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Chihuly's Magical Glass

Posted on 07/06/2020 at 03:00 PM by Allison Sheridan



CHIHULY, a singular name synonymous with glass, color, and sinuous forms, has forever marked the world of studio glass. From gravity defying installations to promotion and product placement – Dale Chihuly’s bold forms are only matched by his bolder marketing and globally mounted exhibitions. 

Confession time… I am a huge fan of Chihuly’s work and have traveled to numerous installations and exhibitions of his art. My first experience with a Chihuly installation was in 1999 at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, walking through the rotunda and looking up to my first experience with the 18-foot Chandelier. From tracking down one of his oldest works of art, the 1974 Corning Wall, at the Corning Museum of Glass, to visiting one of his most recent garden installations at Biltmore in Asheville, NC, I seem to be drawn, like many others, to the mesmerizing forms, quixotic exhibitions and intoxicating color combinations. 

As a studio glass artist and teacher, Dale Chihuly (b. 1941) is one of few artists to successfully challenge the notion of craft is not art. Other glass artists before him such as Harvey Littleton and Dominick Labino laid the foundation for Chihuly who has earned a place in the art world as a serious sculptor in the medium of glass. Chihuly is based in the Seattle-Tacoma area and established the Pilchuck Glass School in 1971, leading to his mentorships of famous glass blowers Flora Mace, Joey Kirkpatrick, and William Morris all also represented in the University Museums’ permanent collection. As an artist that re-defined audience engagement for the world of glass, he has led many contemporary glass blowers to re-think and re-imagine what is possible in the medium.

In 1986, just as Chihuly’s career was beginning to take off, the Brunnier Art Museum hosted his exhibition Dale Chihuly: A Decade of Glass. As a result, the ethereal Sea Forms (1985) was acquired for the permanent collection. Chihuly began creating his Seaform series in 1980. Inspired by the living ocean and its creatures, Chihuly created this beautiful and fragile series of sculptures. The second Seaform in the permanent collection is a vibrant fire-colored studio production work Orange and Red Seaform, c. 1990-96.

ABOVE: Sea Forms, 1985 by Dale Chihuly (American, b. 1941). Blown Glass. Signed on the bottom, “Chihuly” on the largest glass shell. Gift of an anonymous donor and the Friends of University Museums. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM86.479a-h

By 1981 he began the Macchia series, using up to three hundred colors of glass. These wildly spotted, brightly colored forms are dubbed “the uglies” by his mother, but they are eventually titled Macchia, Italian for “spotted,” by his friend Italo Scanga. The University Museums’ large Macchia is Untitled #3-10-83 KAN and was created in 1983 and the smaller, a studio production work, is Cinnamon Macchia, c. 2001.

In 1986 the Persian series was developed by Chihuly along with Martin Blank as gaffer. Persians “are an exploration of form, shape and color—a celebration of wild asymmetry and swirling pattern. They have an ancient sensibility, and for Chihuly, conjure notions of Venice, and the Near and Far East.” (from Chihuly.com) The intensely colored studio production work Parrot Green Persian in the permanent collection is c. 2001 and is a recent donation to University Museums.

In recent years, Chihuly has relied upon his studio of skilled gaffers and exhibition designers to execute his designs and vision. His equally skilled marketers continue to place the Chihuly brand and products at the forefront of the contemporary glass world. Exhibitions from gardens to museums, and permanent to temporary, continue attracting droves of visitors each year curious to explore the almost Seuss-like world of Chihuly glass. I encourage you to visit Chihuly.com for an exhibition schedule and make a point to see permanent installations at the many museums across the globe.

As collections manager, I get to work (carefully!) with these glass sculptures regularly, appreciating their focus on form over function as part of our decorative arts collection. Objects like these help to highlight the breadth of glasswork in the permanent collection, from ancient vessels to contemporary studio glass.
I leave you with this quote from 1998 by Dale Chihuly: “Why do people want to collect glass? Why do they love glass? For the same reason, I suppose, that many of us want to work with it. It’s this magical material that’s made with human breath, light goes through it, and it has this incredible color. Plus, it breaks. And, I think the fact that it breaks is one of the reasons that people want to own it.”

TOP IMAGE: Orange and Red Seaform Set, 1990-1996 by Dale Chihuly (American, b. 1941). Blown Glass. Blown glass. Signed Dale Chihuly. Gift of Arthur Klein. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM2009.189a-d

IMAGES BELOW
GREEN: Parrot Green Persian, 2001 by Dale Chihuly (American, b. 1941). Blown Glass. Gift of the estate of Phil and Ruth Feddersen. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM2019.250ab

ORANGE: Cinnamon Macchia, c. 2001 by Dale Chihuly (American, b. 1941). Blown Glass. Signed and dated on the bottom. Gift of Geitel Winakor. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM2007.112

BLUE: Untitled #3-10-83 KAN, 1983 by Dale Chihuly (American, b. 1941). Blown Glass. Gift of Paul and Anastasia “Stacy” Polydoran. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM2005.372 


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