There is force and unbelievable magic in Chihuly Garden and Glass located next to Seattle’s Space Needle.
Halfway through his career, artist Dale Chihuly lost the sight in one eye, triggering a change in perspective. He wondered why glass couldn’t be three-dimensional and non-symmetrical — then began to create such pieces.
The result is astounding.
Years after first seeing some of his work on display the memory of such extraordinary beauty remains. No wonder major museums and gardens worldwide exhibit his work.
His first and one of his most famous installations, the chandelier “Fiori Di Como” with 2,000 blown glass blossoms, is located in the Bellagio Hotel lobby in Las Vegas. This installation crossed the boundary from an artist creating an object in space to creating space, explained Richard Hartlage, chief executive officer of Land Morphology in Seattle and Chihuly Garden designer.
Unfortunately, the problem with temporary garden installations is that eventually they are removed.
However, Chihuly Garden and Glass offers a permanent space on the Seattle Center hilltop to display rare pieces in Exhibition Hall, a Glasshouse that showcases a suspended 100-foot-long sculpture, and an outside garden that features eight large installations. Night views offer a completely different look, and the admission fee allows day visitors to return in the evening.
The garden is entered through several Exhibition Hall rooms with glass, textiles and art highlighted.
Hartlage and Chihuly worked closely together as the garden developed. Many of the sculpture pieces changed until the artist was satisfied. Flexibility was essential.
“Dale was very pleased with how the garden turned out,” Hartlage said. Chihuly finds nature an ideal background for his work. Some pieces draw you close because you wonder, “Is this plant real?” Certainly the plant selection in the garden offers distinctive textures and colors to truly complement the glass the same way the glass complements the plants.
The south end of the garden features many plants in warm colors. The north end features cool colors. In between viewers experience woodland.
Many of the plants are living sculptures, and all the plants were obviously carefully selected. The most popular plant surrounds the sculpture “Sun,” which is positioned above a mound surrounded by 2,500 individual black mondo grass plants (Ophiopogon planiscapus “Nigrescens”). The “Sun’s” whimsical look caused one bird to build a nest inside — a fun dividend.
The second plant most asked about is Eryngium “Sapphire Blue” (sea holly) with its metallic blue thistle-like flower. It is paired with blue glass sculptures and a red weeping cut-leaf Japanese maple.
Acanthus spinosus, commonly called dwarf bear’s breech, has spires of white blooms and dark green leaves and is found in the southern part of the garden. Common ornamental onions that look like giant popcorn balls on sticks provide a striking background but can’t compete with placement of sculptured rocks and a Blue Fiori sun. Rhododendrons in pink, white and burgundy, daylilies, roses, begonias, tulips, and lilies bloom throughout the garden in spring and summer.
The Citron Icicle Tower would dominate the hilltop if it wasn’t for the Space Needle. Is it a plant? No, it’s a giant sculpture that appears transplanted from outer space. The purple Viola Tower is made of polyvitro, a type of plastic that Chihuly started using for a Jerusalem exhibit in 2000.
A dozen Davidia “Sonoma” trees (dove tree) were selected from the Sonoma research station as small trees were planted for their flowers. The designer didn’t want to wait 15 to 20 years for flowers if seeds had been planted.
In 1971 Chihuly with patrons Anne Gould Hauberg and the late John Hauberg started the studio glass movement in America when a small group of glass artists came together to learn from one another. Today the Pilchuck School in Washington draws artists from all over the world.
Far off the beaten path, Dave Ferrier, a glass artist working at Jewell Gardens in Skagway, Alaska, was asked what glassblowers thought of Chihuly. “We love Chihuly,” he said and went on to talk about the extraordinary talent and genius of the artist who is keeping large teams of glass blowers employed in the Pacific Northwest.
Closer to home, Harmony Glassworks gallery assistant and artist Allison Duncan said Chihuly “teaches that you can be creative as you want, because, boy, does he go off the wall and he does it well.”