SPLASH OF COLOR: GLASS BY DALE CHIHULY HOLDS ITS OWN IN A ROOM

Splash of Color

The Macchia Series began with my waking up one day in 1981 wanting to use all 300 of the colors in the glass hot shop. I started by making up a color chart with one color for the interior, another color for the exterior and a contrasting color for the lip wrap, along with various jimmies and dusts of pigment between the gathers of glass. Throughout the blowing process, colors were added, layer upon layer. Each piece was another experiment. When we unloaded the ovens in the morning, there was the rush of seeing something I had never seen before. Like much of my work, the series inspired itself. The unbelievable combinations of color—that was the driving force.

But my passion to realize color is long-lived. In 1964, I took the train from Vancouver, WA, to Montreal, Canada, on my way to Russia. During the 60-hour ride, I decided I would mix as many colors as I possibly could from a complete set of Winsor & Newton watercolors. Three thousand miles later I had an album filled with thousands of color samples. This was not unlike the thinking behind the Macchia Series. I’m obsessed with color—never saw one I didn’t like.

When my mother first saw the Macchia, however, she called them the “uglies” because the colors were so bizarre. When it came time for the exhibit, I didn’t know what to call the series. I phoned my best friend, renowned glassblower Italo Scanga, and asked him what “spotted” was in Italian. He had forgotten, having lived in the United States so long, but he looked it up and then called me back and said, “Macchia.”

Macchia was a good word. Splotches of color was the basic motif of the series, but how to enhance color was of utmost concern. I remember studying a beautiful stained-glass window. Part of the window was in front of a white building, the other half was backed by the blue sky. The blue sky really killed the delicate tints in the window. It had the same effect as if one were wearing blue glasses. That’s when I learned the importance of white. While blowing the early Macchia I added a layer of “clouds” between the inside and the outside colors. It was the white that allowed the colors to pop. I could now have one color on the interior and one on the exterior without any blending of the colors.

Most people don’t realize it, but blowing a piece with a range of colors is extremely difficult because each color attracts and retains the heat differently. Over time we figured out these technical complexities and the Macchia began to increase in size. Eventually the pieces got up to four feet in diameter, and with them I felt for the first time that a single piece of my glass could hold its own in a room.

Published in Southwest Art, May 1994.