Like a wonderland worthy of Alice, the outdoor glass garden next to the Space Needle at Seattle Center features tall purple reeds, twining scarlet stems, and a lime-green leaf tower “blooming” amidst color-coordinated natural flowers. This fantastical garden, created in 2012 to showcase the Studio Art Glass of world-renowned artist Dale Chihuly, is connected to an exhibition hall by an impressive 40-foot tall, off-axis Glass House. Suspended from the ceiling of this cathedral-like “conservatory” is a 100-foot glass sculpture with blossoms in rich tones of gold and orange.
Each of the eight galleries in the adjacent hall is set up with a different installation, such as the Chandeliers Room inspired by Venetian glassblowers, the Persian Ceiling Room hung with backlit, translucent shapes that create an almost pulsating kaleidoscope of overlapping patterns, and the Sealife Room with forms that mimic shells and seaweed. An indoor garden of spikey and spiraling shapes of varied heights and vibrant colors lives up to its name (thousand flowers) in the Mille Fiori room. A grove of thin, white neon rods seems to grow from curled roots in the Glass Forest, while much bolder, broad-cupped “flowers” line the Macchia Forest. Paying homage to the area’s Native peoples, the Northwest Room contains basket-shaped glass forms and Chihuly’s personal collection of weavings and textiles. My favorite is the Ikebana and Float Boat Room, where colorful glass spheres fill and overflow a large wooden rowboat. It is the inspiration behind this exhibit that appeals to me most: glass balls that were floated downstream in 1995 for a temporary outdoor installation in Finland were gathered by local teenagers and placed in boats along the shore.
Chihuly’s work has been celebrated and exhibited around the world. Studio Art Glass has been around for only a short time and Seattle has become the undisputed epicenter of the phenomenon. The American Studio Glass Movement really began in the early 1950s under the innovative guidance of Harvey K. Littleton, a teaching ceramist at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. His student Dale Chihuly is chiefly responsible for taking glass beyond the boundaries of traditional forms to sculptural artworks. Chihuly’s Pilchuck School (just north of Seattle), which began in 1971 as a one-summer glassblowing workshop, has grown into the world’s most comprehensive center for art glassmaking.
Nearby, in Chihuly’s hometown of Tacoma, are two significant collections of Studio Art Glass. The Tacoma Art Museum owns about 900 pieces from Pilchuck School, 151 works donated by its cofounder Anne Gould Hauberg, 400 works from the collection of Paul Marioni who taught at Pilchuck for 15 years, and 110 works by native son, Dale Chihuly.
In addition, the Tacoma Museum of Glass, which opened only four years ago, offers changing exhibits by a broad spectrum of glass artists from around the word. My personal favorites are works by Toots Zynsky, who studied with Chihuly at Pilchuck. Unlike the usual blown glass, Zynsky creates free-form vessels from extruded fused-glass threads that give her pieces a textural appearance. Visitors can also observe glass blowing in progress at the west coast’s largest “hot shop,” inside the 90-foot stainless steel cone that gives the museum its distinctive silhouette. A rooftop sculpture by Martin Blank, consisting of 754 individually hand-sculpted pieces of glass, mostly from the Hot Shop, and a city-connecting bridge lined with Chihuly’s works make the outside environment as interesting as the inside galleries.
While this corner of the United States remains the hub of Studio Art Glass world wide, its spokes are far reaching. Last year, the Museum of Glass exhibited Chihuly’s Venetian-inspired works from the collection of Oregon entrepreneur, George R. Stroemple.
Alamance Arts in Graham, N.C. is currently hosting the only eastern seaboard site of works from the Stroemple collection. This remarkable exhibit features Chihuly’s most significant chandelier in existence and more than 50 additional works inspired by the artist’s 1988 trip to Venice. The exhibit is free and open to the public.
Local connections and opportunities in Studio Art Glass
Dale Chihuly: Venetians from the George R. Stroemple Collection
Through October 16, 2016
Free and open to the public
213 S Main Street, Graham
The Olio, Inc
West End Mill Works
918 Bridge Street NW, Winston Salem
This non-profit glass blowing facility offers workshops and demonstrations.
Rebeccah Byer, Founding Executive Director of The Olio, has a BFA in Crafts from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, studied at Pilchuck Glass School and Corning School of Glass.
Sawtooth School of Visual Arts
251 N. Spruce Street, Winston-Salem
Sawtooth offers classes and workshops in glass slumping and fusing (in a kiln), as well as glass blowing and lampworking, and glass beading making.
601 North Trade Street, Winston-Salem
You will find work by several outstanding glass artists at the The Piedmont Craftsmen Shop in the Downtown Arts District.
Hickory Museum of Art
234 Third Ave. NE, Hickory
The ongoing exhibit of Art Glass and Pottery from their permanent collection features a variety of glass works, some fanciful, some elegant, including a beautiful blue glass piece by Dale Chihuly.