Visiting Chihuly Garden and Glass
What does glass have to do with Seattle Washington’s top-rated tourist attraction? Well, everything—almost. Chihuly Garden and Glass is a pristine gem among the hustle and bustle of the Lower Queen Anne section of Seattle. It is positioned in a prime location almost directly beneath the iconic Space Needle. The name of the attraction perfectly and simply describes what it is—there is a garden, and there’s glass. But despite the simplistic name, there is so much more that meets the eye.
Who is Chihuly?
Dale Chihuly is a glass artist who was born in Tacoma, Washington in 1941. He studied glass art extensively as a focus after studying interior design at the University of Washington. He was a student in the first available glass program in the United States, worked for a glass factory in Venice for a period, and eventually even co-founded a glass school.
Chihuly is a renowned artist. His pieces are featured in over 200 museums and he has created over 12 accomplished series of works. These works can be found across the globe and cost into the millions of dollars. Most of the pieces required entire teams to complete. In his later years, he moved into a role where he directed his teams rather than blowing the glass himself. This was partly due to injuries that made glassblowing difficult, and partly because observing the process allowed for a better perspective of the projects.
Chihuly’s Glass Works
Chihuly’s technique is considered to be glassblowing, although it certainly extends well beyond just that. Depending on the piece, there may be extensive amounts bending, shaping and flattening that occur.
There are a few iconic types of pieces that Chihuly is known for. The first are his glass chandeliers which are comprised of hundreds of short, curled glass spires. The second are his glass baskets which were inspired by northwestern Native American baskets. Lastly, and most important to this story, are the pieces that look like plants and blend into their natural surroundings.
The Chihuly Museum Glass
All three examples were found throughout the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum in a spectacular array of color and size. Some of the glass sculptures towered overhead, while others looked just as impressive sitting on a tabletop at chest-height. One of the most incredible features of the pieces was their size. Many people think of blown glass as small and delicate, trinket-sizes things. Not Chihuly’s pieces. These were large, lifesized renditions of flowers, trees and plants.
The first half of the museum was dimly lit with spotlights and backlights used to bring out the vibrant colors of the pieces and highlight the unique aspect of how light flows through glass. The second half of the museum was displayed inside a large greenhouse-like structure and an outdoor garden.
The Chihuly Garden Glass
Hanging from the glass ceiling of the atrium is what must be hundreds of glass fan-like designs all linked together to form a structure that runs nearly the length of the entire room. Looking directly up provides a unique view of the artwork in the foreground and the Seattle Space Needle in the background.
Continuing to the outside of the atrium is the “garden” section of Chihuly Garden and Glass. Here, Chihuly has perfected the art of blending his art in with natural surroundings; each being a beautiful compliment to the other.
Dispersed throughout the garden are glass spires—some straight like reeds and others wavy like fronds. There are large glass balls resembling small boulders and even glass “trees” comprised of hundreds of individual glass “branches”.
The Glass.com team had spent the entire day at Glass Expo Pacific Northwest, a biyearly event taking place in the Seattle suburb of Bellevue, where many major glass companies come together for 2 days of educational seminars and networking. We had a booth at the expo event and Glass.com operations manager Daniel Snow was also featured as a seminar speaker. By the time we made it to the Chihuly Garden it was late evening, which was perfect. Lights were impeccably positioned to illuminate the glass pieces which were now set against a sunset sky while the Space Needle glowed in the background.
Space Needle Glass
The Chihuly Garden was only a short walk away from the Space Needle so we decided to tour this iconic Seattle attraction afterward. The Space Needle has an interesting history which dates back to when it was first opened in 1962 at the Seattle World’s Fair. It was constructed in just 400 days at a cost of $4.5 million.
After zooming up to the top observation deck in a mere 42 seconds on the elevator, we discovered that the Space Needle was currently undergoing renovation. While the functioning construction zone may have been irksome to many visitors, we found the newly installed glass panes fascinating. Dozens of massively tall and thick glass panels stood around the edge of the observation deck, protecting visitors from the nothingness beyond.
The glass panels provided an interesting blend of feeling safe, yet vulnerable at the same time—it could obviously withstand huge amounts of impact, but it also provided uncompromised views of Seattle 520 feet below.
The glass didn’t stop there. Even the benches lining the observation deck were comprised of 3 thick sheets of thick glass stacked on top of each other. They were angled back toward the ledge using the glass panes as backing, which also angled outward. For those brave enough to lean back and brave the feeling of possibly falling into the empty airspace below, it did make for the ultimate selfie though.