THE GLASS PIRATE


chihuly3 We had lunch with Dale Chihuly several years ago in a small crowded Seattle restaurant while on a visit to see his show at the Seattle Museum. Of course he was hunched over his plate at an adjoining table and paid little or no attention to us, but nevertheless, we had lunch with him. He may look like a pirate with his patch over his eye and wild shock of hair, but he has been tapped with the wand of genius when it comes to making glass.

Beginning with the Egyptians and the Greeks who discovered that sand and quartz could be melted into glass it took the Romans to improve upon it by adding a fertilizer called natron as a flux so they could melt the stuff at a much lower temperature. They could make a lot of it in bulk and then ship it all over the Roman Empire to local craftsmen who turned it into cheap functional items.

glass vase

The Roman love of glass led to the invention of transparent glass windows. Before the Romans, windows were open to the wind, and anything else which might fly in. The windows were small and fused together with lead, because they didn’t have the technology to make large panes of glass, but they started our obsession with architectural uses for glass.

Until the development of transparent glass, mirrors were simply metal surfaces polished to a high shine. The Romans realized that the addition of a layer of transparent glass would protect this metal from scratches and corrosion, and allow them to reduce the thickness of the metal.

Scroll ahead a couple millennia, and glass sculptor Dale Chihuly comes along to enchant us with his brilliant and mysterious glass sculptures and installations. He is unique to the field and seems to be able to breathe life into blown glass.

I became aware of Chihuly while living in Seattle when he formed his Pilchuck Glass School. The 1970’s were a particularly vibrant time in the art world, both in Seattle, Portland and the Bay Area. It was exciting to be a miniscule part of it, if only on the fringe. Our friend Marvin Oliver, son of good friends, got his masters in Fine Arts at the University of Washington, and subsequently became a professor of Art there. Marvin was my conduit to what was “happening” in Seattle at that time, and he knew that Dale Chihuly was doing some extraordinary work in a boathouse on Lake Union.

chihuly 4

The glass bug had bitten numerous people, and small glass blowing studios popped up in various places all over town. One such was in the basement of an old building in Pioneer Square just outside the restrooms. It always took awhile to get back upstairs when they were working, it was so fascinating to see the large blobs of molten glass slide up the blow pipe and turn into something wonderful. You always wanted to stay and finish the process. Now there is a large glass museum in Tacoma, featuring glass from artists all over the world. A very large studio is open and invites the public to simply sit and enjoy the magic.

chihuly

The sheer scale of Chihuly pieces can leave you breathless in amazement, and the color may well remain reflected in your retina for days, but the memory of a visit to a Chihuly show will remain with you forever. The mass of color above is from his “Persian Series” and was installed in the ceiling of a doorway at the Seattle Museum. Throwing all manner of indiscretion aside, I lay on the floor beneath this legerdemain and became a devoted admirer of Dale Chihuly.

Author: kaytisweetlandrasmussen83

I am a retired fine arts teacher, sculptor/painter, writer, and a native Californian. I love my family,dogs, horses, movies, reading and music, probably in that order. I have been married forever to a very nice man who is nice to old ladies, dogs and children.

10 thoughts on “THE GLASS PIRATE”

  1. It can’t be easy can it? Sam’s Dad also had one eye. I have a friend who lost an eye suddenly overnight and she seems to be managing quite well too. The eye patch could be cute though! You could have different ones for each occasion. It could be an additional career for you!

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    1. Thanks M-R. As you can see I followed your link to my great pleasure. His work is so amazing isn’t it? An interesting mind to create so much off-the-wall stuff and to be able to share it with the world.

      He participated in the Venini exhibit in Venice, and to see his sculptures floating on the Grand Canal was mind-boggling.

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  2. The last photo looks like some magnificent, albeit otherworldly, coral reef. My dream is to see one of his installations like the one done at the botanical garden in Phoenix. The first was five years ago. I just discovered that I missed a second exhibit there, which closed in May of this year. I need to pay more attention.

    I love glass. A friend of my parents who often kept me overnight at her house was an antique dealer. She had a bay window filled with colored glass pieces. I’d sneak downstairs in the morning to watch the sun come up through that window. I never collected glass, per se, but I do have a small collection of about 15 miniature oil lamps. Some are traditional American, late 1800s, but a few are British fairy lamps. They’re so beautiful. One is what they call “overshot” glass — little petal-like feet all around the bottom, a tiny 2″ chimney, and rose glass with clear shot sprayed over it. Such skill those glassmakers have!

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  3. I am always amazed at Chihuly’s ability to handle such massive pieces. I find the colors and size overwhelming. I really don’t have any glass though I love it. Half of the only window where it would show off is filled with orchids and the other half of it is where Charlie sometimes drops his ball. It is behind a couch where he perches to watch for crows!

    Your fairy lamps must be charming. I love the little lamps though I have none.

    There are so many disciplines which have fascinated me through the years. Glass making is only one I would have loved to learn. I did do some weaving in the 70’s. It seemed to be a period when the “homier” arts came to the fore, along with long skirts and quilting. I love it all.

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