Reflections After Seeing Chihuly



"Glass is the most magical of all materials. It transmits light in a special way."
----Dale Chihuly

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Rose and saffron crystal towers refracting the sunlight. A multi-colored steel and polyvitro chandelier suspended over a tropical landscape. Scarlet glass spikes marching over a grassy rise. Pink and blue glass herons scattered in an English garden. These are just some of the fifteen works that comprise 'A New Eden' at the Frederick Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park in Grand Rapids.

For the past six months, Meijer Gardens has been host to an exhibit by Dale Chihuly, whom many consider the most famous American glass artist since Louis Tiffany. This stunning exhibit has been so popular, the run has been extended until the end of October.

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Chihuly and his team of artists spent three years developing these inventive and colorful sites, which reflect many of Chihuly's lifelong inspirations. The very names of his blown forms reveal a decades long interest in revisiting and refining certain creative ideas: Baskets, Belugas, Chandeliers, Cylinders, Herons, Macchia, Niijima Floats, Persians, Reeds, Saguaros, Seaforms, Seal Pups, and Venetians. His apprenticeship on the island of Murano outside Venice, and his training at such places as the Rhode Island School of Design have produced an artistic vision that is both cutting edge and Old World.

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Yet what I most marveled at when viewing his enormous lily pads, gleaming floats and neon tumbleweeds was not the impressive skill of Chihuly and his team, but the way he changes how one views the ordinary. Look at the scene below where the visitor comes upon a multitude of turquoise blue spikes and globes planted like fairy tale elements among the tall grass. An otherwise commonplace scene becomes a vista of mystery and magic.

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Whether hanging above saguero cactus in a greenhouse, or floating impossibly on a still pond, Chihuly's glassworks foster a sense of wonder. They are images culled from our dreams: surprising, bold, and vividly colored.

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At 69, Dale Chihuly is still creating work filled with youthful innocence and energy. His body of work is even more remarkable when you consider that the artist was severely injured in an automobile accident in 1976, which left him blind in his left eye. Yet there is no sense of melancholy, bitterness or loss in the work he has produced since.

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Einstein wrote "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited." The sensibility that created the 16 foot tall crimson and yellow glass tree on the lawn at Meijer Gardens is one that knows instinctively that to change reality, one must first imagine that it can be changed. Nature could not produce floating polyvitro crystals or a glass studded 'blue moon', but Chihuly's artistic vision did.

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"I call myself an artist for lack of a better word...I'm an artist, a designer, a craftsman, interior designer, half architect. There's no one name that fits me very well."
---Dale Chihuly, 1995 interview

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---Sharon Pisacreta, © Oct. 2010

October/November 2010