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Intense color, bursts of movement, shapes which need to dance, yet remain suspended in time. The style could belong to just one man, Dale Chihuly.
It’s here at Chihuly’s boathouse studio on the banks of Seattle’s Lake Union that his technicolor visions come to life, and where I came to do something I’ve always wanted to, get a lesson in the ancient art of glass blowing from the revolutionary artist himself.
We’re going to have you blow a piece of glass?
I’m going to try.
Chihuly’s designs are unmistakable. In jut a few decades, he’s breathed new life into an art that was largely unchanged for thousands of years. Yet, his own view was dramatically altered more than 30 years ago after a car accident left him blind in one eye.
You don’t have any depth perception? Is that correct?
Well, yeah, I have no depth perception and no peripheral vision. That’s the main reason why I quit blowing glass myself. As the pieces got bigger and the team got more complicated, I felt like pulling back away from the making of it.
But he is still very much in charge of each creation. Every piece begins with his vision, first as a painting, a blueprint for his team of skilled artists.
God, I think that might be enough. That’s enough!
In just the last decade, Chihuly has staged nearly 100 shows and installations around the world. From hotels to museums, even the great outdoors. He continues to push the boundaries.
How much of glassblowing is an art, a creativity that people have within them and how much of it is learned?
It is one thing to make it as a craft, to make beautiful objects that are, say, functional. But to make it as art, you have to make something that nobody’s ever seen before.
Maybe bring that one in a little bit.
After nearly four decades, Chihuly remains one of the best teachers of this craft. And on this day, I am his student.
Do I need any protective gear?
Here, take these.
The heat is intense. Though it should be when you’re using an oven at 2100ᵒ.
With the molten glass nearly flowing off the rod, my first piece finds some definition in a mold.
Okay, now go ahead and blow. Hard! Good. Stop.
The glass will require several more bursts of air, each observed and measured by my world-renowned coach.
There we go. Good job. Okay, slow it down just a little bit. Good.
Next up, color.
So, Dale, what is this doing?
You’re picking up some cobalt. You’ll blow out and be able to see the color a lot more.
It is a quick, coordinated effort. The glass has to keep moving, has to stay hot to maintain its shape.
You’re doing it just right. Stop!
Before I know it, Dale and his team have helped me create a full collection, more beautiful than I had hoped for, yet a far cry from the masterpieces this studio is known for.
We can’t thank you enough. I have even more of an appreciation now. Thank you.
Well, my pleasure.
Thanks for coming.