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Dale Chihuly

"The process is so wonderfully simple, yet so mystifying."

© William Anthony Photography LLC

Born in 1941 in Tacoma, Washington, Dale Chihuly was introduced to glass while studying interior design at the University of Washington. After graduating in 1965, Chihuly enrolled in the first glass program in the country, at the University of Wisconsin. He continued his studies at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he later established the glass program and taught for more than a decade.

In 1968, after receiving a Fulbright Fellowship, he went to work at the Venini glass factory in Venice. There he observed the team approach to blowing glass, which is critical to the way he works today. In 1971, Chihuly cofounded Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State. With this international glass center, Chihuly has led the avant-garde in the development of glass as a fine art.

His work is included in more than 200 museum collections worldwide. He has been the recipient of many awards, including twelve honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Chihuly has created more than a dozen well-known series of works, among them, Cylinders and Baskets in the 1970s; SeaformsMacchiaVenetians, and Persians in the 1980s; Niijima Floats and Chandeliers in the 1990s; and Fiori in the 2000s. He is also celebrated for large architectural installations. In 1986, he was honored with a solo exhibition, Dale Chihuly objets de verre, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais du Louvre, in Paris. In 1995, he began Chihuly Over Venice, for which he created sculptures at glass factories in Finland, Ireland, and Mexico, then installed them over the canals and piazzas of Venice.

In 1999, Chihuly started an ambitious exhibition, Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem; more than 1 million visitors attended the Tower of David Museum to view his installations. In 2001, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London curated the exhibition Chihuly at the V&A. Chihuly’s lifelong fascination for glasshouses has grown into a series of exhibitions within botanical settings. His Garden Cycle began in 2001 at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. Chihuly exhibited at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, near London, in 2005. Other major exhibition venues include the de Young Museum in San Francisco, in 2008; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 2011; and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2013. Chihuly Garden and Glass, a long-term exhibition, opened at Seattle Center in 2012.   

Timeline

Videos

Chihuly Lumière
Chihuly Garden Cycle
Denver Botanic Gardens
Dale Chihuly: Beyond the Object
Chihuly Garden and Glass
Dale Chihuly
Chihuly at the Salk
Chihuly at Kew
Jerusalem Wall of Ice
Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem
Chihuly Over Venice
Chihuly Over Venice - Finland
Icicle Creek Chandelier

FAQ

I was born in Tacoma, Washington and currently live in Seattle, Washington with my wife Leslie and my son Jackson.

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.

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.

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.  

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.

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.  

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. 

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. 

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.  

In many ways it was a transformative period for me. It took months for me to recuperate and gave me lots of time to think about my work and my direction as an artist. After the accident, due to the loss of my eyesight and depth perception, I became more of the director of my team. Working in this capacity enabled me to work in a much larger scale and I really began to push the material more. 

With challenges in my eyesight and depth perception due to the accident, I no longer felt safe working with hot molten glass. I stopped blowing the glass myself and started directing my team. 

I don't really know where the ideas come from. They come from a lot of different places. One of the most important inspirations for me is the glass itself—the glassblowing process. This wondrous event of blowing human air down a blowpipe and out comes this form. Many things inspire me including architecture, nature, cars, great films, beautiful objects and books. 

I like to say I’ve never met a color I didn’t like.

I've been influenced by many artists. Certainly one of my closest friends, Italo Scanga, had a strong influence on me. I am influenced by Andy Warhol, Jackson Pollock, Van Gogh and Frank Lloyd Wright.

If I knew what I was going to do next, I'd already be doing it. I’m fortunate to be able to explore a lot of different types of opportunities.

I have been fortunate to work on a lot of great projects over the years. I really enjoyed Chihuly Over Venice and Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000. I also enjoyed working on Chihuly Garden and Glass, which is an exhibition of my work on the Seattle Center campus. Perhaps the next project will be my favorite. 

My team and I have worked over the years to perfect the art of packing and transporting the artwork. The team packs, ships, installs and de-installs all the artwork for various shows, exhibitions and installations around the world. Since we are the only ones to handle the glass both on the shipping and receiving end, it really helps logistically. To date we have a less than one-percent breakage rate.

Surround yourself with artists and see as much art as possible. Go with your gut and create something that nobody has ever seen before.