glass and into the nearby University of Washington Library where you’ll find another Chihuly chandelier, this time Chinook Red, gracing an otherwise ordinary conference room.
But a school-conference-room Chihuly isn’t the most surprising find of the area. That distinction belongs to The Swiss Pub.
According to legend, Chihuly frequented the college bar while consulting on the construction of the glass museum in the early ’90s. He liked the locale so much he persuaded the owner to display eight of his Venetian pieces above the bar, where they still sit, making this the only bar in the world to feature Chihuly art.
Don’t dive too deeply into the pub’s 30 tap beers, though, because our next stop involves a trip back to the car and a 40 minute drive to our grand finale. Opened in 2012, Seattle’s Chihuly Garden and Glass is the largest museum dedicated to the great artist’s work.
The Exhibition Hall’s eight galleries contain many displays that fans will find familiar, such as the Ikebana and Float Boats seen above or Mille Fiori (Italian for a thousand flowers) seen here:
But also unusual pieces, like a glass octopus sculpture, and the drawings that inspired them.
An amazing 4,500-square-foot glasshouse transitions visitors between the darkened indoor exhibits and Chihuly’s outdoor garden.
Where towers of glass rival, and honor, Seattle’s most iconic structure.
Or perhaps they’re stalking the Space Needle, too. These things really are everywhere.
So tell us, where has Chihuly stalked you?