Enter Chihuly Garden and Glass museum and be transported to the enchanting world of Dale Chihuly, world-renowned artist and native of the Pacific Northwest. Chihuly is recognized as a pioneer in new techniques and forms of glassblowing, where he changed the entire nature of blown glass. As such, the Chihuly name is synonymous with art and innovation in glass creations.
The unique museum consists of eight galleries, three drawing walls, a theater, a 40-foot glasshouse, an art plaza, collections cafe, a community hot shop, a large bookstore, and a 22,000 square foot garden. Plan to spend 3-4 hours here. You will be glad you did.
To access Chihuly Garden and Glass, I recommend catching the Seattle Monorail from downtown right to Seattle Center.
Note: Seattle CityPASS sponsored our visit to Chihuly Garden and Glass. All thoughts and ideas are my own.
A Brief History Of Dale Chihuly
Born in Tacoma, Washington, in 1941, Dale studied interior design at the University of Washington, graduating in 1965. He continued to the University of Wisconsin to study glassblowing and received an MS in Sculpture. In 1968, he received an MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). That same year, Dale visited Italy on a U.S. Student Fulbright and a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Grant and fell in love with the techniques of the Venetian glassblowing teams. The following year, he returned to the states and established the RISD Glassblowing Program.
He also co-founded the Pilchuck Glass School just north of Seattle.
While in Europe in 1976, Chihuly was in a car accident that left him blind in one eye. He started to become dependent on teams of glassblowers to help him execute his visions and distinctive designs.
Chihuly taught at Rhode Island School of Design until 1980.
Chihuly soon became internationally recognized for his work and exhibited worldwide, including in England, Finland, Ireland, Jerusalem, Italy, and Canada. His work has been featured at over 200 museums worldwide.
In 2002, The Chihuly Bridge of Glass marked the opening of the Tacoma Museum of Glass.
Chihuly was invited to share his work at Seattle Center and, in May 2012, opened the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum.
Here are my four favorite pieces at Chihuly Garden and Glass.
1. Sealife Tower
Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, Dale’s love of water and the sea inspired the creation of the Sealife Room with the stunning centerpiece, the 20-foot Sealife Tower. His first collection of sea glass inspired the colors of the Sealife Tower. Take time to gaze into the “blue waters” of the swirling sea and look for sea life putti (Italian for tiny cherubs) such as squid, starfish, stingrays, spiral shells, and sea urchins. Chihuly likes to incorporate putti into his work “to make people happy.” The tower is positioned on black plexiglass to capture the reflective qualities similar to the ocean.
2. Persian Ceiling
Stroll under the Persian Ceiling looking for Persians, Snooters, Sliders, Baskets, Seaforms, and Putti. The Persian Ceiling is the only gallery painted white to enable the ceiling’s lights, colors, and reflections on the walls. All the other galleries are Chihuly grey. The term Persians is used to describe the swirling patterns and asymmetry of the shapes of the pieces. Dale spent over a year creating experimental works and perfecting the technique. “Snooter” is Chihuly’s term given to things that have no name.
3. Mille Fiori
The term Mille Fiori is Italian for one-thousand flowers. This work was inspired by his mother’s beautiful garden, of which Chihuly was particularly proud. It is a series of different forms, including Niijami floats, reeds, eelgrass, Persians, herons, and marlons. Interesting to note that the reeds are made in Finland because of the large annealing ovens used in the production. The bold primary colors invite you to circle the sculpture and absorb all the beauty.
4. The Garden
The garden is another of my favorite sites. Stroll the 26,000 square foot garden, with the giant Pacific Sun as the centerpiece and Chihuly creations interspersed with native flowers and shrubs. The entire garden is illuminated at night. Plan to tarry awhile at the comfortable benches, enjoying all the sculptures, flowers, and shrubs. Look for these delightful pieces amongst the flowers: Gardeners will enjoy the detailed information on the plants. The garden changes with the seasons and brings new life to the surrounding sculptures.
Here is a peek at several of the other galleries to whet your appetite before your visit!
- The Glass House is a 40-foot tall glass and steel structure inspired by Chihuly’s two favorite buildings: Sainte-Chapelle in Paris and London’s Crystal Palace. One of his most extensive works is housed here, the suspended 100 foot blown flowers in shades of red, yellow, amber, and orange. There are more than 1,340 pieces in the sculpture.
- The Northwest Room explores the influences and evolution of Chihuly’s journey into glass. He was inspired by a 1977 visit to the Washington State Historical Society, where he admired the Indian Basket collection and began to envision baskets made of glass.
- The Northwest Room also demonstrates the influence of early trade blankets on Chihuly’s work.
- The Ikebana and Float Boat are once again inspired by Chihuly’s life along the waters of the Pacific Northwest and his collections of Japanese fishing floats. In Finland, in the mid-’90s, he experimented with displays of his works in the wooden boats of Finland.
Chihuly Garden and Glass provides several support services to help guests enjoy the museum. This link gives information on mobility considerations, help with hearing loss, help with vision loss and help guests with cognitive and sensory considerations. As well, the videos in the theater have English captions. Gallery talks and glassblowing demonstrations are offered over voice amplifiers and transcripts may be found online. Audio tours are available online in English, Spanish, Japanese, Korean, and Mandarin Chinese. Click this link for a schedule of gallery talks.
A great way to spend the day is to spend the morning at Chihuly Garden and Glass, enjoy lunch in the art plaza while watching a glass demonstration. Check the link for demonstration times. Another choice for lunch is to visit one of the ethnic restaurants close by, such as Premier Meat Pies or Grecian Corner, and then spend the afternoon at the Space Needle.
For discounted admission, you might consider purchasing the Seattle CityPASS. Or check this link to the museum for discounted tickets to both the Seattle Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass. Reservations are recommended. While at the Space Needle, check out the aerial views of Chihuly’s Garden. The view from the west elevator is stunning. The garden team considers this in their seasonal plantings.
Chihuly Garden and Glass is a must-visit on a trip to Seattle. Many folks suggest that Chihuly is the reason to visit Seattle. With the proximity to downtown and other iconic landmarks, one can easily spend several days in the area. Do venture back to the gardens several times, especially at dusk, to experience the nighttime glow of the sculptures illuminated below.
Visitors to Seattle can choose from a variety of things to do and see: