The first piece of Chihuly art glass I saw was at the fantastic Milwaukee Art Museum. If you ever have a chance to visit this incredible venue, do so, you’ll love it. The museum was designed by world-renowned architect, Santiago Calatrava. It is in itself a piece of art and one that Milwaukee is very proud to have.
Almost as soon as you enter the lobby, you’ll see a magnificent piece of glass. It is featured in the Quadracci Pavilion and truly stands out. It is an explosion of color and it resembles a Mardi Gras celebration, fireworks extravaganza and New Year’s Eve party wrapped into one. I remember walking up to it and standing in awe for a long time. You would do the same.
A recent article in Antique Week newspaper shows a picture of Mr. Chihuly and some of his numerous creations. It gives some interesting background on his life and accomplishments. It has only been 50 years since glassmaking was considered to be a serious art form. It started in Toledo, Ohio by the son of the Director of the Corning Glass Works, Harvey Littleton, in his Toledo Workshops. Littleton was a professor at the University of Wisconsin, and that is where he met Chihuly. Chihuly received his Masters of Science in Sculpture in 1967. (It was nice to hear there is a connection with Wisconsin!) In 1968 he earned a Fulbright Scholarship, traveled to the island of Murano (Venice), and later achieved his Master of Fine Arts at the Rhode Island School of Design.
In 1971 Chihuly and art patrons Ann Gould and John Hauberg founded the Pilchuk Glass School, near Seattle, Washington. Several accidents made it difficult for him to continue as chief glassblower, and he is now the designer and chief of his workshop.
Glassblowing is a fascinating art. To think that a blob of molten glass, pushed through a pipe, can be heated, then shaped, and become a thing of beauty is amazing. Some of his artwork reminds you of a clown at the zoo, going mad and making erratic balloon animals for the kids. They also remind you of octopus tentacles, waving under the ocean, but much more colorful.
My husband’s cousin lived in an elegant condominium complex in Brookfield, Wisconsin. They also had a Chihuly creation in their lobby. We’d visit her nearly every month, mostly to see her, but we do admit to always admiring the glass piece as well.
Chihuly’s creations can be found all over the world including Las Vegas (at the Bellagio) and Macau (an MGM Resort.) I realize that no one that I know could afford a piece of his work. Reports say that by 2004, he had already sold $29 million worth of his art, and it is generally commissioned for entities, not the common folk. But what a delight to view the pieces whenever and wherever you can. In celebration of the 50 year history, numerous art museums will be displaying his work. If you can, visit the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, the de Young Fine Arts Museum of San Francisco, Orlando Museum of Art, Boise Art Museum, or Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Garden. The largest Chihuly blown glass sculpture can be found at the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, Indiana.
Even those who are not aficionados of art glass will certainly appreciate his incredible talent and amazing results.