meet the makers | Sep 21, 2023 |
Dale Chihuly prioritizes impact over practicality

Dale Chihuly isn’t interested in functionality. The legendary Seattle-based glass artist prefers to craft pieces that are celebrated for their appearance versus ones that are purely practical. “Glass masters throughout the ages have perfected function,” he tells Business of Home. “My interest is in experimenting with the material to create something that is appreciated for its mere presence, for the way it makes its observer feel, whether it’s a smaller pedestal piece or an architectural installation.”

Dale Chihuly prioritizes impact over practicality
Dale Chihuly © Chihuly Studio. All rights reserved.

Growing up in Tacoma, Washington, Chihuly used to collect odd objects—such as pieces of glass and stone—that he’d foraged along the shores of Puget Sound. In college, he studied interior design at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he took a weaving course that changed the trajectory of his career. “I incorporated glass shards into textiles and realized I was interested in exploring glass as a material,” he says. “It didn’t take long for me to try blowing my first glass bubble, and once that happened, I was hooked.”

After graduation, he shifted his focus to glassblowing—earning master’s degrees in sculpture at both the University of Wisconsin–Madison and the Rhode Island School of Design, as well as a Fulbright fellowship—and the rest is truly art history. “Studying architecture and interior design helped me hone my understanding of space and its potential,” he says. “It has been foundational for my work, and when creating installations and exhibitions, the intended space is the first thing I consider: How can my work change the environment and create a new experience? What does the space inspire me to do?”

Materiality reigns supreme for Chihuly—although he says glass isn’t exactly easy to work with. “It challenges you in so many ways, but that challenge has always appealed to me. It drives me to explore scale, transparency and color in a way that no other medium allows. As my work gets larger and more technically challenging, the process becomes even more exciting.”

Dale Chihuly prioritizes impact over practicality
Dale Chihuly’s Ethereal Spring Persians, 2022 Missouri Botanical Garden, St. Louis, installed 2023 © 2023 Chihuly Studio. All rights reserved. Nathaniel Willson

Color also plays a pivotal role in his work. “Early on in my career, access to colored glass was limited, so the work was more muted,” he says. “As more color became available, I used as much of it as I could get. There is magic in the way light traveling through colored glass can make you feel. When you’re working with transparent materials, like glass or water, you’re looking at light itself.”

His joint installations at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin West home in Scottsdale, Arizona, and at Phoenix’s Desert Botanical Garden perfectly illustrate the point. Using the landmarked building and the natural landscape as a backdrop, the 2022 exhibit, called “Chihuly in the Desert,” showcased an array of Chihuly’s large-scale designs, including flowering plants, paintbrushes and a towering free-form citrus tree. “One finds a very special quality of light in the desert,” he says. “I find working with distinctive colors and textures very interesting and love seeing my work in that environment.”

Dale Chihuly prioritizes impact over practicality
Paprika Persian by Dale Chihuly, from the 2023 Studio Edition collection © Chihuly Studio. All rights reserved.

His latest exhibition, “Chihuly in the Garden 2023,” is currently on view through October 15 at the Missouri Botanical Garden in St. Louis. The showcase features 18 large-scale installations presented throughout the garden’s lush grounds, including a canoe filled with colorful glass bubbles titled Float Boat and Ethereal Spring Persians, a vibrant botanical scene filled with hand-blown glass flowers. “It’s a special experience, developing work that will find a home in nature, among plants and waterways, surprising visitors as they find it intermixed with the environment,” he says. “Every garden is different—different foliage, vistas and structures for me to work with—so every exhibition is distinct.”

Chihuly Studio recently introduced three new hand-blown glass sculptures—-designed and signed by the artist—to its highly sought-after Studio Edition collection, and also offers a limited-edition line of fine art prints featuring Chihuly’s drawings and paintings. “Everyone should have access to art, and to inspiration, which is why I first started releasing edition artwork,” he says. “Each year, I create new edition glass and fine art prints drawn from my most distinctive series in glass.”

Chihuly already has several exhibitions planned for 2024 and 2025, as well as a major architectural installation that will be announced later this year. “My approach has remained the same throughout my career: to explore the material, push myself and my team to try things that have never been done, and pursue ideas that excite me,” he says.

If you want to learn more about Dale Chihuly, visit his website or Instagram.

Homepage image: Dale Chihuly’s Sol del Citrón, 2014, Desert Botanical Garden, Phoenix, installed 2021 © 2021 Chihuly Studio. All rights reserved. | Nathaniel Willson

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