Friday, May 11, 2012

Totally Texas -- Art as big as all outdoors

Chihuly at the Dallas Arboretum

8525 Garland Road

Dallas, Texas


“My mother was a gardener,” Dale Chihuly told his audience last weekend at the Dallas Arboretum, as if explaining why his monumental works of glass art have been in so many gardens.

Once, I suspect, his mother must have worried whether he would find his place in life. He didn’t at first want to go to college, despite her urging. Even after entering college, he dropped out. When he returned to school, he started weaving tapestries and decided to embellish them with, of all things, pieces of glass.

Then, as the legendary glass artist related at last weekend’s opening of his exhibition at the Dallas Arboretum, without ever having seen glassblowing, “one night I melted some stained glass and put a pipe in it. . . And from that moment, I wanted to be a glassblower.”

He was, he admitted, lucky even to get a bubble from his first attempt. But it was enough to inspire a lifelong passion for the extraordinary effect of human breath on molten glass.

After graduation, the Washington native worked in Alaska as a commercial fisherman to make money for graduate work, later studying at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he established a glass program. Between semesters, he helped found the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington, the reason, he said, “there are now more glassblowers in Seattle than there are in Venice.”

When the money from sales of his work equaled the amount of his salary from teaching, he traded one of his creations for studio space to work fulltime as a glass artist. By the mid-1990’s, he was installing enormous glass projects outdoors, such as the exhibits of Chihuly Over Venice and Icicle Creek Chandelier. And, of course the exhibit on view at the Dallas Arboretum through November 5.

But can the works withstand hail storms, an audience member asked.

“It’s scary how many times that’s come up in the last couple of days,” he said.

But for those worried about the sturdiness of his glass, Chihuly showed slides of himself tossing glass forms nearly as tall as he was into rivers, in preparation for the Venetian exhibition. The Icicle Creek Chandelier was designed to withstand one hundred mile per hour winds and three to four feet of snow cover.

Although he terms some of his projects “chandeliers,” he considers them sculptures rather than light fixtures, lighting them from the outside in a variety of colors. “I never met a color I didn’t like.”

Several of the sculptures installed at the Arboretum will be lighted at night so viewers can see how Chihuly believes they should best be seen. However, they look wonderful during normal daylight as well, especially when reflected in the Arboretum’s numerous water features. 

For more information about the Chihuly exhibit at the Arboretum, see For more about Chihuly and his works, see his website,

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