I first saw artisan Dale Chihuly's work about 13 years ago, when he unveiled the Fiori di Como, a hand-blown glass structure that graces the ceiling of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas (the hotel was modeled after one on Lake Como, Italy, and "fiori" means flowers).
Not only is the sculpture a thing of beauty, but it is also an engineering feat: it took 10,000 pounds of steel for the armature and 40,000 pounds of hand-blown glass - over 2,000 pieces covering 2,100 square feet, positioned fifteen to twenty-five feet overhead.
Chihuly has become known as a master glass artist thanks to installations like this - his works are fantastical explosions of color on a grand scale, and they adorn buildings and museums all around the globe.
But here's what is so fascinating about his collection: it's a collaborative effort. In 1976, Chihuly was involved in a head-on car accident that left his face severely cut by glass (the irony!) and blind in his left eye. He continued to blow glass until 1979 when he dislocated his shoulder in a bodysurfing accident. This made it impossible for him to hold the glass blowing pipe, and he has hired workers to bring his visions to life ever since. It is this large team model that allows him to produce architectural glass works of this scale and quantity. And it seems to be working for him: The Seattle Times reported that his estimated sales in 2004 were about $29 million.
If you're in the Boston area, you have one more week to see Chihuly's work up close: his exhibit Through the Looking Glass is at the MFA through next Monday. I was able to visit yesterday and took the below photographs to share with you here (note: the Museum usually bans cameras, but the artist insisted that they allow it!). While the pictures came out well, the work is really something to behold in person. It's a relatively small exhibit, but includes a variety of his work, such as:
- the Navajo Blanket Series in which Navajo blanket patterns were painted on to glass (1975);
- the Northwest Coast Basket Series in which the glass resembles woven baskets (1977);
- the Ikebana Series of glass flower arrangements inspired by the Japanese style of flower arrangement (1989); and
- the opulent Chandeliers collection (1992).
PS: As a memento from the exhibit I brought home not a Chihuly original, but a handblown Skipping Stone Vase from Henrietta Glass in Rhode Island. It's perfect bud vase and will capture the light on a sunny windowsill.