Sunday, August 05, 2001

Mr. Chihuly's glass menagerie

Seattle artist brings his colorful creations to Dayton Art Institute

By Linnea Eschenlohr
Enquirer contributor

[photo] Glass artist Dale Chihuly.
(Tony Jones photos)
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        Laughing cherubs grasping sharks, eels and other sea-life sit atop large colorful vessels. Large alien flowers with curling tendrils explode from elegant vases.

        A riotous group of red, yellow and blue snake-like fingers reach out from the walls and ceiling. Giant, undulating jelly-fish like bowls in white and cobalt blue reveal their inner workings.

        It's a world of light, air, water, color, movement, fantasy and nature — all created from glass. Enter the realm of one man's vision, world renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly.

        Form from Fire, at the Dayton Art Institute through Oct. 21, surveys the artist's three-decade career. And what better guide to offer a personal view of the exhibition than the artist himself.

        “I can promise you one thing, it will wow you,” Dayton Art Institute director Alexander Nyerges told a group of reporters gathered for a media preview and to meet the 60-year-old Seattle artist.

[photo] Detail from "Anemone Wall"
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        Form from Fire features more than 100 pieces and includes examples from some of Mr. Chihuly's most beloved series, including “Towers,” “Persians,” “Baskets” and the rarely seen “Jerusalem Cylinders.”

        It gives viewers a chance to see samples from some of Mr. Chihuly's best known large-scale installations, smaller works that were created only weeks ago as well as sketches and paintings made by the artist as part of the design process.

        Beginning in the museum's entrance rotunda, visitors are greeted with a stunning 70-foot colorful “Persian Wall” made of 60 large “Persian” forms in every color of the rainbow. These forms, which resemble large flat circular flowers, are mounted sporadically on the wall.

        Moving through to the Great Hall, a forest of the artist's “Macchia” are displayed, grouped together, on tall pedestals.

[photo] "Spanish Orange Sea Forms"
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        “Color experimentation plays a big part in my work,” Mr. Chihuly says.

        The goal of creating the “Macchia” was to use every one of the 300 colors in his available palette. Macchia, which means “spotted” in Italian, evolved from the artist's “Sea Form” series.

        “We started doing these in 1982, and they just kept getting larger and larger,” Mr. Chihuly says. “We don't usually show this many together.”

        One of Mr. Chihuly's signature “Tower” pieces, a red sculpture made of more than 800 individual glass forms, stands in front of the large window of the hall.

        Entering the museum's special exhibition gallery, viewers are greeted with several of Mr. Chihuly's “Ikebanas,” colorful, long-stemmed glass flowers suspended in equally fantastical vessels. Created after a visit to Japan, the pieces reflect (and take their name from) the beauty of Japanese flower arranging.

    What: Form from Fire: Glass Sculpture by Dale Chihuly When: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily; Wednesdays and Thursdays until 9 p.m., through Oct. 21
    Where: Dayton Art Institute, 456 Belmonte ParkNorth, Dayton.
    Directions: From I-75 north, exit at First Street/Salem Avenue, follow signs to the museum.
    Information: (937) 223-5277
    Admission: $10, $8 seniors, $5 students ages 7-22 with valid student ID. Advance dated tickets are available by phone: (937) 223-4278 and online:
        A series of “Putti Vessels,” are in the next room and feature small “putti,” which look like cherubs, sitting atop large vases with removable stoppers.

        “These are the first time these pieces have been exhibited,” Mr. Chihuly points out. “They were only created a month ago.”

        “Sea Anemones,” which resemble long, twisted colorful balloons, are hung on the walls of the next gallery, along with several of the artist's traditional “Sea Forms.”

        “This is quintessential Chihuly,” he says.

        The “Sea Form” series, created in 1980, came out of an experiment with the “Baskets.” While attempting to create thinner forms, Mr. Chihuly began to blow his pieces into ribbed molds.

[photo] "Fiery Scarlet Tower"
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        “Right away, they looked more like sea forms than baskets,” he says. “Some ideas come directly from seeing things, others just evolve like that.”

        Cobalt blue and white “Basket Sets,” large vessels with smaller ones nestled inside, resemble jellyfish with their transparency and organic forms. Grouped together in the gallery and beautifully lit, the baskets project the feeling of delicacy and movement that one would expect from a sea creature.

        Further into the exhibition, a wall of the artist's sketches and drawings give more insight into the creative process. While Mr. Chihuly is unable to blow the glass himself (an automobile accident in 1976 left him sightless in his left eye and caused other permanent injuries), a team of blowers works with the artist to create his visions.

        The “Persian Ceiling” features a tunnel with a glass ceiling sprinkled with more than 750 pieces of glass. The feeling is like being under a coral reef with colorful sea anemones and other sea life suspended above your head.

        The “puttis” return in the next gallery, this time riding on various forms of sea life including sharks, eels, whales and sting rays. These “Putti Sealife” were inspired by Art Deco era pieces designed for the prestigious Venini factory in Murano, Italy. (Mr. Chihuly was the first American glass blower to work there.)

[photo] "Puttis" depicts sharks
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        The last several galleries feature some of Mr. Chihuly's work from “Jerusalem 2000 Cylinders” as well as another tower, this one a 10-foot high work created in cobalt blue. The gallery also includes a 11-foot case that houses “Sea Flowers” created for an aquarium.

        “This is the first time these pieces have been shown in a museum,” Mr. Chihuly says.

        Mr. Chihuly is candid about where his ideas originate, how his creative process works, and the teamwork necessary for his success.

        “Most of my work just sort of comes from the gut,” he says. “You take an idea, you work on it for however long you need to and at some point, you just have to make a decision. Do I want to make and exhibit this piece?”

        If the answer is yes, Mr. Chihuly sets into motion a staff of more than 150 people including glass blowers, architects, engineers and installers to create the work.

        “The thing I like doing best is a show in a beautiful museum like this,” he says. “It's one of my favorite things to do.”

More photos of Chihuly's work


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