Light refracts from thousands of surfaces as we enter the Sea Life gallery at the Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit at the base of Seattle’s iconic Space Needle. Towering above our heads is a glass sculpture of sinuous forms, suggesting the different colors of the ocean’s waters ranging from deepest blue-black to almost sea foam white. The form speaks to an upwelling of water carrying an array of sea creatures, tucked in and around glass swirls.
Surrounding the towering central figure are lighted pedestals topped by glass sculptures showing individual sea creatures twined sleekly around stationary sea weeds and found objects.
The next gallery is a wonderland, ranging from upright red reed-like pieces, to open-bowled glass pieces reminiscent of water lilies punctuated with green eruptions of plant forms and slender purple and black objects. They reminded me of carnivorous pitcher plants.
At the end of the installation a tall eruption of red and yellow glass draws the eye down the view-space, tying all the disparate pieces together.
Designed and installed by world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly in 2012, the exhibit remains a longterm exhibit in Seattle, helping to revitalize the now bustling area around the Space Needle.
Chihuly, a Tacoma native, graduated from the University of Washington in 1965, studied glass at the University of Wisconsin where the first glass program was started, and continued on to the prestigious Rhode Island School of Design.
He founded the Pilchuck Glass School in his home state in 1971, when glass blowing as an art form in the United States was in its infancy. Chihuly observed the group approach to glass blowing that he employed while on Fulbright Fellowship to the Venni glass factory in Venice, Italy in 1968.
Since then, he has exhibited in more than 200 museums around the world. In addition, his Garden Cycle, reflecting his engagement with nature, began in 2001 at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago.
He has also developed exhibits in other countries, with the spectacular Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit a fitting presence in his home state.
The exhibit consists of eight separate galleries, the huge glass house with its suspended glass ceiling sculpture and the garden that flows organically around plantings picked to complement the varied glass installations.
It’s hard to internalize all the amazing shapes and colors this artist has drawn from glass.
We found that in order to really appreciate the exhibit, we had to go through it a second time to look carefully at all the minute details that, when arranged, contributed to the overall stunning beauty of this art form.
Don’t plan on rushing this experience; set aside at least a couple hours, and enjoy being surrounded by a truly breathtaking art exhibit.
While you’re there, get the free photo of yourself and other members of your group in front of one of the towering installations. My friend and I did, and it remains a cherished memento of this amazing magical glass garden. ISI