Float Boats. Photo by Debbie Stone

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Seattle’s noted cultural scene attracts locals and visitors alike, who delight in its numerous offerings. The Emerald City has long been a hotbed of creativity, drawing artists, actors and musicians from all over the world to its dynamic vibe.

And residents and tourists reap the benefits of this largesse with an abundance of options to experience art, theater, music, dance and more. 

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Chihuly multi-media drawings. Photo by Debbie Stone
Chihuly multi-media drawings. Photo by Debbie Stone

Chihuly Puts His Mark on Seattle

One of the most unique places to soak up artistic beauty is Chihuly Garden and Glass. This stunning venue, located at Seattle Center, adjacent to the famed Space Needle, provides a comprehensive look at the prolific career of renowned Pacific Northwest artist, Dale Chihuly. 

Opened in 2012, this permanent exhibition is divided into eight galleries plus two Drawing Walls, the Glasshouse and Garden. Each room is an explosion of color, light, shape and texture that captivates the senses. 

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Journey Through the Thematic Galleries

In Winter Brilliance, clusters of glass icicles, reeds and snowflake-like forms shimmer and gleam in dramatic fashion. The piece was originally commissioned by Barneys New York for its holiday window display on Madison Avenue back in 2015 and is an exquisite expression of the season.

The Northwest Room features Native American baskets and trade blankets, along with a gallery of photos of Native Americans taken by well-known photographer Edward Curtis. These items, all from Chihuly’s personal collection, have at one time or another served as inspiration for the artist.

You can see these influences at play on the various-sized glass baskets the artist created, which show correlation in shape and design to those of the collected artifacts. They waver and undulate, mimicking the slumped forms that such baskets take over time.

Chihuly’s love of the sea is expressed in the Sealife Room. A dramatic blue tower intertwined with elements of the ocean takes centerstage, while a variety of vessels surround it, representing creatures of the sea, such as starfish, octopi, sea anemones, urchins and manta rays.

Accompanying them are the artist’s renditions for each. These drawings are large works on paper using graphite, charcoal, acrylic paint and mixed media. 

Plants contrast and complement Chihuly's work. Photo by Debbie Stone
Plants contrast and complement Chihuly’s work. Photo by Debbie Stone

Look up when you enter the next gallery and set your sights on the spectacular Persian Ceiling. The tapestry of colors and their reflected lights upon the walls will transport you to the land of the Kasbah. 

Ooh and aah at Mille Fiori, Italian for “a thousand flowers,” where hundreds of glass flowers of different sizes and shapes are set upon a reflective, plexiglass pond. The reflection is equally as impressive as the actual pieces. 

In the next gallery, you’ll find Ikebana and Float Boats. Two of the artist’s wooden rowboats are on display; one is filled with glass flowers inspired by the Japanese art of “ikebana,” or flower arranging, while the other contains Niijima Floats.

The latter were inspired by Chihuly’s trip to the Japanese island of Niijima and his childhood memories of discovering Japanese fishing net floats along the beaches of his native Puget Sound.

Chihuly’s iconic chandeliers are the focal point in the Chandeliers gallery. Their curling forms hang from the ceiling like jeweled pendants. The Chandelier series dates back to 1992 when the artist created his first such piece for his solo exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum.

He went on to continue this series and the chandeliers became famous worldwide after his major installation, “Chihuly Over Venice.”

The last gallery is Macchia Forest, which was conceived from the artist’s desire to use all 300 of the colors of glass available in the hot shop (glassblowing studio). Huge, spotted mushroom-like sculptures evoke a scene from “Alice in Wonderland.” And each is comprised of ten different colored layers of glass.

Chihuly the Collector

In addition to the galleries, the Exhibition Hall also features the Collection’s Café, Theater, Bookstore and Chandelier Walkway. The Café presents a selection of Chihuly’s many collections, which are displayed on the walls, from the ceiling, and inset into the tables under glass.

It’s an ode to the artist’s fondness for unique and vintage objects, from accordions, radios and cameras, to clocks, ceramic miniature dogs and shaving brushes. 

The theater presents a series of short videos on Chihuly’s working process and includes interviews, glassblowing and the development of his installations and exhibitions around the globe.

While the bookstore offers a selection of items that reflect the creative spirit of the Pacific Northwest, along with an assortment of books and materials relating to Chihuly’s work and projects.

Mille Fiori. Photo by Debbie Stone
Mille Fiori. Photo by Debbie Stone

The Glasshouse Takes Centerstage

The magnum opus of Chihuly Garden and Glass is the Glasshouse. This jaw-dropping structure is the result of the artist’s appreciation for conservatories. The design was inspired by two of his favorite buildings: Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and the Crystal Palace in London.

Picture a ginormous greenhouse, but with glass-blown flowers in epic proportions. The centerpiece is a massive 40-foot-tall, 100-foot-long sculpture, comprised of 1,340 individual pieces, that is suspended in all its gleaming glory from the ceiling.

This installation, which is one of Chihuly’s largest suspended creations, boasts brilliant hues of red, orange, yellow and amber. It takes on different qualities throughout the day, as the natural light changes it. And through the skylit glass windows, the Space Needle looms in towering, sentinel-like fashion.

A Garden Unlike Any Other

Outside the Glasshouse is the Garden, where nature presents the ideal backdrop for Chihuly’s artwork. Eye-catching sculptures sit amid ferns, vines and flowers of multi-textures and shades. The plants complement and contrast the pieces. 

In the middle of this landscape, on a hilltop of black mondo grass, is “Pacific Sun.” With its yellow and orange, snakelike rays, the piece has the power to brighten even the grayest of Seattle days.

Also of note is a group of purple “Neodymium Reeds” and “Seal Pups” that are set among nearly 500-year-old salvaged old-growth Western Red Cedar from the Olympic Peninsula. 

You can’t miss the 30-foot-tall, lime green, “Icicle Towers,” and 20-foot-tall pink “Viola Crystal Tower.” The former reminds me of the popsicles I used to eat as a kid and the latter looks like layered rock candy.

It might come as a surprise to many that the pink candy-like pieces aren’t glass, but rather a type of plastic Chihuly and his team invented. And as for the sculpture’s name, it’s a nod to the artist’s mother, Viola, who is said to have nurtured Chihuly’s love of and deep connection to nature.

Marvel at Glassblowers in Action

Near the garden is the community hot shop, where visitors can see glassblowing demonstrations. It’s fascinating to watch these artists in action, as they work with the molten glass to form the desired shapes. You’ll be enthralled by the flowing choreography involved in this delicate process. 


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Author Bio: Debbie Stone is an established travel writer and columnist, who crosses the globe in search of unique destinations and experiences to share with her readers and listeners. She’s an avid explorer who welcomes new opportunities to increase awareness and enthusiasm for places, culture, food, history, nature, outdoor adventure, wellness and more. Her travels have taken her to nearly 100 countries spanning all seven continents, and her stories appear in numerous print and digital publications.

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