I’ve been admiring it from a distance for far too long. Over the years, I’ve walked past the Seattle Center grounds and passed by it. Every time, I tell myself I don’t have time to visit. Maybe you can get in touch.Maybe you promised yourself that one day you would make time to explore Chiuley Garden and Glass. According to TripAdvisor, it’s considered the first of 499 things to do in Seattle, so for me, it’s a Tuesday.
This long-term exhibition, featuring the work of world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly, celebrates its 10th anniversary on May 21, 2022. Sitting atop an ancient forest of joy (ask your family), everything about this space reflects Chihuly’s handcrafted work, from the gift shop fixtures and displays to the outdoor garden and all interior design. That’s Chihuly’s vision. He’s a versatile man with opinions.
man, artist, legend
Born in Tacoma, raised in the Northwest, Dale Chihuly graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1959 with no real plans for what to do next. He didn’t want to go to college, but his mother convinced him to attend Puget Sound College. A year later, he transferred to the University of Washington to study interior design while learning how to fuse glass. This led him to drop out and study art in Florence, Italy. When he returned in 1963, he took a weaving class using shards of glass from tapestries. In 1965, he graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelor of Arts in Interior Design and tried his hand at glass blowing.
Even now at the age of 80 and glass works exhibited around the world, Chihuly continues to be busy and create new things. He often visits gardens and glass. He has a whole team of people who work with him, some of them for 30 years. The men consisted of colour specialists, glassblowers, sculptors and gaffers who helped carry heavy loads. He communicates his vision best through drawing (which he calls painting), which helps his team really understand where he comes from.
build a garden
My guide for the day was Michelle Bufano, Executive Director of Chihuly Garden and Glass. She has known the artist for 25 years and has been here since the groundbreaking. Building a building to house many of Chihuly’s best works has proven to be the easiest part of Joy Forest’s transformation. The biggest challenge was creating the garden section, although Chihuly has worked on garden projects before.
“He would go to the Chicago Botanical Garden or walk around, and he would put art against the backdrop of plants. But we didn’t have any plants. We just had cement,” Bufano said. “So he had to build it from scratch, working side by side with landscape architect Richard Hartrag to decide how it would look.”
Even so, nothing is certain. They don’t even know if the tree will take root. But the end result was – and still is – stunning. No two trips are the same because the gardens are always changing.
“We had to strike a balance between art and plants,” Bufano said. “Summer is probably the most fulfilling time of year when you don’t see art. Other times of the year, we have to remove plants and [come up] Having a fresh vision of what it could look like while still trying to keep the original idea of the Chihuly and Hartlage combo. “
The garden looks beautiful now. But I’ve been told that it’s beautiful any time of year. The bulbs are planted at the end of February and everything comes alive in summer.
Goodbye Neon Garden, hello Winter Light
Another “garden” that has been here since day one is now over. Neon Forest (which highlights Chihuly’s experimental art from the early 1970s) is the first exhibit visitors see here. After nine years on display, it was replaced by a new exhibit called Winter Brilliance. The new piece, which first appeared in the Barney window display in New York in winter 2015, features a series of icicles. It’s still a work in progress. Currently, visitors can only see a preview of the upcoming full presentation.
“We’re adding a video mapping component, which will include lights and music, and that will only happen during the holidays,” Bufano said. “So for most of the year, people look that way.” That’s still pretty impressive, but will get even grander when new projectors are installed, illuminating specific parts of the artwork in November.
Sounds interesting. The other exhibits are equally impressive. Chihuly Garden and Glass has many rooms, each with its own unique theme. These rooms include:
- Northwest Hall: It is filled with Chihuly’s personal collection of Indian baskets and blankets, as well as his own glass baskets that reflect the original design.
- Persian Ceiling: Lighted from the ceiling, this corridor features dozens of brightly colored Persian artworks. Look up and you’ll see clusters of flower-like patterns shining down on you.
- A thousand miles of flowers: This collection means “a thousand flowers” and is my personal favorite. It’s like walking through a colorful electronic garden at midnight.
- Flower arrangements and pontoons: Highlighting Chihuly’s love of the sea, this room features two large ships filled with colorful spheres above a reflective black plexiglass “sea” that mimics the ocean.
- chandelier: What makes this room unique is that all the chandeliers here have been hung in Venice, Italy, in a unique Chihuly style.
- Machia Forest: This room will trick your eyes into thinking that the light is coming from inside the big “bowl” or “vase”, but in reality, the light is coming from above, reflecting off the white coating inside each piece and the many molded colors wrapped around the outside .
- greenhouse: Dale Chihuly also loves Victorian conservatories, so when gardens and glass came along, he knew he needed to have one. It’s a beautiful space that hosts many special events throughout the year and is interrupted by a stunning 100-foot-long installation suspended from the ceiling.
- theater: There’s also a small theater at the end of the journey, showing short films showing Dale Chihuly doing what he does best and how he does it.
- bookstore: No trip is complete without a stop at a bookstore full of goodies. If you happen to have a few thousand dollars just burned a hole in your pocket, you can buy your own glass art.
Art Square and Collection Cafe
Place des Arts is a unique outdoor space at Gardens and Glass featuring a community hot shop and glass blowing demonstrations throughout the year (except summer). Artwork created here is later sold at the Space Needle, with the proceeds from each work going back to Seattle’s artist community. It’s also a great place to enjoy Pacific Northwest wine, beer, and artisan stone-baked Neapolitan pizza.
Collections Café is a space recommended by Michelle Bufano because it has 28 pieces from the artist’s personal collection, including ceramic dogs, bottle openers, pocket knives, alarm clocks, old radios, and my favorite, an accordion that hangs from the ceiling. Most of the collectibles are actually embedded in each dining table as well. The café serves three types of Neapolitan stone-baked pizzas (Formaggio, Margherita and Pepperoni), lettuce salad hearts and homemade BBQ fries. Ask the waiter for a copy of the brochure showing the collection found in the cafe.
While May 21, 2022 is the actual 10th anniversary of Chihuly Garden and Glass, it’s just the beginning of the festivities. They will encourage former guests to write about and talk about their favorite exhibits. Over the next few months, they will be celebrating by featuring a selection of stories on their website and social media.
access Chiuley Garden and Glass website for more information.
Jeff Totey is a freelance writer for Seattle Refinery. Follow more of his work here.