BY: ERIKA ROBERTSON
“Did you visit any museums over break?”
“Three or four. One was all about this artist who… well, you know Chihuly.”
Detail of Nijima Floats. The glass spheres were inspired by Japanese fishing net floats that drift onto Washington Beaches. Photo by Erika Robertson.
How many contemporary artists get that kind of instant recognition? Growing up in the Northwest, I feel like I’ve always been aware of Dale Chihuly’s work. He’s an innovative glass artist, entrepreneur, and collector. But until I moved to Toronto, I didn't realize how much he contributes to Washington’s culture and reputation abroad.
Born and raised in Tacoma, Chihuly brought the practice of art glass from Italy back to his hometown. He’s very visible there today, as shown the Chihuly Bridge of Glass at the Museum of Glass. Today, Tacoma is a former industrial seaport that is reinventing itself as a funky, innovative, coastal city. Walking through Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle Center, I traced regional connections from the artist’s hometown, through his museum, to the café.
|Glass Forest, a collaboration between Dale Chihuly and James Carpenter. Photo by Erika Robertson.|
Visitors to the ROM’s recent exhibition, CHIHULY, know it’s almost impossible to take a bad photograph of those glass sculptures. The camera loves those vibrant, smooth surfaces against black backgrounds. The museum’s lighting technicians illuminate the bold, yet delicate material. The sculptures remind me of the urban Northwest’s optimism, new modernist style, and reverence for natural forms.
|Glass blowers interpret the process of hand blowing a glass bottle. Photo by Erika Robertson.|
While turning, heating, and shaping the glass, Conor explained that Dale Chihuly was once a gaffer, working from the bench like him. When the artist lost his eye, he moved to a designer role. This allowed him to hire more skilled workers, expanding the range of possibilities. As an institution about a living artist, Chihuly Garden and Glass feels almost like a showroom; guests can even buy a slumped bowl in the gift shop. Can those who don’t take home an original Chihuly carry away a piece of the Northwest in their memories?
|Now that's a souvenir! Photo by Erika Robertson.|
|Certainly an innovative approach, but I wonder who beaded these and how they came to the artist's collection. Photo by Erika Robertson.|
|Is this sandwich a product of tasty, tasty cultural appropriation? According to author Soleil Ho, the answer may depend on who's in the kitchen. Photo by Erika Robertson.|
In a globalized era, is it possible to define regional flavours and cultures? Is it worthwhile? In my next article, I visit MOHAI’s Edible City, which attempts to capture Seattle’s complex cuisine and food industry.