Friday, March 14, 2014

My love affair with blown glass.

There's something about blown glass that intrigues me. It's like the ocean -- fluid, changing. It looks different as the light changes. I like how the basic elements of glassblowing haven't changed in 2,000 years. It's still just fire, movement, gravity and centrifugal force. I probably should collect blown glass. Or maybe I already do?

The first time Dave and I went to Venice together, in our 20s, we were so overwhelmed by the amount and variety of glass that we didn't buy any. When we went back for our 10th anniversary we visited the island of Murano, where Venetian glassblowing has taken place since it was banished there in the 13th century for fear of burning down the city of Venice. We made a point to pick up a significant piece, hand carried it back, and it's been displayed in our bedroom ever since.

Our family makes an annual trek to the Cohn Stone Studios in Richmond each fall to see the glass pumpkins and we often stay a few hours, unable to pull ourselves away from the talented tradespeople creating the pumpkins before our very eyes.

I remember looking long and hard at the blown glass jellyfish in Hawaii, fascinated that such a delicate animal could be replicated in glass.

While we were on the cruise in Mexico two Thanksgivings ago I listened to a speaker on a glassblower who creates in the style of waves. While this particular style of blown glass wasn't to my taste, it was an interesting talk and fascinating to learn about the techniques used to create this kind of art.

And recently I read a mediocre piece of historical fiction called The Glassblower of Murano, where I learned that huge glass chandeliers are transported hung in large vessels of water. It makes sense once you think about it.

Given all this, it's no surprise that Eldest Daughter and I visited the Chihuly Gardens in Seattle when we were there in January. The gardens are just 18 months old and include both indoor and outdoor space. Look at the floral piece in the photo above. It's 100 feet long and made up of 1,400 different pieces. This space, called the Glasshouse, must be available for event rentals. The Gardens contain eight galleries which are dark except for the art, lit all different ways.

Dale Chihuly is Seattle native, best known for his large-scale installations. That humongous floral chandelier in the Bellagio hotel? That's Chihuly. We also saw four of his pieces in the casino at Atlantis. Strangely, the largest public display of his work is in Oklahoma City. Inexpensive land? He also went to school at my alma mater, the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Once you get a visual grasp on how large his works are, you understand why he established the team approach to glass blowing. It would be interesting to know how it's all assembled so that the pieces don't break.

I look at the purple glass below and wonder how the glass doesn't break when it's very windy outside. I will be back in Seattle for a week this summer and plan to return to the Gardens so I can take my time through it.

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