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Chihuly Rediscovered

A Retrospective of Wondrous Glass

Chihuly’s Baskets, the most renowned of his sculptures, were inspired by the Northwest Coast Indian baskets he saw as a child.

Chihuly’s Baskets, the most renowned of his sculptures, were inspired by the Northwest Coast Indian baskets he saw as a child.

This will be the Summer of Chihuly. Dale Chihuly’s gorgeous, glass sculptures will light the Colorado landscape with two fabulous exhibitions—the first, “Chihuly Rediscovered” at our very own Fine Arts Center, and the other an outdoor extravaganza at the Denver Botanic Gardens. It’s a double-whammy that will be one of the biggest combined exhibits of the artist’s work on record. 

Chihuly first electrified Colorado Springs with his stunning exhibition during the FAC’s storied renovation beginning in 2005. Now he’s back…well, he’s never really been gone, but the newly configured installations on display at the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center from May 3-September 28, 2014, with a special member’s opening May 2, will definitely seem new. It may be a surprise to learn that the FAC has the largest, permanent collection of Chihuly’s work in Colorado. This is no small achievement, considering the breadth of the artist’s worldwide fame and demand for his creations.

“Since 2007, we have only had a small selection of our extensive collection on view at any given time,” says Blake Miltter, museum director and chief curator. The museum’s collection, which has much of Chihulys early work, includes 24 glass works, 22 two-dimensional works and, of course, the three stunning chandeliers. All of the glass works and most of the two-dimensionals will be on exhibit, as well as many works on loan from private collectors in the community.

Among the motivating factors in curating a new Chihuly exhibition, Milteer explains, has been a lingering question regarding the Lane Family Gallery in which the Orange Hornet Chandelier is permanently installed. Many forms of amazing art have been showcased in that space over the past six years, but the chandelier is such an intense sculpture that it inevitably consumes the viewer’s attention. So the question has been: What kind of art sings the most beautifully with the chandelier in the gallery? The answer is “Just Chihuly.” The show will occupy the adjacent gallery as well, and will include nearly all of the FAC’s collection. Select sculptures will also be placed around other parts of the building.

The exhibit will be configured and dramatically lighted to allow the glass sculptures to blaze with luminescence in a way they have not been seen before. Some of the highlights include the artist’s earlier works, among them Cylinders and Baskets from the 1970s, Seaforms, Persians and Macchia from the 1980s.

Macchia, you ask? In 1981, Chihuly developed a method of using layers of white to separate colors on interior and exterior surfaces, which produced spots of vibrant color. They were titled “Macchia,” Italian for “spotted,” and are often displayed in large groupings called Macchia Forests.

In 1974, Chihuly discovered how to form hot glass into the shape of a cylinder. Its simplicity made a perfect canvas for drawings in glass, influenced by his interest in Navajo textiles, and designs from his own extensive collection of American Indian Trade Blankets (Pendleton). These became the Navajo Blanket Cylinder series, which are so well connected to the FAC’s American Indian art collection.

His work is strongly autobiographical, as can be seen in his fascination with abstract flower forms, for example, which relate to his mother’s lush gardens in Tacoma. And his Baskets and Seaforms allude to his childhood there and love of the sea.

With his creations showcased in more than 200 world-renown museums from the Metropolitan to the Louvre, Dale Chihuly has single-handedly elevated the development of glass from mere craft into fine art. He’s done so in spite of accidents involving a head-on collision that left him blind in one eye, and another that dislocated his right shoulder. Unable to hold the glass-blowing pipe, the 73-year-old artist now works with teams of master glassblowers and assistants to bring his designs and visions to life, and sees them from different perspectives. “Once I stepped back, I liked the view,” he has said.

Chihuly 2014 at the Denver Botanic Gardens presents the Rocky Mountain Region’s first outdoor exhibition of the artist’s work, June 14-November 30. It will feature a variety of stunning sculptures that range in size and style from small water floats to the 30 ft. Saffron Tower, arranged in 12 installations throughout the flora, paths and ponds that make up the Garden’s 24-acre urban oasis.

But for a magical experience, you absolutely won’t want to miss Chihuly Nights, when the sculptures are illuminated for an incredible nighttime perspective. The special ticketed event is from October 3 to November 30 only.

The amazing retrospective at two of Colorado’s beloved locales won’t happen again anytime soon. And you may be left with hand-blown glass stars in your eyes.