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Who is Chihuly?

By O. Wallace
Updated May 23, 2024
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Dale Chihuly, born in 1941, is a contemporary glass artist whose imaginative work as a glassblower and sculptor revolutionized the art form. His method of glass blowing is primarily responsible for the evolution of the Studio Glass movement, which no longer involves the lone artist creating work on his own in a studio, but it is now more of a collaborative effort among a team of artists. His use of dramatic, vibrant color, line of the glass and unique assemblage of the sculpture has made him a pioneer in his field.

Chihuly’s use of teams has enabled him to create large-scale, massive and complex works of art that have been displayed all over the world. Chihuly is primarily responsible for changing people’s perception of blown glass as pieces of art confined to glasses, vases and lamps. At first glance, many of his sculptures look like fantastical balloon sculptures, with long, straight and curly pieces. He has installed his art in ceilings, lit from above to echo an underwater scene. His use of boats filled with glass, large bubble-like floats and glass lily pads show how much water inspires him.

It is obvious that Chihuly is very much influenced and inspired by the environment. His organic, abstract flower forms were inspired by his mother’s garden, and his boat works show his love of the sea. He has installed entire gardens of glass with whimsical, fairytale plants. Chihuly is known for his ability to make something as inorganic as glass fit like it was meant to be in an organic setting. His sculptures, everything from floats hanging like coconuts in palm trees to dramatic modern chandeliers in centuries-old buildings, make any setting more magical.

After encouragement from his mother to attend college, Chihuly first studied interior design and architecture. After blowing glass for the first time in 1965, he enrolled in the University of Wisconsin’s hot glass program, which was the first such program in the United States. After receiving his Masters of Science degree from the school, he went on to create a glass program at the Rhode Island School of Design.

In 1971, Chihuly co-founded the Pilchuck School in Stanwood, Washington, which has turned out many respected glass artists. Chihuly is internationally trained: he was the first American to work in the famous Venini Fabrica on the island of Murano near Venice, Italy. Other countries he has worked in include Finland, Ireland, France and Mexico.

An extremely prolific artist, Chihuly most often works in his studio, The Boathouse, in Seattle Washington. A car accident in 1976 left him sightless in his left eye. His loss of depth perception means that he can no longer handle molten glass, so a team of artists execute his designs, which he paints and sketches on canvas and paper.

Chihuly’s sculptures can be viewed throughout the United States and the world. Some of his famous exhibitions include Chihuly Over Venice, Chihuly in the Park: A Garden of Glass at Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago and Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000 at the Tower of David Museum of the History of Jerusalem. His art can also be seen not only at art museums, but in office buildings, botanical gardens, private homes and hotels.

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