April 26, 2019
Discover the wonder of Chihuly's glass works in two of the most exciting cities on our route map, including a new exhibition at Kew Gardens in London
Ever spent much time thinking about glass? Neither have we. At least, not until we visited the Chihuly Glass and Gardens museum in Seattle last month. Celebrating the glass artworks of local legend and internationally celebrated glass artist Dale Chihuly, the museum encompasses eight galleries, a showstopping glasshouse and a vibrant garden where his creations are displayed to maximum effect. It’s a feast for both the eyes and the emotions. Like all good art it made us think, and sparked an interest in the man, his medium and his extraordinary craft.
Glass is something so ubiquitous that we take it for granted, yet it’s one of the most important substances created by man. Made from sand, soda ash and limestone, plus minerals to give it colour, glass is an extraordinary material. It’s an amorphous (non-crystalline) solid material that solidifies so quickly that it’s molecules don’t have time to settle into a regular crystalline pattern. It’s these loosely spaced molecules and chaotic structure that allow light to pass through it. It does exist naturally – the result of lightning strikes or volcanos – and despite being brittle, it’s incredibly hardy. Glass bottles and jars can be recycled and reused indefinitely without losing quality.
The earliest recorded forms date back to about 3,500 BC, so in one form or another it’s played a pivotal part in our civilisation. As well as its many practical uses we also enjoy glass as an art form, which brings us to Chihuly, a name known throughout the world for his glass art.
Dale Chihuly was born in and spent much of his life in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, where he found the perfect creative environment in which to develop his skills and create glass art of staggering complexity and beauty. Responsible for pioneering new techniques and elevating studio glass art to new levels, he has influenced countless glass artists around the globe. Now highly collectible, you can see Chihuly art in over 300 locations worldwide including the V&A museum in London and the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. But if you really want to see Chihuly’s creativity displayed to maximum effect, there are two places to go. His home city, Seattle, and for the summer only, a stunning new exhibition of his work in Kew Gardens, London.
As Chihuly’s reputation grew around the world, his hometown drew up plans to celebrate the artist. The result is the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum at Seattle Center. Situated right under the city’s most recognisable landmark, the striking 1960s-built Space Needle, the museum tells the story of Chihuly and his journey as an artist, with plenty of opportunity for discovery along the way.
From the second you step inside to be met by Glass Forrest #5, Chihuly’s skill and vision enchants. One of our most everyday and familiar materials is transformed into something arresting and otherworldly, and it’s magical to see. No wonder it’s become the number one attraction in the city.
This year, the must-see attraction in London is undoubtedly the Chihuly ‘Reflections on Nature’ exhibition at Kew Gardens. Ranging from centrepiece sculptures that stop you in your tracks to smaller pieces displayed amid Kew’s lush foliage, the Chihuly exhibition does the impossible and makes Kew Gardens even better than it already was.
Time spent at Kew is always enriching. From the city on its doorstep, it transports you back in time and around the world via the wonders of our botanical world. The 2019 Chihuly exhibition was four years in the planning and features 22 installations in 17 locations around the gardens, including the. newly restored Temperate House, the largest Victorian glasshouse in the world. Centre stage and created especially for this exhibition is the brilliant blue Temperate House Persians, a 33-ft-long sculpture suspended from the rafters. Like every other piece in this showstopping summer show, it’s vibrant colours are at odds with the rare plants it hangs over, yet at the same time in perfect harmony, echoing their organic shapes and complexities . It’s the perfect coming together of nature, science and art.
Having visited either Kew or Seattle, don’t be surprised if you want to discover more about glass art. Thanks to the Chihuly effect, Seattle has become a draw for glass artists, and a couple of studios offer the chance to have a go at glass blowing yourself. A short walk from the Chihuly museum, the Glass Blowing Studio runs several courses, starting with an hour-long session where you can select one of four items to make. The super interesting course gives you a good understanding of the process of glassblowing, and you’ll learn about the different furnaces and incredible temperatures required. You’ll also come away with a much greater respect for the skills needed to create work of the scale and complexity of Chihuly’s.
Keep an eye out for Refract Seattle, a glass experience from 17–20 October 2019, featuring open studios, art parties, museum exhibitions, talks, tours, demos and special sales.
Virgin Atlantic operates a daily, direct service to Seattle from London Heathrow. Head to Visit Seattle for the latest news about what’s on and what’s opening in Seattle.