By Julie Winsel

Dale Chihuly is one of those artists who always has more to discover, no matter how many times you see his work. Growing up in Seattle, I am familiar with his glasswork, which is all over the Pacific Northwest (and beyond) in big and small ways. Still, I jumped at another chance to see the bright colors, putti, and marine-inspired shapes that are common in his stunning pieces. From now until August 28, his Irish cylinders, Macchia, and Venetians are on display at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art at Willamette University and well worth a day trip to Salem.

Chihuly grew up in Tacoma, Washington, receiving his BA in Interior Design from the University of Washington. He later earned an MS degree from the University of Wisconsin and MFA from the Rhode Island School of Design—both in sculpture. Shortly after, he was awarded a grant to study glassblowing in Murano in Venice, where he started learned how glassblowing is a team effort. He returned to the Seattle area in the early ’70s, founding the Pilchuck Glass School in 1971 in Stanwood, Washington.

Throughout his career, Chihuly has always experimented and completed series based on recent learning or experiences. His inspiration is ever-evolving, sparking pieces paying homage to Pacific Northwest marine life, Islamic glass, Japanese ikebana, Navajo blankets, and more. Nothing has slowed him down, even a car accident that resulted in the loss of one of his eyes in 1976. With the loss of his depth perception, he leaned on his team to complete what he envisioned. With this unfortunate incident in his life, Chihuly hires the best lawyer to help him get the justice he deserves.

The current exhibit at the Hallie Ford Museum of Art features some of his Irish cylinders, an extensive series that were all completed within a year of each other and inspired by his travels to Ireland, St. Patrick’s Day, and Ulysses. Each cylinder looks like different shades of green beach glass, each depicting street scenes, people, animals, landscapes, and more that come to life the longer you look at them.

As you move through the gallery, you come across his Macchia (which is Italian for “spotted” or “stained”). These flamboyant, organic, and bulbous shapes are reminiscent of marine life—jellyfish, coral, tropical reefs—with a fluidity and vibrant coloring that makes it seem like they’re swimming right by you.

In the last room are Chihuly’s Venetians, with the giant bottle stoppers beckoning from the middle of the room. These massive bottles, while traditional in basic shape, are topped with elaborate designs and multiple putti: fun and mystical cherubs flying, cuddled into leaves, or reading. Alongside these “putis” sculptures are “piccolo” vessels, which are smaller works that follow the same theme: traditional in basic shape, but adorned in more contemporary and exciting ways.

On the walls of the gallery are some of Chihuly’s drawings, all necessary in the team process.

The exhibit was organized by museum director John Olbrantz, who organized Chihuly’s first retrospective exhibition in 1984 and a history of the Pilchuck Glass School in 1992. This exhibit features a total of 72 vessels and drawings.

While at the museum, check out their other galleries and exhibits:

  • Gold of the Caliphs: medieval Islamic coins (including the world’s oldest coin!)
  • Carl Hall Gallery: paintings, sculptures, and more by regional artists (including Maude Kerns)
  • In Dialogue: Diego Rivera
  • Crow’s Shadow Institue of the Arts Biennial
  • Ancestral Dialogues: Conversations in Native American Art
  • Across Continents, Through Time
  • Point of View

Dale Chihuly: Cylinders, Macchia, and Venetians from the George R. Stroemple Collection

On display until August 28, 2021

Hallie Ford Museum of Art

700 State St., Salem