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Sketched May 8 and 9, 2012
boxedspires-m.jpgDale Chihuly’s bright and colorful glass artwork, usually displayed in temporary exhibits around the world, has found a permanent home at Seattle Center, where the “Chihuly Garden and Glass” exhibition opens Monday.
I’ve been aware of Chihuly’s glass art since moving to the area six years ago, but I didn’t really know what to make of it. Like with any tangible creation, nothing compares to seeing it in real life to begin understanding what the artist is trying to do.
I was recently allowed to roam the exhibition while glass spires were still being unboxed and cleaners were mopping the floor.
As I wandered around, I remembered the Fun Forest rides that I sketched here just two years ago. Everything looks so different now — and also quieter.
The giant outdoor sculptures in the garden, even if only partially visible to people outside the enclosed space, add an exhuberant touch of color to a city that can often feel so gray.
One of them is a radiant sun that towers over a mound of black mondo grass. It brought to mind flashes of Joan Miró’s surrealist shapes and colors. The Catalan painter and sculptor wasn’t a favorite for me growing up in Barcelona but I later came to appreciate his work. Perhaps Chihuly will also grow on me over time?
The sun sculpture, which is 16-feet in diameter, was definitely my favorite among everything I saw. There is something magnetic about it that pulls you in. People outside the tree fence surrounding the garden were raising their cameras to photograph it. I even heard someone shout: “How do you get in there?”
In case you have the same question, here’s the answer: Tickets are $19 for adults, $12 for ages 4 to 12, $17 for seniors and $15 for adult King County residents.
Here are more drawings from my visit to give you an idea of what to expect:


The exhibition centerpiece is the glass house that connects the pavilion galleries with the outdoor gardens. What looks to me like thousands of red and yellow glass parasols hang from the ceiling and filter multicolored light into the room. As I knelt down to draw, some of my watercolors ended up making a mess on the floor. How timely, I thought, since I was sketching the cleaning crew in action.
Of all the wildly-shaped glass art that peppers the garden, I found the spheres particularly eye-catching. They mirror the looming Space Needle behind you, creating an image everyone will want to photograph — or even sketch.


A special treat from my early look at the galleries was watching how the glass sculptures are assembled. Chihuly’s staffers had to tie each piece individually to a metal frame, carefully positioning them to avoid gaps that would reveal the underlying structure. This chandelier previously hung over the canals of Venice, the city regarded as the European cradle of glassmaking.
Chihuly’s exhibit offers a walk-through of his entire career. Not being that familiar with his work, I appreciated the gallery that displays early works inspired by hand-woven Northwest Indian baskets.
This giant “Sea Life” sculpture stands out against the dark gallery walls, painted in what an exhibition representative described as “Chihuly Gray.” The Tacoma native, I was also told, has found inspiration from seaforms since combing the beaches of the Puget Sound as a kid.
Chihuly’s affinity with water themes is also present in this display, a wooden boat loaded with glass sculptures that reminded me of algae growing under the sea.


Chihuly’s love for glass is unquestionable, but who knew that he collected all sorts of stuff? Accordions, old cameras, ceramic dogs, bottlecap openers and other vintage items are on display at the exhibition’s restaurant, the Collections Café.
I spotted a familiar Spanish brand among the couple of hundred bottlecap openers on display in a vitrine at the entrance of the cafe. If my memory doesn’t fail me, the first beer I ever had was a Cruzcampo. I wonder if Chihuly actually used the opener to try one. They are good.
The vintage television sets at the exhibition store also seemed out of place until I was told they belong to Chihuly’s personal collection. The staff told me they will play videos about the artist.
What has drawn your attention around Seattle lately? Send me your suggestions of interesting places and people to sketch via e-mail, Facebook or Twitter. Have a great weekend!