This post was most recently updated on January 18th, 2020
Have you ever heard of Dale Chihuly? Even if you haven’t, you’ve probably seen his work. Chihuly has taken the art of blown glass to another dimension and is quite well-known for his fantastical and highly imaginative large-scale glass sculptures and installations all over the world — especially the enchanted Chihuly Garden in Seattle, Washington.
(Click on any photo to enlarge)
What is it about Chihuly’s blown glass?
I recently had the opportunity to visit Seattle. I had been hearing about Chihuly’s exhibits there, and I’d seen some intriguing photos — enough to make me want to see his exhibits for myself. And I’ll tell you that the photos just don’t do them justice. Not at all. I am happy to share my photos and feelings about Chihuly’s glass art, but I hope you’ll go see it for yourself someday.
How did Dale Chihuly get his start?
Dale Chihuly was born in Tacoma, Washington, in 1941. That makes him about the age of my father. While he was studying interior design at the University of Washington, he was introduced to glass. To say that it became a lifetime obsession might be an understatement. He studied glass at the University of Wisconsin and the Rhode Island School of Design, then started his own glass program and taught for more than ten years. He received a Fulbright Scholarship and worked at the Venini glass factory in Venice, learning the team approach to glass blowing, which became so crucial to his work today.
Chihuly also founded the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington; it is now an international glass center. His work is included in more than 200 museums worldwide, and he has created many glass art installations…in Venice, England, Paris, and more.
What about the enchanted Chihuly Garden?
A few years ago, Dale Chihuly was invited to present a comprehensive exhibit of his work at the Seattle Center, the site of the 1962 World’s Fair. He created a garden, an exhibition hall, and a glasshouse — all of which can be seen by visiting Chihuly Garden and Glass.
As you approach the famous Space Needle at the Seattle Center, you begin to see glimpses of the beautiful glass garden. See that yellow “feather” of glass rising above the hedge?
I was so excited to see more!
Entering the Garden
When you first enter the Chihuly Garden and Glass (CGG) exhibit, the lights are dimmed, and the glass displays are lit from multiple angles to bring out the beauty of all the colors. It takes a moment for your eyes to adjust, and then you can hardly take it all in — intriguing shapes and colors, themes and light. And just what is it? You try to decide. And then you just give in to it. It’s beautiful. It doesn’t matter what it is.
Around the corner and another pop of color–this is the Sealife room. Doesn’t it remind you of coral and seaweed and waves and more?
Walking through the room entitled “Persian Ceiling” was also quite an experience. It was like a tunnel with a ceiling bursting with beautiful colors and shapes. It reminded me of the view through a kaleidoscope.
Boats and floats and so much more!
Each room of the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit surprises and delights. Another of my favorites was the “Ikebana and Boat Floats” room. Two huge boats were filled to the brim with either Japanese glass floats or Ikebana (flowers in a container). What a color explosion!
Another exhibit was called “Chandeliers”. Here were quite animated glass chandeliers suspended from the ceiling, with tentacles of colorful glass in every direction.
The exhibit of fluted glass bowls made me think of oversized clamshells…
The enchanted Chihuly Garden glasshouse
Finally, we reached the glasshouse. This is really the centerpiece for the entire CGG experience. A photographer snapped our picture and gave us a card with instructions for having the photo emailed to us. The beautiful reds, oranges, and yellows with the blue sky and the space needle as a backdrop were spectacular!
The outdoor gardens were very interesting. Dispersed among live plantings were whimsical sculptures of glass that resembled Dr. Seuss-like plants and flowers. Dale Chihuly must have had a blast designing this landscape.
Community Hotshop demonstrations
In the outdoor garden area is another highlight of the CGG exhibit: the Community Hotshop. We were treated to a wonderful display of the skill (and patience) required to create even the simplest of vases. Henry and Lydia did a great job of explaining and demonstrating the art of blown glass. They also gave us a lot of information about how the glass reacts to different conditions and how carefully they have to work with it. It made me realize, to a small degree, what must have been involved in creating much larger pieces.
What else can you see at the enchanted Chihuly Garden?
What else? The CGG exhibit has a theater that shows movies of Chihuly’s design team creating his works, as well as interviews with Chihuly.
There’s an audio tour available. It’s a great way to learn about each room of the exhibit and hear the inspiration behind designs. You can enjoy a sneak preview here.
A beautiful gift shop sells all kinds of remembrances of the exhibit (cards, magnets, and books, for example) and some of Chihuly’s smaller designs are for sale. I could own that beautiful blue striped piece for about two years worth of my grocery budget, but who needs to eat? The coffee table books with gorgeous photos are a little more affordable.
The Collections Cafe, decorated with some of the pieces Chihuly used to adorn his own home, has an extensive menu of brunch, appetizer, salad, sandwich and dinner entrees.
Are the gardens worth the visit?
Definitely, yes! Information about hours and admission price/packages can be found here. If you’re traveling on a tight budget, the prices don’t encourage repeat visits, but I do think it is an exhibit worth paying to see at least once.
I really enjoyed my visit to Chihuly Garden and Glass, and so did my family. It truly was enchanting. We were there about two hours, but I could easily have spent more time studying the pieces and enjoying the gardens. I agree with Chihuly’s motto: “I love to find the beauty in everyday objects”. His world of glass makes our world much more exciting.
- We had a toddler in our family group, and he was quite attracted to the glass balls! It should be obvious that if you bring children, you must watch them very carefully.
- Finding free parking near the CGG is not likely, but there are several parking garages surrounding the Seattle Center. We found reasonably-priced street parking near the corner of Warren and Republican Streets, on a Friday morning.
- If glass art fascinates you, you’ll want to read about my visit to the Tacoma Museum of Glass as well. And if you’re going to be in the Seattle area for a while, please check out my blog post entitled “Five Seattle Favorites“.
I would like to thank Chihuly Garden and Glass for hosting me and my family for this visit!