Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum: The manmade ‘natural’ beauty

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That they were mere depictions of the real thing was not a matter of consequence; when glassblower, Dale Chihuly, breathed life to the perpetually vibrant “flora” of the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum in Seattle, Washington, nature took its course. The tools of his trade weren’t gross departures from tradition; they were mostly the same as the ones used by his forerunners. But the method in which he shaped his sculptures appears to vary from convention—especially when examined blow by blow.

In the website of the aforementioned museum, Chihuly states that there was once a trend wherein artists wanted to control the blowing process. He, on the other hand, “just went with it.”

“The natural elements of fire, movement, gravity, and centrifugal force were always there, and were always with us,” he adds in the site. “The difference was that I worked in this abstract way and could let the forces of nature have a bigger role in the ultimate shape.” And the result was an end product more cultivated than built—a “garden” made of glass.

Meant to reinvigorate the Seattle Center, the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum sprawls within the shadow of the 605-foot Space Needle. Its mission is to “celebrate [the] region’s creative energy” while urging visitors to take part in its cultural community. Jeffrey Wright, the Chairman of Space Needle LLC, wrote on the museum’s brochure that the developers chose to feature Chihuly’s work due to “his creativity and generosity of spirit.” Ergo, since breaking ground in August 2011, the lot has been heavily decorated by the artist’s work.

The 40-feet glasshouse, for one, is a sizable well-lit space containing Chihuly’s fiery floral sculptures, suspended pieces that seem even more ablaze at the touch of light permeating the transparent ceiling. In one of its indoor galleries sprawls the Glass Forest, a large-scale installation of illuminated glass stalks spiking in the midst of twisted patterns. Meanwhile, a large room nearby displays the Mille Fiori, a multihued installation of sculptures that, on a first glance, seems hell-bent on living up to its name—an Italian phrase which translates to “a thousand flowers.” The exhibition also goes beyond Chihuly’s floral creations with Sealife—a gleaming collection of works depicting underwater life forms. In nearly every corner of the museum, there seems to be a constant duet between the haphazard and the cautious, the clear cut and the murky, and the natural and manmade.

Chihuly states in the museum’s brochure that he wants people to be “overwhelmed with light and color in a way they have never experienced.” It is a lofty goal but the man is far from ill-equipped to pursue it—especially with a history of ambitious projects such as the Light of Jerusalem in 1999 which was attended by more than a million people.

A ‘glass’ Above The Rest

Born in Tacoma, Washington back in 1941, the man dubbed a “true Northwesterner” was first introduced to his craft while he was a student at the University of Washington taking up interior design. He graduated in 1965 and joined the first glass program in the United States at the University of Wisconsin. After continuing his studies at the Rhode Island School of Design, he received a Fullbright Fellowship in 1968 and worked at Venice’s Venini glass factory.

Since putting his training into good use, he has created works that have been included in over 200 museum collections around the world, received numerous awards which include 11 honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, and became one of the more recognizable figures in the US glassblowing scene.

Beyond Garden and Glass

In the midst of his long career as a glassblower, Chihuly dislocated his shoulder and lost sight in his left eye (the reason behind the eye patch he is seen wearing in a number of photographs.) Because of his condition, he had to give up his gaffer position in the glassblowing process and focus on being the visionary of his project.

In this post, Chihuly began to draw in order to better express his designs. And these drawings can also be seen in the museum that bears his name.

In the Drawing Walls, Chihuly’s visions are immortalized with a collection of images created using liquid pigment squeezed out of plastic bottles. The museum’s website states that the use of such materials can “suggest the ways that different colors of molten glass merge and mingle.”

“Drawing really helps me to think about things,” Chihuly also states in the website. “You can more directly sense my energy in my drawings than in any other way. And from the very beginning, the drawings were done, as my glass is done, very quickly, very fast.”

To get a sense of how Chihuly works, however, one does not always have to take his word for it. One can also get an idea of it through the Theater.

Located near the in-house bookstore which houses materials concerning the artist, the Theater showcases short videos on Chihuly’s process. Such videos include Chihuly’s interviews and his work onsite. According to the website, the Theater is also a state-of-the-art gathering place for lectures, and educational and community events.

The museum, however, seeks to provide more than a place of gathering in the Seattle Center. It seeks to represent and nurture its cultural identity. This has sparked the museum’s numerous partnerships with various institutions including the Pratt Fine Arts Center, the Pilchuck Glass School (which Chihuly cofounded in 1971,) ArtsFund, Seattle Public Schools, and the Museum of Glass.

“Chihuly Garden and Glass represents an important step in the future of Seattle,” Wright says in the museum’s brochure. And if that future sees the further growth of the area’s artistic community, it wouldn’t be all too shocking; considering the fact that Chihuly has, for years, inspired the works of other artists around the world, this too would be an example of nature taking its course.

The Chihuly Garden and Glass is located at 305 Harrison St. Seattle, WA 9810. It is open from Monday to Thursday at 10am to 10pm and Friday to Sunday at 10am to 11pm. The museum’s rates are as follows:

GENERAL ADMISSION Exhibition Hall, Glass and Garden

Regular (ages 13 to 64) – $19 Senior (ages 65 and above) – $17 Youth (ages 4 to 12) – $12 Child (ages 3 and below) – FREE

DAY/NIGHT ADMISSION CHIHULY GARDEN AND GLASS

(Visit twice within 24 hours – Exhibition Hall, Glasshouse and Garden) Regular (ages 13 to 64) – $26 Senior (ages 65 and above) – $24 Youth (ages 4 to 12) – $17 Child (ages 3 and below) –  Free

For more information, please visit www.chihulygardenandglass.com

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