Volume 36, Issue 7, July 2001

The Art of Dale Chihuly
Reaching the Glass Industry Worldwide
by Dez Farnady

I went to the San Jose Art Museum to see the Chihuly exhibit, my first trip there in a long time. I was struck immediately by the miles of storefront grid-work that obscured my work—I mean, with all of that metal, who is going to see the tempered logo I designed, hidden in the lower corners of the sidelites and doorlites? The nearly 20-feet wide and 10-feet high, half-circular, 3/14-inch heavy glass window we sweated over is now obscured completely by plants in the Cathedral Court. We were only hoping the small scratch in the corner wouldn’t get discovered; we never did have to replace it. But now you can’t even see the window, much less any scratches. And that’s what happens to most of my glasswork. 

Art Glass Fantastic
Only rare glass fanatics with Dale Chihuly’s conviction get an entire exhibit dedicated to their work. If you want to see something unusual to the point of fantastic, go see the work of American glass artist Dale Chihuly wherever you can find it. You will see things done in glass that you’ve never imagined. The stuff is colorful, overwhelming and sometimes bizarre. Conventional forms convulse with colorful glass tubes wrapped around like snakes, while pointed spines in all the colors of the rainbow protrude randomly. Standard glass bowl and bottle forms feature multi-colored, mini mosaic-like surfaces over clear and colored glass before they are distorted into a variety of scalloped shells. The amber tubes of his kelp forest cling together to form a glass plant creation that does not need its plastic-looking fish to make an impact. The enormous chandelier-like hanging flower forms would give new inspiration to the Phantom of the Opera. If it were anything but glass some of this stuff would just look tacky.

Great art, I don’t know. But then with great art nobody knows until we have all been dead for a hundred years. But great art is not the issue, in spite of the big deal museums, galleries and collectors make of it. What means something to me as a glass guy and art fan are the comments made by the craftspeople and artisans Chihuly has worked with throughout his travels and exhibitions. In Ireland, Italy and in shops around the world, wherever he needs the help of local glass-blowers and craftspeople, he expands creative horizons. Suddenly, the artisans (who have for generations made the same standard shapes and forms for utilitarian objects) experience a new creative freedom with the same old glass they have come to know so well in their everyday lives. This may not make for more Chihulys in the world but may very well inspire and improve the design of everyday glassware. 

Endless Possibilities

Looking at the body of work represented at the San Jose exhibit, I was more impressed with what glass could do than with what the artist did. But, I will be the first to admit that without the experiments and designs of artists like Chihuly, we wouldn’t have the kind of feeling about glass that this work can create. He stretches our imagination and makes glass a living, squirming organism that is then petrified as it cools in his hands. Of course, my perspective is colored by the fact that I have depended on glass for my livelihood for the last quarter century. I am no different than the guy in the shop blowing bottles or the one in the factory making glassware or the one overseeing the float line in some monster plant that makes glass by the ton. We are the invisible members of the glass industry and Dale Chihuly is the visible one. We make glass to be used and looked through; he to amaze, admire and observe. 

Dez Farnady serves as general manager of Royalite Manufacturing Inc., a skylight manufacturer in San Carlos, California. His column appears monthly.


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