Chihuly Garden and Glass
For the last 50 years, Dale Chihuly has been revolutionizing the complex art of glassblowing, pushing the medium to its limits to produce some of the most colorful and stunning pieces of art in the world. His work ranges from unique, sometimes whimsical individual pieces to large whole scale, all-encompassing architectural installations such as the famous ceiling sculpture at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. His team of artists and sculptors can lay claim to some of the greatest pieces of glass artwork across the globe, and Chihuly Garden and Glass can give you a healthy dose of these masterpieces.
A homage to a Master Craftsman
Dale Patrick Chihuly was born in September, 1941. His only brother passed away when Dale was 15 and his father succumbed to a heart attack 2 years later. Chihuly was not interested in continuing his formal education beyond High School but attended the University of Puget Sound and the University of Washington in Seattle to pacify his mother. He first learned how to melt and fuse glass in 1961 and in 1962 he dropped out of university to study art in Florence. However, he decided to return to his studies in 1963 and graduated with a BA in Interior Design in 1965. Chihuly began experimenting with glassblowing in 1965, and entered the University of Wisconsin, Madison in 1966 to further his studies in the first glass program established in the country. Chihuly received a MS in Sculpture in 1967 followed by a Master of Fine Arts from the Rhode Island School of Design in 1968, where he later established the glass program. Later that year, he travelled to Venice and worked at the Venini factory in Murano, where he was introduced to the team approach to blowing glass.
Throughout the 1970s, influenced by the great glassblowing tradition of Murano, Chihuly experimented with this artform. In 1976, Chihuly was involved in a gruesome car accident which left him blind in the left eye. However, he continued blowing glass until 1979, when he dislocated his right shoulder while bodysurfing. This meant he would no longer be able to wield a glass blowing pipe, but he hired other master glass blowers to help bring his visions to reality, thus also becoming a successful entrepreneur.
Chihuly’s work is in over 200 museum collections in 30+ countries worldwide, and in 2010 the Space Needle Corporation submitted a proposal to establish an exhibition of Chihuly’s work at the site of the former Fun Forest amusement park. This resulted in the birth of the Chihuly Garden and Glass in May 2012 which has quickly become a top tourist destination in Seattle and which I had the good fortune of checking out in May 2015.
What to expect
As the largest Chihuly museum in the world, Chihuly Garden and Glass treats visitors to the most comprehensive look at the life and work of the most accomplished glass artist of our time. It features three primary components: The Garden, The Glasshouse, and the Interior Exhibits comprising of 8 galleries and 3 drawing walls.
- Interior Exhibits: The indoor exhibits are a series of 8 galleries and 3 art walls. Here, I have described a few of my favorite exhibits.
– The Glass Forest: Not to be confused with the Gardens outside, this is a phenomenal gallery that showcases the wide range and bold ingenuity of Chihuly’s work. The background of the gallery is pitch black, making the delicate shapes and glowing colors of the sculptures pop in front of your eyes in a perfect concerto.
– Floating Boat and Sea Life Room: As a Tacoma, WA native, the ocean was a big part of Chihuly’s life. The centerpiece of this exhibit, a beautiful 20-foot sculpture is representative of that influence and is sprinkled with starfish and seashells which are bound to keep youngsters especially entertained! The boats filled with colorful glass spheres also seem to have a life of their own.
– Persian Ceiling Room: This exhibit consists of a glass ceiling with a variety of colorful patterns. The glass panels are backlit, splashing vivid colors throughout the walls and floors as well, creating an almost psychedelic experience. This was hands down, my favorite amongst the indoor exhibits.
- The Glasshouse: The Glasshouse is a glass and steel structure containing a 100-foot long suspended sculpture and is undoubtedly the centerpiece of the museum. I would describe the mix of red, orange, yellow, brown and amber sculpture as a cross between Alice in Wonderland-esque wildflowers and coral reefs. The sunlight dancing through the Glasshouse and bouncing off this amazing display left me in awe (and with a sore neck).
- The Gardens: The perfect harmony of nature and glass in the Gardens creates a one of a kind exhibit that is beyond description and is quite the sight, especially on sunny days. The icicle towers, smooth glass spheres and weird shapes scattered seemingly randomly amongst the lush green vegetation is a fusion so perfect, that it is emblematic of what sets Chihuly apart. I was unable to do this myself, but from what I’ve heard and read, the Garden takes on new life when it is lit up at night. If you get a chance to take a night tour, please do so and let me know how it was!
The museum has a free audio tour that visitors can listen to as they take in the exhibits. Make sure you set this up on your smartphone by following the instructions at the entrance. One can get through all the exhibits in just over an hour, but I recommend setting aside a couple of hours to really take it in.
The museum has a café at which you can grab a quick refreshment or an entire meal. As an added bonus, the café features some pieces from Chihuly’s personal collection. There is also a bookstore where literature on Chihuly and the artform of glassblowing can be purchased. It also features works by local Seattle artists and other mementos for sale.
Plan your visit
Chihuly Garden and Glass is a year-round destination and is open daily. However, I believe the hours vary by season. I recommend checking their website to plan your visit and purchase your tickets in advance. Please note that anyone under the age of 14 must be accompanied by an adult.
Taking the Seattle Center Monorail is the easiest way to get there if you’re coming from Downtown. Just hop on at Westlake Center and you’ll be at Chihuly’s in 3 minutes. Visit their website for more information and to purchase tickets.
You can of course drive to Chihuly’s. They are in the Seattle Center at 305 Harrison St, Seattle, WA 98109. Chihuly’s offers valet parking, though I am unsure of the cost. Your best options for self-parking are likely the Mercer Garage on 3rd Ave N & Roy St, First Ave N Garage between John and Thomas St. or Fifth Ave N Garage on 5th Ave N & Republican St.
Chihuly Garden and Glass is a utopia for Instagrammers who thrive on juxtaposing loud color and “deep thought captions” and also serves as a colorful respite for those trying to escape the infamous gloomy skies of Seattle. It has occupied the #1 spot on Trip Advisor’s “Things to Do in Seattle” list since soon after its inception and is a must see for any first time Seattle goer!
Here’s who helped
While I ONLY write about places that I have visited, I get more information on these places from others, both for my edification and yours. Here are the online resources I used when writing this post.
- Artsy – “Dale Chihuly”: https://www.artsy.net/artist/dale-chihuly
- Chihuly Garden and Glass: https://www.chihulygardenandglass.com/
- Chihuly – “Interview with Dale”: https://www.chihuly.com/life/interview
- City Pass – “Everything You Need to Know to Visit Chihuly Garden and Glass”: https://www.citypass.com/articles/seattle/need-to-know-chihuly-garden-glass
- ORA – “Chihuly Garden and Glass – Seattle, WA”: http://orarchitects.com/index.php/portfolio/chihulygarden-and-glass/
- PR Newswire – “Chihuly Garden and Glass Opens with Dedication Ceremony on Monday, May 21”: https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/chihuly-garden-and-glass-opens-with-dedication-ceremony-on-monday-may-21-152260115.html
- Reuters – “Dale Chihuly’s ‘Glass House’ shines in Seattle”: https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-dalechihuly-pix/dale-chihulys-glass-house-shines-in-seattle-idUSLNE84K00C20120521
- The Wayback Machine – “Chihuly Garden and Glass”: https://web.archive.org/web/20120504100331/http://www.chihulygardenandglass.com/glasshouse
- The Wayback Machine – “Dale Chihuly”: https://web.archive.org/web/20141019200939/http://www.chihuly.com/learn
- The Wayback Machine – “Space Needle owners roll out new Chihuly proposal for Seattle Center”: https://web.archive.org/web/20100613232033/http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2012083798_chihuly11m.html
- Trip Advisor – “Chihuly Garden and Glass”: https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attraction_Review-g60878-d3184389-Reviews-Chihuly_Garden_and_Glass-Seattle_Washington.html