Dale Chihuly Sculpture

Dale Chihuly is most frequently lauded for revolutionizing the Studio Glass movement, by expanding its original premise of the solitary artist working in a studio environment to encompass the notion of collaborative teams and a division of labor within the creative process. However, Chihuly’s contribution extends well beyond the boundaries of both this movement and even the field of glass: his achievements have influenced contemporary art in general. Chihuly’s practice of using teams has led to the development of complex, multipart sculptures of dramatic beauty that place him in the leadership role of moving blown glass out of the confines of the small, precious object and into the realm of large-scale contemporary sculpture. In fact, Chihuly deserves credit for establishing the blown-glass form as an accepted vehicle for installation and environmental art, beginning in the late twentieth century and continuing today.

A prodigiously prolific artist whose work balances content with an investigation of the material's properties of translucency and transparency, Chihuly began working with glass at a time when reverence for the medium and for technique was paramount. A student of interior design and architecture in the early 1960s, by 1965 he had become captivated by the process of glassblowing. He enrolled in the University of Wisconsin's hot glass program, the first of its kind in the United States, established by Studio Glass movement founder Harvey K. Littleton. After receiving a degree in sculpture, Chihuly was admitted to the ceramics program at the Rhode Island School of Design, only to establish its renowned glass program, turning out a generation of recognized artists.

Influenced by an environment that fostered the blurring of boundaries separating all the arts, as early as 1967 Chihuly was using neon, argon, and blown-glass forms to create room-sized installations of organic, freestanding, plantlike imagery. He brought this interdisciplinary approach to the arts to the legendary Pilchuck School in Stanwood, Washington, which he cofounded in 1971 and served as its first artistic director until 1989. Under Chihuly's guidance, Pilchuck has become a gathering place for international artists with diverse backgrounds. His studios, which include an old racing-shell factory in Seattle called The Boathouse and now buildings in the Ballard section of the city and in Tacoma, Washington, have become a mecca for artists, collectors, and museum professionals involved in all media.

Stylistically during the past forty years, Chihuly's sculptures in glass have explored color, line, and assemblage. Although his work ranges from the single vessel to indoor/outdoor site-specific installations, he is best known for his multipart blown compositions. These works fall into the categories of mini-environments designed for the tabletop and large, often serialized forms displayed in groupings on pedestals or attached to specially engineered structures that dominate large exterior or interior spaces.

Chihuly and his teams have created a wide vocabulary of blown forms, revisiting and refining earlier shapes while at the same time creating exciting new elements, such as his recent Fiori, all of which demonstrate mastery and understanding of glassblowing techniques. Earlier forms, such as the Baskets, Seaforms, Ikebana, Venetians, and Chandeliers from the late 1970s through the 1990s, continue to reappear with fresh variations and within new contexts.

Since the early 1980s, all of Chihuly’s work has been marked by intense, vibrant color and by subtle linear decoration. At first he achieved patterns by fusing into the surface of his vessels “drawings” composed of prearranged glass threads; he then had his forms blown in optic molds, which created ribbed motifs. He also explored in the Macchia series bold, colorful lip wraps that contrasted sharply with the brilliant colors of his vessels. Finally, beginning with the Venetians of the early 1990s, elongated, linear blown forms, a product of the glassblowing process, have become part of his vocabulary, resulting in highly baroque, writhing elements.

Chihuly’s work is strongly autobiographical. His fascination with abstracted flower forms, reminiscent for him of his mother's garden in Tacoma, has been discussed in depth in the literature. Likewise, series such as his Seaforms, Niijima Floats, and even the Chandeliers allude to his childhood in Tacoma, marked by his love of the sea and his recognition of its importance to the economy of the Pacific Northwest. Even in the few instances in which the artist has chosen to respond to earlier historical decorative arts forms, the imagery has personal significance. The Basket series, for instance, developed out of the woven Northwest Coast Indian baskets that Chihuly saw in 1977 with his friend the sculptor Italo Scanga and with the sculptor James Carpenter at the Tacoma Historical Society.

Over the years the artist has created a number of memorable installation exhibitions, including Chihuly Over Venice (1995–96), Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000 at the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem (2000), Chihuly in the Park: A Garden of Glass at Chicago's Garfield Park Conservatory (2001–2), the Chihuly Bridge of Glass in Tacoma (2002), and Mille Fiori at the Tacoma Art Museum (2003). These installations confirm the artist’s sensitivity to architectural context and his interest in the interplay of natural light on the glass that exploits its translucency and transparency. Recent situations have heightened this effect, since the buildings Chihuly has selected as sites for the works have themselves been of glass.

While elements of the earlier installations allude to natural phenomena such as icicles and vegetation, gardens provide the dominant theme in Chihuly’s most recent ones. Sites that include Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory and the Franklin Park Conservatory in Columbus, Ohio, as well as future projects at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens and Kew Gardens, London, enable the artist to juxtapose monumental, organically shaped sculptural forms with beautiful landscaping, establishing a direct and immediate interaction between nature and art. Moreover, Chihuly’s most recent installations at the Tacoma Art Museum and at Marlborough Gallery, New York, reveal the artist’s progression toward a logical next direction: installations that are gardens themselves. In a sense, Chihuly has come full circle; now using his mature vocabulary, he captures in these installations the joie de vivre of the plantlike forms of his early neon environments.

A dominant presence in the art world, Dale Chihuly and his work have long provoked considerable controversy as part of the art/craft debate. However, with exhibitions at such major museum venues as the Victoria and Albert in London (2001), there can be little doubt that his lasting contribution to art of our times is an established fact.

Davira S. Taragin
Director of Exhibitions and Programs
Racine Art Museum
Adapted from the exhibition catalogue Dale Chihuly 2002, Grounds for Sculpture, Hamilton, New Jers

Dale Chihuly Art

Born September 20 in Tacoma, Washington, to George Chihuly and Viola Magnuson Chihuly. George Chihuly is a butcher by trade and a union organizer. Viola Chihuly is a homemaker and avid gardener. The family’s ancestry is predominantly Hungarian, Czech, and Slavic on the Chihuly side and Swedish and Norwegian on the Magnuson side.

Older brother and only sibling, George, is killed in a Naval Air Force training accident in Pensacola, Florida.

His father suffers a fatal heart attack at age 51. His mother goes to work to support herself and Dale.

Graduates from high school in Tacoma. Although he has no interest in pursuing a formal education, his mother persuades him to enroll in the College of Puget Sound (now the University of Puget Sound) in his hometown. Two accomplishments the following year—a term paper on Van Gogh and the remodeling of the recreation room in his mother’s home—motivate him to transfer to the University of Washington in Seattle to study interior design and architecture.

Joins Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity and becomes rush chairman. Learns to melt and fuse glass.

Disillusioned with his studies, he leaves school and travels to Florence to study art. Discouraged by not being able to speak Italian, he travels to the Middle East.

Works on a kibbutz in the Negev Desert. Meets architect Robert Landsman in Jericho, Jordan, and they visit the site of ancient Petra together. Redirected after meeting Landsman and spending a year abroad, he returns to the University of Washington in the College of Arts and Sciences and studies under Hope Foote and Warren Hill. In a weaving class with Doris Brockway, he incorporates glass shards into woven tapestries.

While still a student, receives the Seattle Weavers Guild Award for his innovative use of glass and fiber. Returns to Europe, visits Leningrad, and makes the first of many trips to Ireland.

Receives B.A. in Interior Design from the University of Washington and works as a designer for John Graham Architects in Seattle. Introduced to textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen, who becomes a mentor and friend. Experimenting on his own in his basement studio, Chihuly blows his first glass bubble by melting stained glass and using a metal pipe. Awarded Highest Honors from the American Institute of Interior Designers (now ASID).

1966 Works as a commercial fisherman in Alaska to earn money for graduate school. Enters the University of Wisconsin at Madison, on a full scholarship, where he studies glassblowing under Harvey Littleton. It was the first glass program in the United States.

Receives M.S. in Sculpture from the University of Wisconsin. Enrolls at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, where he begins his exploration of environmental works using neon, argon, and blown glass. Visits the Montreal World Exposition ’67 and is inspired by the architectural glass works of Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová at the Czechoslovak pavilion. Awarded a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant for work in glass. Italo Scanga, then on the faculty at Pennsylvania State University’s Art Department, lectures at RISD, and the two begin a lifelong friendship. They consider themselves brothers.

Receives M.F.A. in Ceramics from RISD. Awarded a Fulbright Fellowship, which enables him to travel and work in Europe. Invited by architect Ludovico de Santillana, son-in-law of Paolo Venini, Chihuly becomes the first American glassblower to work in the Venini factory on the island of Murano. Returns to the United States and spends the first of four consecutive summers teaching at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle, Maine. There he meets Director Fran Merritt, who becomes a friend and lifetime mentor.

Travels again, this time with his mother, throughout Europe, visiting relatives in Sweden and making pilgrimages to meet glass masters Erwin Eisch in Germany and Jaroslava Brychtová and Stanislav Libenský in Czechoslovakia. Returning to the United States, Chihuly establishes the glass program at RISD, where he teaches full time for the next eleven years. Students include Hank Adams, Howard Ben Tré, James Carpenter, Dan Dailey, Michael Glancy, Roni Horn, Flora Mace, Mark McDonnell, Benjamin Moore, Pike Powers, Michael Scheiner, Paul Seide, Therman Statom, Steve Weinberg, and Toots Zynsky.

Chihuly and friends shut down RISD in protests over the Cambodian offensive. During the strike, Chihuly and student John Landon develop ideas for an alternative school in the Pacific Northwest, inspired by Haystack Mountain School of Crafts. Meets artist Buster Simpson, who later works with Chihuly and Landon at the school. Meets James Carpenter, a student in the Illustration Department, and they begin a four-year collaboration.

On the site of a tree farm donated by Seattle art patrons Anne Gould Hauberg and John Hauberg, the Pilchuck Glass School is created. A $2,000 grant to Chihuly and Ruth Tamura from the Union of Independent Colleges of Art and additional funding from the Haubergs provide seed money for this innovative new school. From this modest beginning, Pilchuck Glass School becomes an institution that will have a profound impact on artists working in glass worldwide. Chihuly’s first environmental installation at Pilchuck is created that summer. In the fall, at RISD, he creates “20,000 Pounds of Ice and Neon,” “Glass Forest #1,” and “Glass Forest #2” with James Carpenter, installations that prefigure later environmental works by Chihuly.

While he is at Pilchuck, his studio on Hobart Street in Providence burns down. Returns to Venice with Carpenter to blow glass for the “Glas heute” exhibition at the Museum Bellerive, Zurich, Switzerland. He and Carpenter continue to collaborate on large-scale architectural projects, and, confining themselves to the use of static architectural structures, they create “Rondel Door” and “Cast Glass Door” at Pilchuck. Back in Providence, they create “Dry Ice, Bent Glass and Neon,” a conceptual breakthrough.

Returns to Europe, this time on a tour of European glass centers with Thomas Buechner of the Corning Museum of Glass and Paul Schulze, head of the Design Department at Steuben Glass. Makes his first significant purchase of art, “La Donna Perfecta,” an art-deco glass mosaic. Upon returning to the United States, he builds a glass shop for the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Supported by a National Endowment for the Arts grant at Pilchuck, James Carpenter, a group of students, and he develop a technique for picking up glass thread drawings. In December at RISD, he completes his last collaborative project with Carpenter, “Corning Wall.”

At RISD, begins series of “Navajo Blanket Cylinders.” Kate Elliott and, later, Flora Mace fabricate the complex thread drawings. He receives the first of two National Endowment for the Arts Individual Artist grants. Artist-in-residence with Seaver Leslie at Artpark, on the Niagara Gorge, in New York State. Begins “Irish Cylinders” and “Ulysses Cylinders” with Leslie and Mace.

Travels with Seaver Leslie to Great Britain and Ireland. An automobile accident in England leaves him, after weeks in the hospital and 256 stitches in his face, without sight in his left eye and with permanent damage to his right ankle and foot. After recuperating at the home of painter Peter Blake, he returns to Providence to serve as head of the Department of Sculpture and the Program in Glass at RISD. He invites Robert Grosvenor, Fairfield Porter, Dennis Oppenheim, Alan Seret, and John Torreano to RISD as visiting artists. Henry Geldzahler, curator of contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, acquires three “Navajo Blanket Cylinders” for the museum’s collection. This is a turning point in Chihuly’s career, and a friendship between artist and curator commences.

Inspired by Northwest Coast Indian baskets he sees at the Washington Historical Society in Tacoma, begins the “Basket” series at Pilchuck over the summer, with Benjamin Moore as his assistant gaffer. Continues his bicoastal teaching assignments, dividing his time between Rhode Island and the Pacific Northwest. Charles Cowles curates a three-person show of the work of Chihuly, Italo Scanga, and James Carpenter at the Seattle Art Museum.

Meets William Morris, a student at Pilchuck Glass School, and the two begin a close, eight-year working relationship. A solo show curated by Michael W. Monroe at the Renwick Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, in Washington, D.C., is another milestone in Chihuly’s career.

Dislocates his shoulder in a bodysurfing accident and relinquishes the gaffer position for good. William Morris becomes his chief gaffer for the next several years. Chihuly begins to make drawings as a way to communicate his designs. Together with Morris, Benjamin Moore, and student assistants Michael Scheiner and Rich Royal, he blows glass in Baden, Austria.

Resigns his teaching position at RISD. He returns there periodically during the 1980s as artist-in-residence. Begins “Seaform” series at Pilchuck in the summer and later, back in Providence, returns to architectural installations with the creation of windows for the Shaare Emeth Synagogue in St. Louis, Missouri. Purchases his first building, the Boathouse, in Pawtuxet Cove, Rhode Island, for his residence and studio.

Begins “Macchia” series, using up to three hundred colors of glass. These wildly spotted, brightly colored forms are dubbed “the uglies” by his mother, but they are eventually christened “Macchia,” Italian for “spotted,” by his friend Italo Scanga.

With William Morris, tours one thousand miles of Brittany by bicycle in the spring. First major catalog is published: “Chihuly Glass,” designed by RISD colleague and friend Malcolm Grear.

Sells the Boathouse in Rhode Island and returns to the Pacific Northwest after sixteen years on the East Coast. Works at Pilchuck in the fall and winter, further developing the “Macchia” series with William Morris as chief gaffer.

Begins work on the “Soft Cylinder” series, with Flora Mace and Joey Kirkpatrick executing the glass drawings. He is honored as RISD President’s Fellow at the Whitney Museum in New York and receives the Visual Artists Award from the American Council for the Arts, as well as the first of three state Governor’s Arts Awards.

Returns to Baden, Austria, this time to teach with William Morris, Flora Mace, and Joey Kirkpatrick. Travels to Malta and the Channel Islands. Purchases the Buffalo Shoe Company building on the east side of Lake Union in Seattle and begins restoring it for use as a primary studio and residence.

Begins “Persian” series with Martin Blank, a former RISD student and assistant, as gaffer. With the opening of “Objets de Verre” at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais du Louvre, in Paris, he becomes one of only four American artists to have had a one-person exhibition at the Louvre. Receives honorary doctorates from both the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, and RISD, Providence.

Establishes his first hotshop in the Van de Kamp building near Lake Union. Begins working hot glass on a larger scale and creates several site-specific installations, including “Puget Sound Forms” for the Seattle Aquarium. Donates permanent retrospective collection to the Tacoma Art Museum in memory of his brother and father. Begins association with artist Parks Anderson, commencing with the “Rainbow Room Frieze,” an installation at Rockefeller Center in New York City. Marries playwright Sylvia Peto.

Inspired by a private collection of Italian Art Deco glass, primarily designed by Martinuzzi and Scarpa, Chihuly begins “Venetian”series. Working from Chihuly’s drawings, Lino Tagliapietra serves as gaffer. Receives an honorary doctorate from the California College of Arts and Crafts, Oakland.

With Italian glass masters Lino Tagliapietra and Pino Signoretto, and a team of glassblowers at Pilchuck Glass School, begins “Putti Venetian” series. Working with Tagliapietra, Chihuly creates “Ikebana” series, inspired by his travels to Japan and exposure to ikebana masters.

1990 Purchases the historic Pocock Building located on Lake Union, realizing his dream of being on the water in Seattle. Renovates the building and names it The Boathouse, for use as a studio, hotshop, and archives. Travels to Japan.

1991 Begins “Niijima Float” series with Rich Royal as gaffer, creating some of the largest pieces of glass ever blown by hand. Completes a number of architectural installations, including those for GTE World Headquarters in Irving, Texas, and the Yasui Konpira-gu Shinto Shrine in Kyoto, Japan. He and Sylvia Peto divorce.

Begins “Chandelier” series with a hanging sculpture for the exhibition “Dale Chihuly: Installations 1964–1992,” curated by Patterson Sims at the Seattle Art Museum. Honored as the first National Living Treasure by the Institute for Human Potential, University of North Carolina, Wilmington. Designs sets for Seattle Opera production of Debussy’s “Pelléas et Mélisande,” which premires in 1993. The “Pilchuck Stumps” are created during this project but are not widely exhibited.

Begins “Piccolo Venetian” series with Lino Tagliapietra. Alumni Association of the University of Washington names him Alumnus Summa Laude Dignatus, its most prestigious honor. Creates “100,000 Pounds of Ice and Neon,” a temporary installation in the Tacoma Dome, Tacoma, Washington, attended by 35,000 visitors in four days.

“Chihuly at Union Station,” five installations for Tacoma’s Union Station Federal Courthouse, is sponsored by the Executive Council for a Greater Tacoma and organized by the Tacoma Art Museum. Hilltop Artists in Residence, a glassblowing program for at-risk youths in Tacoma, Washington, is created by friend Kathy Kaperick. Within two years the program partners with Tacoma Public Schools, and Chihuly remains a strong role model and advisor. Discussions begin on a project to build the Museum of Glass on the Thea Foss Waterway in Tacoma and to design the “Chihuly Bridge of Glass,” which will connect the museum to Tacoma’s university district.

“Cerulean Blue Macchia with Chartreuse Lip Wrap” is added to the White House Collection of American Crafts. “Chihuly Over Venice” begins with a glassblowing session in Nuutajärvi, Finland, and a subsequent blow at the Waterford Crystal factory, Ireland. Creates “Chihuly e Spoleto,” an installation for the 38th Spoleto Festival of the Two Worlds, in Spoleto, Italy. Receives an honorary doctorate from Pratt Institute, New York.

“Chihuly Over Venice” continues with a blow in Monterrey, Mexico, and culminates with the installation of fourteen “Chandeliers” at various sites in Venice. The exhibition “Chihuly Over Venice” begins its national tour at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, Missouri. Chihuly purchases the Ballard Building in Seattle for use as mock-up and studio space. Creates a major installation for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Governor’s Ball following the Academy Awards ceremony in Hollywood, California. Creates his first permanent outdoor installation, “Icicle Creek Chandelier,” for the Sleeping Lady Conference Retreat in Leavenworth, Washington. Receives an honorary doctorate from Gonzaga University, Spokane, Washington.

Continues and expands series of experimental plastics he calls “Polyvitro” in his newly renovated Ballard studio. “Chihuly” is designed by Massimo Vignelli and copublished by Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, and Portland Press, Seattle. A permanent installation of Chihuly’s work opens at the Hakone Glass Forest, Ukai Museum, in Hakone, Japan. Chihuly and his team invite local high school students to photograph a blow and installation at the Vianne factory in France.

Participates in the Sydney Arts Festival in Australia. A son, Jackson Viola Chihuly, is born February 12 to Dale Chihuly and Leslie Jackson. Two large “Chandeliers” are created for Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony. Chihuly’s largest sculpture to date, the “Fiori di Como,” is installed in the Bellagio Resort lobby in Las Vegas. Creates a major installation for Atlantis on Paradise Island, Bahamas. PBS stations air “Chihuly Over Venice,” the nation’s first high-definition television (HDTV) broadcast.

Begins “Jerusalem Cylinder” series with gaffer James Mongrain, in concert with Flora Mace and Joey Kirkpatrick. In celebration of the millennium, Chihuly mounts his most ambitious exhibition to date: “Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem,” for which he creates fifteen installations within the stone walls of an ancient military fortress, currently known as the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem. Travels to the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, to unveil an eighteen-foot “Chandelier” gracing the main entrance of the museum. Returns to Jerusalem to create a sixty-foot wall from twenty-four massive blocks of ice shipped from Alaska.

Designs and exhibits "Crystal Tree of Light" for the White House Millennium Celebration; the sculpture will be permanently installed at the Clinton Presidential Center, Little Rock, Arkansas, in 2004.Creates “La Tour de Lumière” sculpture for the exhibition “Contemporary American Sculpture” in Monte Carlo. Marlborough Gallery represents Chihuly. More than a million visitors enter the Tower of David Museum to see “Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem,” breaking the world attendance record for a temporary exhibition during 1999–2000. Receives an honorary doctorate from Brandeis University. “Chihuly Projects” is published by Portland Press and distributed by Harry N. Abrams, Inc.

“Chihuly at the V&A” opens at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Exhibits at Marlborough Gallery, New York and London. Groups a series of “Chandeliers” for the first time to create an installation for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Receives an honorary doctorate from the University of Hartford, in Connecticut. Artist Italo Scanga dies, friend and mentor for over three decades. Presents his first major glasshouse exhibition, “Chihuly in the Park: A Garden of Glass” at the Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago.

Creates installations for the Olympic Arts Festival at the Salt Lake 2002 Olympic Winter Games. Viola Chihuly celebrates her 95th birthday. The “Chihuly Bridge of Glass,” conceived by Chihuly and designed in collaboration with Arthur Andersson of Andersson•Wise Architects, is dedicated in Tacoma, Washington.

Begins the “Fiori” series for the opening exhibition at the Tacoma Art Museum's new building. TAM designs a permanent installation for its collection of his works. “Chihuly at the Conservatory” opens at the Franklin Park Conservatory, Columbus, Ohio. “Chihuly Drawing” is published by Portland Press.

Creates new forms in his “Fiori” series for an exhibition at Marlborough Gallery, New York. The Orlando Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Florida, become the first museums to collaborate and present simultaneous major exhibitions of his work. Presents a glasshouse exhibition at Atlanta Botanical Garden. Another collaborative exhibition opens in Los Angeles at the Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, L.A. Louver gallery, and Frank Lloyd Gallery.

Marries Leslie Jackson. Mounts “Gardens of Glass: Chihuly at Kew”, a major garden exhibition, the first in Great Britain. Exhibits at Marlborough Monaco and Marlborough London.

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