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Chihuly's Basket Series Turns 45

Baskets was the breakthrough series for me as an artist.”
–Chihuly, 2002

Golden Celadon Baskets, 2017–18 by Dale Chihuly

Golden Celadon Baskets, 2017–18
Taliesin West, Scottsdale, Arizona, installed 2021

45 years ago, Chihuly began exploring a more organic, less symmetrical approach to glassblowing, and in the process, developed what would become one of his most iconic series: Baskets. In the years since, Chihuly’s Baskets have evolved from small, subdued sculptures to dramatic, large-scale celebrations of color and transparency. Subsequently, the techniques he used to create the Baskets’ slumped forms would inform his other series in glass, such as Seaforms and Persians.  


In 1977, Chihuly found inspiration in a collection of woven American Indian baskets at the Washington State Historical Society in Tacoma, Washington. As a former student of weaving, he was amazed by the durability of the hand-made vessels and their organic, slumped forms which were the result of time and gravity. This experience inspired Chihuly to harness his interest in the imperfect forms and translate them into glass, eventually creating his second series of work, the Baskets.

Chihuly Baskets and Cylinders by Dale Chihuly

Chihuly Baskets and Cylinders with Northwest Native American baskets
Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle, installed 2012
 

Historically, glass art was characteristically symmetrical; a pursuit of perfection. Chihuly had already accomplished structural, highly-technical works in his first series, Cylinders, and wanted to experiment with a more organic aesthetic, reflective of the woven baskets he was so moved by.

When he returned to teaching glassblowing at Pilchuck Glass School, Chihuly and his gaffer, Benjamin Moore, created over 100 forms which he aptly named, Pilchuck Baskets. These early forms were often in shades of subdued yellows, reds, and browns reflective of their American Indian influence. To create contrast, the pair began adding ‘lip wraps’ to the pieces, a prominent outline created by gently adding molten glass onto the rim of the forms and incorporating the intricate glass thread drawings Chihuly first explored in his 1974 series, Cylinders. By the end of 1977, Chihuly was using vibrant hues and nesting smaller forms within larger Basket vessels, demonstrating his command of color and form.

Pilchuck Baskets, 1977
Seattle Art Museum

Up until this point, typical glass art pieces were characteristically symmetrical, even, and there was little room for experimentation or attempting to throw off the status quo. Chihuly had already accomplished structural, highly-controlled works in his previous and first series, Cylinders, and wanted to purposefully depart from that aesthetic for his next body of work. When he returned to teaching glassblowing at Pilchuck Glass School, Chihuly and his gaffer, Benjamin Moore, created over 100 forms which he aptly named, Pilchuck Baskets. To create contrast, the pair began adding ‘lip wraps’ to the pieces, a prominent outline created by gently adding molten glass onto the rim of the forms. Some of the exteriors of the Baskets featured some elements found in his Cylinders: intricate glass ornamentation in the form of drawings made with glass threads and shapes. 

Salmon Basket Set with Rockweed Lip Wraps, 1979, 7 x 14 x 13"

By 1978, Chihuly had become comfortable with letting gravity take over during the glassblowing process to produce vessels that slumped over, wrinkled, and collapsed under their own weight. The work was met by the resounding enthusiasm of art critics and collectors and Chihuly subsequently mounted two exhibitions that year in which Baskets were the focus. 

Over the next four decades, Chihuly’s Baskets continued to grow in scale and complexity, with some reaching over six feet in length and nesting as many as 20 smaller elements in a single composition. He used the series to explore translucency and installation art, blowing forms as thin as possible without breaking, and grouping Baskets on eye-level pedestals or long tables allowing viewers to look through the walls of the outer vessel to see the composition as Chihuly intended.

Merletto Basket Set, 2019 by Dale Chihuly

Merletto Basket Set, 2019, 13 x 27 x 29"

Chihuly has continued to revisit the Basket series, most recently by incorporating the form into his experiments with the absence of color in his Black series of 2006, again in 2017 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the form and in 2019 when Chihuly debuted Chihuly Merletto, featuring an ancient caneworking technique to create complex, lace-like patterns on Baskets

Chihuly Studio is pleased to celebrate the iconic Basket series which continues to increase in scale and complexity. We invite you to explore the series through film and to seek out compositions of the form in Chihuly’s garden and museum exhibitions. 

Learn more about Baskets by visiting its series page.

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