Many media straddle the uncertain divide between arts, crafts and artisanal works. Glassblowing is one such medium. However, since the mid 1960s Washington based Dale Chihuly has been pushing the limits of glassblowing, creating countless installations, sculptures and environmental artworks which have certainly solidified the medium as one of great artistic merit.
With his works, both staggeringly large and intricately small, permanently exhibited across three of the world’s continents, Chihuly has both literally and metaphorically breathed new life into the art of glassblowing.
Born in Tacoma, Washington in 1941, Chihuly lost both his elder brother and father by the time he was 17. With little interest in continuing formal education after graduating from High School in 1959, encouraged by his mother, he enrolled in the College of Puget Sound.
Yet to find his calling, a year later he transferred to the University of Washington in Seattle, to study interior design. There he learned how to melt and fuse glass.
Still uncertain of his calling, he dropped out of university and began to travel. First to Florence, then to the Middle East—where a meeting with architect Robert Landsman inspired Chihuly to return to his studies.
While completing his Bachelor of Arts in interior design, he took weaving classes and quickly incorporated glass shards into tapestries.
After graduating in 1965, he began intently experimenting with glassblowing until he received a full scholarship to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison where he studied under Harvey Littleton, who had established the United States’ very first glass program.
After a handful of scholarships, further study, travels and the seeds of early recognition his career began in full force. He co-founded the Pilchuck Glass School near Stanwood, Washington and founded the HillTop Artists program in his hometown of Tacoma.
His most notable works began in the 1970s, with the Navajo Blanket series. And since 1996, his work has seen widespread recognition with countless solo exhibitions across the globe.
Chihuly’s style of glassblowing is relatively unique. Employing extremely colorful glass, blown into a variety of delicate and intricate shapes his formidable style unites color, light, form and space to deliver fascinating and immersive experiences. While many of his most well-known pieces are huge, often placed in unlikely places, his work also includes small-scale glassworks.
One particularly fascinating he has approached over the years has been that of team glassblowing, inspired by the great glassblowing tradition of Murano, Venice. This team-based approach has allowed him to produce work at a greater scale and quantity than would be possible alone.
Known as an artistic trailblazer, renowned for bringing the artistic potential of glassblowing to popular, American, attention the question is—what is in store for the 79-year-old artistic veteran?
Well, it is hard to know with a relative radio-silence from galleries worldwide in the face of this global pandemic. That said, at this point in Chihuly’s career he neatly straddles the place of an individual artist and a creative director, as his financial artistic and financial success find his works being produced through an extremely large-scale operation ad Chihuly Studio and Chihuly Workshop—where he serves as president, CEO and creative helmsman.
Regardless of what comes next, the artistic legacy of Dale Chihuly is immense, providing the art world with another feather for its cap—after realizing the true potential of glassblowing.