Dale Chihuly is a name in the world of glass artistry that ranks alongside Tiffany. The 69-year-old artist is a one-man industry, working with teams of artisans at the Pilchuck Glass School near Stanwood, Washington that he founded in 1971.
Chihuly looks a bit like an overweight pirate, complete with an eye patch from an accident in England in 1976 in which his car collided head-on with another and he was thrown through the windshield, losing the sight in one eye and sustaining scars to his face. That accident was followed, in 1979, by a bodysurfing accident in which he dislocated his shoulder. As a result of these two personal catastrophes, Chihuly was unable to blow glass himself and his team approach took on new dimensions where he is “more director than actor,” as he has said in his official biography (www.chihuly.com, Davira S. Taragin).
Even before that, Chihuly was influenced by a father who was a union organizer and a mother who loved flowers. Born in 1941 in Tacoma, Washington, he attended the University of Washington, graduating with a degree in interior design in 1965, and then moved on to the University of Wisconsin to work at the school founded by Harvey K. Littleton, the first school in the nation to have a glass-blowing program of study.
Chihuly continued his studies at the Rhode Island School of Design in the ceramics program and founded their glass-blowing program, a program that he taught for a decade. Although a 3-week stint at the Veninin glass factor in Murano in 1968 on a Fullbright Fellowship is often credited as being key to Chihuly’s teamwork approach, it seems obvious that the need for a team was necessitated by physical constraints, as well.
For the exhibit of his glasswork that has been taking place in the gardens of the Cheekwood estate since May 25 (ending October 31, 2010), near Nashville, Chihuly visited the gardens of the estate and designed 18 exhibit spots; 8,000 pieces of his glass sculpture were then trucked in on 5 trucks. Some of the pieces, such as The Sun (yellow tree picture), which is 13 feet high, had been in the Kew Gardens in England until January of 2006 and the boat of Chihuly glasswork (pictured) was exhibited in the Royal Botanical Gardens in 2005.
Chihuly has led the avant garde movement over the past 45 years and has made glass into a commercial item considered for installation worldwide. His work has been included in over 200 museum collections worldwide and he has received 8 honorary doctorates and 2 fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. Add to that the estimate by the Seattle Times that Chihuly’s work would net $29 million in sales in 2004, and you realize what an industry he has become. (There are outlets for his work both at the Mirage in Las Vegas and at the Bellagio).
Chihuly enjoys juxtaposing monumental, organically shaped sculptural forms with beautiful landscaping, which is exactly what has taken place near Nashville (more pictures at www.weeklywilson.com), with financial support from Lexus of Nashville.
A quick run-down of the forms that have fascinated and inspired Dale Chihuly since 1975 would include Navajo Blanket Series (1975), North West Coast basket series (1977), Seaforms (1980), Macchia, using every color in the studio (1981), Persian (1986), Venetian (1988), Ikebana (1989), Niijima Floats (1991), Chandeliers (1992) and the Irish cylinder series, on a smaller scale.
One of the biggest permanent collections of his work is housed at the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, but several cities, including San Francisco and Chicago (“Chihuly in the Park: A Garden of Glass” in Chicago’s Garfield Park), Pittsburgh, and New York City have been locations where his forms have appeared.
The walk through the 55-acre Cheekwood estate (a mansion founded on the Maxwell Coffee House fortune) was beautiful during the day and even more stunning at night, when many of the glass pieces are lighted. The lighted portion only runs on Thursday and Friday nights, from 4:30 to 9 p.m., until the end of October. During the day the exhibit closes down at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $17, $12 for seniors and $12 for students.
(SOURCES: www.chihuly.com by Davira S. Taragin; www.wikipedia.com; Chihuly at Cheekwood Visitor’s Guide; Chihuly at the Frist Visitors’ Guide, www.fristceneter.org.)