The main attraction of Seattle Center is the iconic Space Needle, owned managed by the Wright family, children of Howard S. Wright II who constructed it. When the opportunity to reinvigorate Seattle Center arose, the Wright family invited Dale Chihuly to present a comprehensive collection of his work. Having always loved the Space Needle, Chihuly was delighted with the opportunity to design an Exhibition Hall, a Garden installation and a Glasshouse in his own community.
The 1.5 acre, long-term Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibition opened at Seattle Center in 2012, featuring a mix of new and previously exhibited artworks. Chihuly, in collaboration with Center Art planned the exhibition, repurposing the existing building for the Exhibition Hall, adding garden space, and designing a glass house as the centerpiece of the project. Chihuly chose the specific artworks from his career to display and envisioned new sculptures for the site.
Chihuly’s work demonstrates pushing the boundaries of glass as an art medium in concept, execution and presentation. As his installations interact with light and space in a such a way that visitors who may have seen some of these pieces before will have a new experience.
Visiting Chihuly Garden and Glass
Brian and I visited Chihuly Garden and Glass while in Seattle for WordCamp. There is an audio tour available to educate you as you move through the museum about the influences and inspiration that have shaped Dale Chihuly’s art and career. We skipped the audio tour so we could talk to each other during our time at the Exhibition, and instead watched the movies in the theater about Chihuly’s working process.
As we walked through the main building, moving from room to room, the incredible glass artworks, in bold, bright colors, grab your attention and leave you in awe. The lighting highlights every complex glass twist and turn — the vibrant sculptures are truly magnificent.
We then moved into the 40-foot tall, 4,500 square foot Glasshouse, the centerpiece of Chihuly Garden and Glass. Inside, hanging from the ceiling is an enormous, 100 foot long suspended glass sculpture made of up tons of beautiful red, yellow, and orange flowers. It is absolutely stunning, and if you stand in the right spot, you can see the Space Needle behind the sculpture!
The last part of our tour was through the garden. Everywhere you look, there is something colorful and gorgeous to see. The lush, natural, organic plant landscape provides a magnificent backdrop and contrast to the glass art installations that include the Crystal and Icicle Towers, a Sun, glass balls, and sleek glass stakes.
While all of the art installations are incredible, by far, my favorite pieces are the intricate, 500-1,000 pound glass chandeliers. I just wish the kids had been with us to see them all!
About Dale Chihuly
Born in 1941 in Tacoma, Washington, Dale Chihuly was introduced to glass while studying interior design at the University of Washington. After graduating in 1965, Chihuly enrolled in the first glass program in the country, at the University of Wisconsin. He continued his studies at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he later established the glass program and taught for more than a decade. In 1968, after receiving a Fulbright Fellowship, he went to work at the Venini glass factory in Venice. There he observed the team approach to blowing glass, which is critical to the way he works today. In 1971, Chihuly cofounded Pilchuck Glass School in Washington State.
Dale Chihuly’s work is included in more than 200 museum collections worldwide, including the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento. He has been the recipient of many awards, including twelve honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Chihuly has created more than a dozen well-known series of works, including:
- Cylinders and Baskets in the 1970s
- Seaforms, Macchia, Venetians, and Persians in the 1980s
- Niijima Floats and Chandeliers in the 1990s
- Fiori in the 2000s
He is celebrated for large architectural installations. In 1986, he was honored with a solo exhibition, Dale Chihuly objets de verre, at the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais du Louvre, in Paris. In 1995, he began Chihuly Over Venice, for which he created sculptures at glass factories in Finland, Ireland, and Mexico, then installed them over the canals and piazzas of Venice.
In 1999, Chihuly started an ambitious exhibition, Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem; more than 1 million visitors attended the Tower of David Museum to view his installations. In 2001, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London curated the exhibition Chihuly at the V&A. Chihuly’s lifelong fascination for glasshouses has grown into a series of exhibitions within botanical settings. His Garden Cycle began in 2001 at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. Chihuly exhibited at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, near London, in 2005. Other major exhibition venues include the de Young Museum in San Francisco, in 2008; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, in 2011; and the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in 2013.
Know Before You Go
- Chihuly Garden and Glass is located at Seattle Center, 305 Harrison Street, Seattle, Washington 98109.
- Admission is $22 for adults, $19 for seniors, and $14 for youth. You can purchase tickets online or at the Chihuly Garden and Glass admission counter — and if you’re planning on visiting the Space Needle too, be sure to pick up a dual ticket.
- Chihuly Garden and Glass is open Sunday through Thursday from 11:00 am to 6:00 pm, and Friday through Saturday from 11:00 am to 7:00 pm.
- Near the exit of the Seattle glass blown art museum there is a small theater that shows movies about the process Chihuly uses in creating his artwork. Don’t skip the short films! They are really interesting and feature interviews, glassblowing, and onsite art installations. I really enjoyed seeing how the giant glass chandeliers are made.
- The Collections Cafe offers a fresh dining experience with craft beers, wines, soups, salads, burgers, paninis, and fries, for lunch, dinner, or an afternoon bite. Admission to the exhibition is not required for dining at the Collections Café.
- With indoor and outdoor glass sculptures and exhibits, touring the Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibition is the perfect thing to do while waiting to visit the famous Space Needle.
- The Bookstore offers a variety of books and materials relating to Dale Chihuly’s artworks and projects, including some Studio Editions and special designs by the artist. The Bookstore has also partnered with Northwest companies and many talented artisans to offer a broad selection of items that reflect the creative spirit of our region.
- The exhibition has a limited free coat check located at all entrances. All parcels, umbrellas and bags larger than 11″ x 15″ must be checked, including backpack-style child carriers. Umbrella strollers are allowed, large strollers are not.
- The average amount of time most visitors spend viewing the artwork in the Galleries, Garden and Glasshouse is 1-2 hours.
- Speaking on cell and speaker-enabled phones is not permitted in the galleries. Cell phone conversations are limited to the Gardens and we ask that you be considerate of the people around you.
- Pets are not allowed.