Interview with Dale
Where were you born?
I was born in Tacoma, Washington and currently live in Seattle, Washington with my wife, Leslie, and my son, Jackson.
Where is your studio?
I have three studios: the Ballard Studio and The Boathouse in Seattle, and Portside in Tacoma, Washington.
Is your studio open to the public?
My studios are not 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.
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 materials which 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’ve always worked with a variety of materials including glass, paint, charcoal, graphite, neon, ice and a plastic I call Polyvitro. I started drawing when I was a young student, and in the 70s, I began to use my drawings to develop ideas and to show my glassblowing team what I wanted to make. I continue to enjoy drawing. I have worked in all the color palettes—from subtle pencil and charcoal to large, bold and colorful acrylic on Arches watercolor paper. In the last couple of years, I have been experimenting with multi-layered drawings on glass. I paint with enamels and fire the drawings in a hot oven, then layer the sheets of painted glass on top of each other to create one painting. I also do a lot of work with acrylic on plexiglass.
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.
How did the car accident change the way you work?
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.
Do you still blow glass?
With challenges in my eyesight and depth perception due to the accident, I no longer feel safe working with hot molten glass. I stopped blowing the glass myself and started directing my team.
Where do your ideas come from?
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. I love the idea of blowing human air down a blowpipe to create a form. Many things inspire me including architecture, nature, cars, great films, beautiful objects and books.
What’s your favorite color?
I like to say I’ve never met a color I didn’t like.
Who has been your biggest artistic influence?
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.
What is next for you?
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.
Do you have a favorite project?
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.
What advice do you have for aspiring young artists?
Surround yourself with artists and see as much art as possible. Go with your gut and create something that nobody has ever seen before.