Blown Glass 'Trees' That Create a Forest of Light

blown grass trees
Rita Reif
New York Times,
29 September 1971

The trees in that fragile glass forest are eight feet tall. All are white. Some are twisted, pretzel-like, and some pulse with neon light.

Dale Chihuly and Jamie Carpenter prefer to call their environment of soaring stalks a barricade. But forest is the word being used by the Museum of Contemporary Crafts, 29 West 53rd Street, where the assemblage of blown glass forms is on view through Nov. 7.

Whatever it is called, the glass conception is not only startling and strangely beautiful, installed in a huge black shadow box, but it also presents a tour de force in glassmaking. The extraordinary length of the tubes and the combination with two forms of neon lighting is considered a first both by the craftsmen-creators and Paul Smith, the museum director.

How they're made

"It's not really that difficult once you know how," said Mr. Chihuly, a curly-haired glassblower who is an assistant professor at the Rhode Island School of Design where Mr. Carpenter is a fourth-year student.

Usually, Mr. Carpenter explained, Mr. Chihuly gets up on top of a ladder with a blob of molten glass on the end of a pipe. Then he blows the glass and Mr. Carpenter wearing asbestos gloves, assists in forming the straight or twisted tubes. (The two men designed their own oven to accommodate the tall blown glass.)

"The tube is solid in 25 seconds so we have to work fast," Mr. Carpenter said. "In a good morning we can do 20, but our rate of breakage is pretty high. Only about 5 per cent of what we make is really usable."

Filling the tubes with neon presents problems, for the tubes must be perfect to prevent gas leakage. Neon light is obtained by electrifying the tube or by placing it over an energized field.

"We just like making something you have never seen before," said Mr. Chihuly. "And we don't expect we'll ever make another environment like this. I guess we'd find a way of pricing it if someone wanted to buy it. A dozen trees would be, say, $1,000."

The team, who have worked together for almost two years, have also devised smaller objects that would command lower prices. Among those on view are about a dozen or so vases and containers.

©1971 The New York Times Company