From fire and breath, beauty: Discovering the Blown Glass of Dale Chihuly

Always a fan of the earthiness of pottery, I wasn’t prepared to be blown away by glass.  To whatever deep, soulful spaces pottery invites me, I found that blown glass invites me into the celestial.

I was in Tacoma when I discovered the work of Dale Chihuly.  Very quickly, I realized I must have been living under a rock all these years.  Everyone but me seems to have known him for a long time.  I’m simply thrilled to have discovered him in the 11th hour.

If you are in Tacoma, a visit to the Tacoma Museum of Glass is such a treat.  Tacoma is Dale Chihuly’s birthplace and its public spaces are accented with his marvelous pieces.  From the bridge to the city courthouse, you’ll find his work displayed.  That’s probably why there is this wonderful museum devoted to glass.

Before I even saw any of the exhibits, I meandered into their Hot Shop, a studio with gallery seating.  There, several glass artists were working while a museum docent narrated.  I could have stayed there all day watching molten glass take shape with fire and breath.  What struck me as much as anything was the intensity with which the artists worked.  They existed in a time and space unavailable to the rest of us — they were quite in their own world.  We were outsiders, granted permission to peek in for a while.


From Tacoma, it’s a short drive north into Seattle and where we spent some delicious time at the Chihuly Glass and Garden Museum.  I’m discovering that my favorite museums are those which draw you to outside spaces, where the art lives with nature.  Such is the Chihuly museum. Inside, there was a quiet reverence as scores of people feasted on the other-worldliness of Chihuly’s sculptures.


Then, as magical as anything, you walk into an arboretum of sorts.  I don’t know what else to call it.  The building, made of glass, houses huge yellow and orange floral pieces that fan out across the ceiling and drip down the walls.  This might have been my favorite exhibit (except for the boat full of glass balls which I longed to sail away on — see above).  The light streaming through the glass was reminiscent of the grandest cathedrals I’ve ever seen.


Finally, you walk through what can only be described as a door to whimsy and wonder; you walk out into the Chihuly garden. This place reinforced for me that every garden should have art to mirror and magnify all of nature’s magnificence.  Back at home, we’re in the process of relandscaping and the idea of incorporating art is taking shape.  There’s little question why.  Just look at a few of the displays:


Since discovering the wonder of blown glass, I’ve been thinking a lot about the power and myth of breath and the life force of fire.  It’s said that with His breath, God breathed life into Adam and Eve — and it’s with a counting of deep, focused breaths that infants are coaxed into the world.  Focusing on the breath is meditative and calming; and yet, blowing out candles with our breath is a form of celebration.  Fire is energy and power — fire moves and grows with oxygen — breath if you will.  To take what is perceived as a solid piece of glass, melt it down, and breathe a new form into it, requires both breath and fire.  And imagination.  So much imagination, wonder, and a dash of whimsy.  How lucky we are that Dale Chihuly puts that all together.

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