Dale Chihuly’s Pilchuck Stumps began as elements for his exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum in 1992, but they took on a life of their own as scenic elements for Seattle Opera’s 1993 production of Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande. It was Chihuly’s first foray into theater set design and he created glass designs which were then translated for the sets by Margie Jervis and the Seattle Opera Studios. Seattle Opera General Director Speight Jenkins said of the decision to hire Chihuly that “nothing in the world would be better in terms of the impressionistic feeling of Pelléas than glass. The glimmer of glass is like the glimmer of impressionistic music.” The stumps were developed in tandem with soaring, massive plastic versions for the stage along with other shimmering, fairy-like elements for the dreamy play. The resulting sets, along with the opera itself, received broad critical acclaim.
American glass sculptor and entrepreneur Dale Chihuly is among the most well-regarded glass artists of the 20th and 21st Century.
Dale Chihuly’s academic career began at the University of Washington where he earned a BA in Interior Design in 1965. He then went on to attend the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he studied under Harvey Littleton, founder of the first formal glass program in the United States. He graduated in 1967 with a Master of Science in Sculpture before moving on to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) where he received a Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture in 1968. He would later return to RISD to establish a glass program and teach for many years.
After earning his third degree, Chihuly sojourned in Venice where he worked in the factory of Paolo Venini, a key architect of the 20th century design aesthetic and one of the leading producers of mid-century Murano glass. It was in Venini’s studio on the island of Murano that Chihuly first witnessed the team approach to blowing glass, a practice that would become an integral part of his work in the years to come. Though he returned to the United States to teach, Chihuly continued to travel the world to meet and learn from like-minded artists.
In 1976, Chihuly was involved in an auto accident that resulted in the loss of his left eye, greatly limiting his sense of visual depth. Chihuly’s ability to create was further impaired by a bodysurfing accident in 1979 that left him unable to hold the glassblowing pipe. The injuries sustained in these two incidents forced Chihuly to hire others to assist. In a 2006 interview Chihuly explained, "Once I stepped back, I liked the view." This new perspective allowed Chihuly to anticipate problems sooner and work more efficiently. Additionally, working with a team of master glassblowers enabled Chihuly’s studio to produce glass art on a scale and quantity that would be inconceivable for a single artist working alone.
Though Chihuly has worked in multiple mediums including charcoal, acrylic, and graphite, it is his large and vibrantly colored glass sculptures and installations for which he is best known. These include his “Seafoam Series,” of thin, wavy translucent glass forms sporting bold bands and splashes of color, his “Ikebana Series” of naturally inspired ‘glass flowers,’ and his series of massive and stunningly intricate chandeliers.
Works by Dale Chihuly have occupied exhibited across the globe, including a series of exhibitions presented in botanical settings. Examples include the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago (2001), the Royal Botanical Gardens in Kew, England (2005), and at the New York Botanical Gardens in New York City (2017). Installations by Chihuly can also be found in many hotels, casinos and complexes across the globe including the Ritz-Carlton Millenia in Singapore, the 360 Mall in Kuwait and the Bellagio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. Other major Chihuly exhibits include the Boston Museum of Fine Arts (2011), the de Young Museum in San Francisco (2008) and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (2013). The long-term exhibition, Chihuly Garden and Glass, opened at the Seattle Center in his native Pacific Northwest in 2012. Works by Chihuly sell admirably on the secondary and auction markets, with several of his larger designs realizing sell prices in excess of $100,000.