I was born in Tacoma, Washington and currently live in Seattle, Washington with my wife Leslie and my son Jackson.
Where were you born?
Where is your studio?
My Boathouse hotshop and studio are located in Seattle, Washington. I also have a building in my hometown of Tacoma, Washington where we store and ship the glass.
Is your studio open to the public?
Chihuly Garden and Glass, a long-term exhibition of my work located near the base of the Space Needle in Seattle, is open to the public. The hotshop and studio locations are not open to the public.
When did you first realize you wanted to be a glassblower?
As a kid I was always interested in glass, but it wasn’t until I had to take a weaving class at the University of Washington in the early 1960s that I made my first artistic use of it—I started weaving small pieces of glass into tapestries. One night a few years later, I melted some glass in a little oven and blew a bubble. I had a poster on the wall of a glassblower with his cheeks puffed up so I gave it a try. As soon as I blew that bubble I decided I wanted to be a glassblower.
Where did you get your undergraduate and graduate degrees?
My mom Viola really wanted me to go to college. I started out at the University of Puget Sound, and after redecorating my mom’s basement during my freshman year, decided to transfer to the University of Washington to study interior design. I graduated in 1965 and got a job with a large architectural firm here in Seattle. When I realized I wanted to become a glassblower, I raised money for graduate school by working for six months as a commercial fisherman in Alaska. I graduated from the University of Wisconsin with a Master’s in Sculpture, and continued my studies at the Rhode Island School of Design where I received an M.F.A. I later established the glass program at RISD and taught there for more than a decade. In 1968 I was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship and went to work at the Venini glass factory on the island of Murano. It was there I first observed the team approach to blowing glass, which is critical to the way I work today.
Why do you prefer to work with a team?
Having the support and skills of a large team can be tremendously gratifying. I feel fortunate to work with a very skilled and talented team of glassblowers, especially now that I do such large architectural projects and installations. Glassblowing is a very spontaneous, fast medium, and one has to respond very quickly. My team allows me to do that.
There are only a few translucent materials light can go through and glass is one of those. Imagine entering Chartres Cathedral and looking up at the Rose Window, where one can see a one-inch square of ruby red glass from 300 feet away. I have always been attracted to the way light passes through glass.
What do you find most challenging about glass?
Glass is very durable, but it’s also fragile and can break at any moment. I've always tried to push the medium as far as I could in terms of shape and scale. It is a challenge to see how big we can blow and stretch the material.
Do you work with materials other than glass?
I work with a number of materials including a form of plastic, which I call polyvitro, neon and ice. I also draw and paint. I started drawing in the 70s so I could show the glassblowers what I wanted them to make. I continue to enjoy drawing and eventually they moved from the more subtle tones to bigger, wilder and more colorful pieces. The drawings are a major part of my work.
Why do you wear an eye patch?
During a visit to England in 1976, I was involved in a serious car accident that sent me through the windshield and caused deep cuts to my face and the loss of sight in my left eye.