1 of 2
© Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass. photo: Scott Mitchell Leen
2 of 2
Photo courtsey VMFA
Dale Chihuly's experimentation and methods in the art of glass beginning in 1965 onward altered preconceptions pertaining to the form. Today, through a combination of his great ability and business savvy, Chihuly (pronounced chi-HOO-ly) and glass art are synonymous. His vast influence extends to his 1971 co-founding of the Pilchuck Glass School outside Seattle.
Chihuly's inspirations are derived from Navajo blankets and Indian baskets, sea creatures, and plants.
A 1976 car crash in England deprived Chihuly of his left eye and injured his right foot. A body-surfing mishap in 1979 permanently dislocated his right shoulder, leaving him unable to hold the chief glass blower (gaffer) position. Through drawing and personal direction, his balletic hot-shop crew manifests his vision, fireworks captured in glass.
With the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts bringing a site-specific exhibition of Chihuly's world to Richmond from Oct. 20 to Feb.10, 2013, we recently had the chance to ask the artist a few questions during a group interview at his Seattle studio, where he discussed the personal origins of his work.
RM: Throughout your creative life, you've been both a student and a creator, making art, teaching, doing things differently practically every day.
DC: Working with a team, you naturally become an educator ― even if you didn't want to be. And I know I've always felt the best way to learn about art is to be around artists. I encouraged my students at the Rhode Island School of Design to do whatever they could to get around the people making work. The best friend of my life, [painter and sculptor] Italo Scanga, was an artist educator. [They met at a 1967 RISD lecture and became like brothers. Scanga died in 2001].
RM: Tell me about Russell Day.
DC: Oh, Russell Day? How'd you hear about him? [Laughs.] Russell Day was an extraordinary teacher at a junior college in Everett, Washington. I didn't go there, but his own medium was glass, stained glass, so when I got started with glass in the 1960s, while I was going to school at the University of Washington, I got ahold of Russell Day to ask questions and get information ― [painter] Chuck Close was also a student of his.
The first time I ever blew a glass bubble ― which is not easy to do if nobody's telling you how ― I called Russ Day. He drove down from Everett in the evening in his orange Corvette. I was so proud of myself for having made this bubble. I immediately decided to go to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin to study glass blowing.
What's interesting is … about a year ago, somebody who works for me somehow got connected to [Day] and brought him up to the studio. And he was 99 years old, with his wife also still alive. I just sent him a present for his 100th birthday, and he got back to me and wants to commission an installation for this senior facility he lives in near here.
RM: You were the champion marble player at Sherman Elementary School in Tacoma, Wash. You're a lover of film, and as a symbol, these small glass orbs that you've made into massive glass globes, could be seen as providing a through-theme to your life and work.
DC: Where in the hell did you read that?* [Laughs.] I was a good marble player.
I used to play marbles after school. I'd get a bunch of marbles. Then I'd go home, and my mother would make little bags out of sheets, and I'd fill 'em up and take 'em to school and sell 'em for a nickel a bag. [Laughs.] And then try to win 'em back again. That was one of my first entrepreneurial efforts. I know I've told that story before but [Laughs] I don't remember anybody ever writing it. That's a good one. I'd like to read that myself.
*For the record, mention was made of Chihuly's marble prowess in a 1993 Associated Press feature by Tim Klass picked up by the Richmond Times-Dispatch.