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World-renowned glass artist comes to Cal Poly

A world-renowned glass artist is slated to speak at Cal Poly on Monday. Dale Chihuly’s lecture, which will feature video clips and a question-and-answer period, is the first in a series presented by Cal Poly Arts.

“It’s a very exciting moment for me personally as well as for the entire community,” Cal Poly arts director Steve Lerian said.

Among those looking forward to Chihuly’s visit is retired art professor George Jercich.

“Dale has always been a very innovative and progressive individual,” said Jercich, an accomplished glass artist who taught at Cal Poly for three decades.

Born and raised in Tacoma, Wash., Chihuly got his first exposure to glass while studying interior design at the University of Washington in Seattle. He received master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin at Madison and Rhode Island School of Design.

In 1971, Chihuly created the Pilchuck Glass School near Stanwood, Wash.

Jercich, then a student at San Jose State University, enrolled in the program a year later.

“For a 22-year-old, it was a great experience … like going to extended summer camp,” recalled Jercich, who returned to Pilchuck in 1979 and 2002.

He listed the attributes that he says elevate Chihuly above his peers.

“He’s so good at organizing teams of people. He’s a very dynamic individual. He has a lot of charisma. He’s also very talented,” the Cal Poly professor said. “All those things he’s been able to put together in his long career.”

That ability to motivate has served Chihuly well. After being partially blinded in a 1976 auto accident and dislocating his shoulder in a 1979 bodysurfing incident, the artist relinquished the lead gaffer position for good.

“He didn’t want to be a dancer,” Jercich explained. “He wanted to be more of a choreographer or director. He wanted to stand back and say, ‘I don’t make the parts. I fit them together.”

Over the decades, Chihuly and his team have created glass sculptures inspired by Navajo blankets, Japanese fishing floats, Italian Art Deco and medieval Middle Eastern art.

He has been the subject of two documentaries: 1998’s “Chihuly Over Venice” and “Chihuly in the Hotshop,” which aired in November 2008.

His work can be seen at locations as varied as the Oklahoma City Museum of Art, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas.

Jercich said Chihuly, 68, has been more influential in establishing glass as an art form “than anyone living in the world today.”

With a Cal Poly Arts’ Speakers Series starting in earnest next fall, Chihuly’s visit is “a toe in the water,” Lerian said.

“Cal Poly should be a place where there are ideas and great thinkers and great artists,” he said. “We need to ramp that up a bit.”

According to Lerian, one speaker has already been secured.

“There’s a number of famous authors, people in science and technology, that we’re talking to,” said Lerian, who declined to disclose their names.

Although Chihuly’s talk will be free, Cal Poly Arts would likely charge admission for future lectures, he said.

Dale Chihuly

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Where: Spanos Theatre, Performing Arts Center, 1 Grand Ave., San Luis Obispo

How much: Free

Information: 756-2787, www.calpolyarts.org

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