Over the course of five decades, Dale Chihuly has explored new and old techniques, pushing the boundaries of contemporary art. He draws inspiration from the world around him, creating statements using color and form to capture the imagination, and catapult beyond conventional ideas of function and beauty. Chihuly’s work is included in more than 200 museum collections worldwide including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian American Art Museum and the Corning Museum of Glass. Major exhibitions include Chihuly Over Venice (1995-96), Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem (1999), de Young Museum in San Francisco (2008), the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2011), Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond (2012) and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Montreal, Canada (2013.) Chihuly Garden and Glass opened at Seattle Center in 2012.
Photos Courtesy of Chihuly Studio. © Chihuly Studio. All Rights Reserved
American, b. 1941
Dale Chihuly was born on 20 September 1941 in Tacoma, Washington, the son of a butcher and union organiser, and a housewife with a keen interest in gardening. In early childhood, he was already fascinated by the qualities of glass, collecting pieces he found on the beaches of Puget Sound. During his initial degree course, studying interior design and architecture at the University of Washington in Seattle in the early 1960s, he learned to melt and fuse glass. His first award, while still an undergraduate, was earned from the Seattle Weavers’ Guild in 1964 for innovative use of glass and fibre.
After working as a designer at John Graham Architects in Seattle in 1965 and a period fishing commercially in Alaska, Chihuly won a scholarship enabling him to enrol for a Master of Science in sculpture at the University of Wisconsin in Madison (1966–1967). There he took part in America’s first hot glass programme, run by Harvey K. Littleton, founder of the studio glass movement. His training continued with a Master of Fine Arts in ceramics at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) in Providence, where he embarked on creating installations of blown glass. Forming organic shapes as much by gravity as by tooling, he filled them with gas that vividly illuminated constructions the size of a room.
In 1968, Chihuly used a Fulbright Fellowship to visit Europe and became the first American glassblower to work at the Venini factory in Venice, on the island of Murano where glassmaking has thrived since the tenth century. The Italian practice of teamwork contrasted with Littleton’s more individualised approach and was to become a significant method of working for Chihuly and his team. Returning to the United States, he set up a glass programme at RISD and taught there for the next 11 years, additionally co-founding Pilchuck Glass School, an international centre in Washington State.
Despite two serious accidents in the 1970s that left him without sight in his left eye and with a damaged shoulder, Chihuly has pursued a long and successful creative career; conceiving and supervising the realisation of fantastic works of art in glass, recording ephemeral works on camera and DVD, publishing over 20 books and forever extending the range of glass art in the open air. His sources of inspiration are diverse, including Native American art, Japanese flower arranging, the sea and Italian glassware of the interwar years. Among the series he has developed are ‘Navajo Blanket Cylinders’ and ‘Baskets’ in the 1970s; ‘Seaforms’, ‘Macchia’ (Italian for ‘spotted’), ‘Persians’ and ‘Venetians’ in the 1980s; ‘Chandeliers’ and ‘Towers’ in the 1990s; and, since the year 2000, ‘Fiori’ (‘flowers’), the technically challenging ‘Rotolo’, and three-dimensional ‘Glass on Glass’ Drawings.
First considered illustrative tools to direct and inspire his visions in glass, Chihuly’s ‘Drawings’ have evolved to become distinct forms of expression in his practice. His expressive two-dimensional work with mediums including acrylic, watercolour, charcoal, graphite and even fire, provide vital means for releasing creative energy. They also serve to reference and develop the concepts Chihuly explores in glass, offering further insight into his creative process and his engagement with gestural line and colour. While his earlier works were more muted, ‘Macchia’ consciously used all the 300 hues at his disposal. Many subsequent installations are intensely colourful, either exploring one vibrant shade, like Scorpion Tails and Bamboo (Phoenix, Arizona, 2008–2009), or as a kaleidoscopic display, as in the 17-metre-long Mille Fiori (de Young Museum, San Francisco, 2008). He has constantly experimented with line, incorporating glass thread drawings into ‘Cylinders’, ribbing the surfaces of ‘Seaforms’, highlighting the edges of the ‘Macchia’ with lip wraps and basing the entire forms of ‘Chandeliers’ and ‘Towers’ on a vast nest of intertwining, elongated blown glass forms.
Chihuly’s largest projects are linked with architecture and landscape. Indoors he may create a ‘Tower’ to fill a stairwell or fashion a ceiling of multicoloured glass pieces – most famously, the 2,000 flowers of Fiori di Como in Las Vegas. Outside, he has hung ‘Chandeliers’ created in four different countries – Mexico, the United States, Ireland and Finland – over the canals of Venice as a gesture of gratitude for what he learned in the city (1995–1996). His Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000 project placed white and deep blue glass towers amidst ancient ruins in the courtyard of the Tower of David Museum, while his ‘Garden Cycle’ began in the glasshouses and grounds of Chicago’s Garfield Park Conservatory (2001) and has included, among many locations, Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew, London (2005 & 2019), the New York Botanical Garden (2006 & 2017) and the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids, Michigan (2010). With organic forms that sometimes blend in with their surroundings and sometimes startle, he invents gardens of delight where sunlight plays on delicately translucent surfaces, and nature and art interact subtly.
The recipient of many awards, Chihuly holds twelve honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts. His works are held in the permanent collections of over 200 museums worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Among his private collectors are Hillary Clinton and Sir Elton John.
Since 1967 Chihuly has exhibited internationally, from Brazil to New Zealand and from Iceland to Japan. During the past decade, over 99 organisations around the world have presented his artworks for the enjoyment of more than 12 million people. Venues in 2011–2012 included Tacoma Art Museum, Washington; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts; Fort Collins Museum of Art, Colorado; Oklahoma City Museum of Art; Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia; and his inaugural exhibition at Halcyon Gallery, London, which attracted over 70,000 visitors. In the build-up to the London 2012 Olympic Games, a monumental new outdoor sculpture commissioned by the gallery, Torchlight Chandelier, was installed on Park Lane.
Chihuly Garden and Glass, a long term exhibition devoted entirely to Chihuly’s work, was opened at the Seattle Center in May 2012 to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of the 1962 World’s Fair. It is conceived on a grand scale, with monumental outdoor installations of his signature ‘Chandeliers’, ‘Towers’ and ‘Reeds’, a sizable exhibition hall and a bespoke glasshouse of some 400 square metres displaying an immense suspended sculpture of around 2,000 elements in shades of oxblood red, orange, amber and citron yellow.
Chihuly’s second exhibition at Halcyon Gallery, Dale Chihuly: Beyond the Object opened in London in February 2014. Focused on the relationship between artworks and the space that surrounds them, which the artist believes is profoundly important, the show featured theatrical set pieces that responded with animation to the architecture of the gallery. To coincide with the display, Harrods in London unveiled Amber and Gold Chandelier, the only work ever to have been commissioned by the world-famous department store.
In April 2014 Chihuly unveiled The Sun; a 5.5 metre sculpture placed in Berkeley Square, London in the presence of the Lord Mayor of Westminster. The sculpture remained in situ until January 2015 for the public to enjoy. This was followed by Dale Chihuly: Lumìere, the first ever exhibition of Chihuly’s ‘Acrylic Light Drawings’, which opened at Halcyon Gallery in December 2014. During the same month, the ambitious exhibition Chihuly at Fairchild: A Garden of Glass, opened at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, an 83 acre tropical oasis in Miami, Florida.
In 2015, the Museum of Glass, Tacoma premiered Chihuly Drawings; a retrospective touring exhibition celebrating the significance of the artist’s two-dimensional work. Organised across mediums – graphite, charcoal and acrylic, the thirty-five year survey was guest curated by renowned art historian Barry Rosen. The same year saw Toyama Glass Art Museum in Toyama, Japan commission permanent installations of Chihuly’s artwork to feature within the new 27,000 square metre cultural complex designed by architect Kengo Kuma.
Public demand for Chihuly’s artwork continues apace. Since 2016 - the year of his 75th birthday - the artist has presented exhibitions at the Atlanta Botanical Gardens in Atlanta, Georgia, the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto, the New York Botanical Gardens in New York City, Catalina Island Museum in California, Biltmore Estate in North Carolina and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.
Significantly, Chihuly was also commissioned to create a permanent architectural art environment for a philanthropic healing arts program at the Fred and Pamela Buffett Cancer Center in Omaha, Nebraska. Launched in the Spring of 2017, the Chihuly Sanctuary is designed to be a place of respite and reflection, helping to give an improved sense of well-being to the patients, families and staff of the Cancer Center.
2018 and 2019 have seen a renewed focus on European exhibitions, starting with the Chihuly NOW exhibition at Halcyon Gallery, London; a survey of the artist’s current practice and processes. This was followed by a large scale solo museum exhibition at the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands and an exhibition of artworks alongside those of his long-term friends Stanislav Libenský and Jaroslava Brychtová at DOX Centre for Contemporary Art, Prague. Most recently, the artist has made a welcome return to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Kew with Chihuly: Reflections on nature, placing artworks and installations amongst the gardens and historic glasshouses of the Unesco World Heritage Site.
‘Dale Chihuly is not just a major player in the art world; he’s one of those rare people who have actually changed the game’, writes Ben Bamsey in Artworks magazine. ‘While glass has been around for 5,000 years and artists have been blowing it for 2,000, Chihuly came along and changed the shape and scale of the medium, also the way in which it is crafted and presented. Chihuly and his team have invented more techniques than can be stuffed into a da Vinci sketchbook. His revolutionary approach to glass blowing elevated the industry from craft to fine art.’
1968 MFA Ceramics, Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), Providence
1967 MSc Sculpture, University of Wisconsin at Madison
1965 BA Interior Design, University of Washington, Seattle
2019 Chihuly: Reflections on nature, Royal Botanic Gardens, Surrey, UK
2018 Chihuly, Groninger Museum, Groningen, Netherlands
2018 Chihuly Now, Halcyon Gallery, London
2017 Chihuly: In the Gallery and In the Forest, Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art , Bentonville, Arkansas
2017 Chihuly, New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York
2017 Chihuly Sanctuary, The Fred & Pamela Buffett, Omaha, Nebraska
2016 Cancer Center Chihuly in the Garden, Atlanta Botanical Garden, Atlanta, Georgia
2015 Glass Garden Art, Toyama Glass Art Museum, Japan
2015 Chihuly Drawings, Museum of Glass, Tacoma, Washington
2014 Chihuly at Fairchild: Garden of Glass, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Florida
2014 Ulysses Cylinders, Dublin Castle, Dublin
2014 Chihuly, Denver Botanic Gardens, Colorado
2014 Dale Chihuly: Beyond the Object, Halcyon Gallery, London
2013 Chihuly, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, Canada
2012 Chihuly at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, Virginia
2012 Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle Center, Washington
2011 Chihuly, Halcyon Gallery, London
2011 Chihuly: Through the Looking Glass, Museum of Fine Arts , Boston, Massachusetts
2010 Cheekwood Botanical Garden and Chihuly Museum at Cheekwood of Art, Nashville, TN
2010 Chihuly at the Salk, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, La Jolla, California
2009 Venice Biennial, Venice Biennale,
2009 Venice, Italy Chihuly at the Young, by Young Museum and the Legion of Honor, San Francisco, California
2006 Chihuly at the New York Botanical Garden, NYC Botanical Garden, New York
2005 Gardens of Glass: Royal Botanic Gardens, Chihuly at Kew, Surrey, UK
2002 Chihuly 2002: Salt Lake Olympic Winter Games, Salt Lake Art Center, Salt Lake City, Utah
2001 Chihuly at the V & A, Victoria & Albert Museum, London,
2000 Chihuly in Iceland: Iceland, 1999 , From Reykjavik Art Museum,
1999 Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem, Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem, Jerusalem
1995 Chihuly Over Venice, Venice, Italy
1989 20th International Biennial, São Paulo, Brazil
1986 Dale Chihuly: Glass Objects, Museum of Decorative Arts, Louvre, Paris
SELECTED PUBLIC PLACEMENTS
2017 Rose Crystal Tower, Union Square Park, New York
2014 Berkeley Square Sun, Berkeley Square, London
2012 Torchlight Chandelier, Park Lane, London
2012 Drammens Museum Chandelier, Drammen, Norway
2010 Columbia Museum of Art Chandelier, Columbia, South Carolina
2006 Huntington Museum of Art Tower, Huntington, West Virginia
2005 Thames Skiff, Kew Royal Botanic Gardens, London
2002 Chihuly Bridge of Glass, Tacoma, Washington
2001 V & A Chandelier, Victoria and Albert Museum, London
2000 Crystal Mountain, Museum of the History of Jerusalem , Jerusalem
1998 Fiori di Como, Bellagio, Las Vegas, Nevada
1996 Mercato del Pesce di Rialto Chandelier, Rialto Fish Market, Venice
1995 Persian Flowers, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore
1994 Persian Window, St Peter's Church, New York
1987 Frieze Rainbow Room, Rockefeller Center, New York
Chihuly's work is included in 225 museum collections worldwide, including:
Corning Museum of Glass, New York
Young Museum, San Francisco, California
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Museum of Decorative Arts, Louvre, Paris
Museum of Contemporary Art , Chicago
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Massachusetts
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Singapore Art Museum
Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington DC
Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem, Jerusalem
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
White House Collection of American Crafts, Washington, DC
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Chihuly has been recipient of numerous awards, including twelve honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts