Several years ago, my husband and I did a road trip through the Pacific Northwest for our honeymoon, and our last stop on the trip was to spend a couple days in Seattle. We had all kinds of fun stuff planned, but visiting the top of the Space Needle wasn’t on the list. We did, however, at least want to wander over there and see it from the outside, and we’re so glad we did. Because right next to the Space Needle is a place called Chihuly Garden and Glass. Neither of us had ever heard of Chihuly before, but we could see some of the sculptures outside and through the giant glass atrium and we thought it looked really cool. So, we decided to buy some tickets and check it out for ourselves. And it was absolutely awesome!
Dale Chihuly was born in Washington state, so it’s no accident that this fabulous exhibit is located in Seattle. He first started experimenting with glass in the ‘60s and all throughout the decade he studied with glass-blowing masters at several schools across the U.S. He even won a Fulbright Fellowship to pursue his craft with the famous Murano glass artisans in Venice, Italy. In the early ‘70s, he started teaching others the art of glassblowing and after a couple accidents in the late ‘70s, he was no longer able to physically create art himself. Instead, he began to have an entire team of artisans work together to bring his ideas to life, allowing him to create an unimaginable amount of breathtaking art.
Seattle’s Chihuly Garden and Glass opened in 2012 on a 1.5-acre plot of land right next to the Space Needle. An existing building was used to house most of the exhibits and then the garden and glass atrium, or Glasshouse as they call it, were added, based on Chihuly’s vision. There is also a theater, as well as the requisite cafe and bookstore that all places like this seem to have. (We bought our tickets for the garden only, but they do offer a combo ticket with the Space Needle if you want to visit both.) Tickets in hand, we headed in to check out the eight amazing galleries that awaited us inside.
This is definitely one of those places where you feel your jaw drop and say “wow” about every ten seconds. His work is just incredible! Chihuly and his team do things with glass that you would never even think possible, and each room you pass through is more spectacular than the next.
The colors are all so vibrant and there is a huge variety of shapes and sizes, and I think this is what stood out to me the most. We’re all so used to seeing boring, clear glass and when you see all of Chihuly’s bright colors it kinda smacks you in the face. It’s so bold, and you almost feel as though you’ve been transported to some fantasy world because everything is so bright. (It actually reminded me a bit of that transition in the Wizard of Oz when everything goes from black and white to color.) And some of his displays are just massive–it’s not just a cute glass bowl here and there. We’re talking about sculptures that are several (or many!) feet high in some cases.
We started off in a room with some cool pink sculptures that looked very much like flamingos, and then we saw the first tall display, which was really a larger sculpture made out of many other smaller pieces of glass that were all connected together. You walk under a tunnel of what look like flowers hanging overhead and into a room that is a garden itself, with glass that looks like tall grass, flowers, and trees. There are boats full of all kinds of beautifully sculpted pieces of glass, gorgeous bowl-shaped objects, and several more massive, multi-piece sculptures, several of which are suspended from the ceiling.
And finally, you’ll make your way to the Glasshouse where you’ll see the pièce de résistance…the massive 100-foot long sculpture of orange and yellow flowers hanging from the ceiling and sparkling in the sunlight. Unfortunately, they were setting up for a wedding the day we visited, and we were the LAST people allowed into the Glasshouse and were only permitted to stay for a couple of minutes. (And do keep this in mind when you visit–maybe call in advance to ensure nothing will be closed for private events when you visit.) We would have been very disappointed if we weren’t able to get into the Glasshouse at all because it’s stunning!
After seeing all the fantastic sculptures inside, you can then wander out into the actual garden where even more sculptures are intertwined amongst the plants and trees. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a gorgeous, sunny day like we did which seemed to make the colors even brighter and gave everything an extra bit of sparkle that a cold, dreary day probably wouldn’t do. But if it is a dreary day when you visit, definitely spend some time in the theater inside learning more about the man himself and his process because it’s all incredibly interesting!
And if you can’t make it to Seattle anytime soon, never fear. Chihuly’s artwork can be seen in quite a few other places across the globe. If you’ve ever been to Vegas and walked through the Bellagio, you’ve probably already seen some of Chihuly’s glass hanging from the ceiling in the hallways. There are several other permanent exhibitions around the world, the largest of which is located in the Oklahoma City Museum of Art. Also, you can occasionally find a traveling exhibit to visit. The New York Botanical Garden had a traveling display last year, which I was happy to get to see, and a temporary exhibit just closed at the Biltmore earlier this month. Keep an eye on the Chihuly exhibitions page to see where his magnificent sculptures will be traveling to next!
Have you seen Chihuly’s work yourself? Do you think it’s as amazing as I do? Tell me your thoughts!