A few months ago, I went to the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix, Arizona. I play golf at Papago Golf Course a lot, and it is close to the Desert Botanical Garden. But this time I went to see some artwork that was on display. Dale Chihuly, known for his incredible blown glass masterpieces, had several pieces on display at the Desert Botanical Garden from November of last year through May of this year. It was fun to see the work up close and personal, and even better to see it both during the daylight and after the sun went down. I have seen his work in other places, like at the The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis and at the Bellagio in fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada. But this time was different… It was in my back yard. I was so impressed I reached out to Dale for an interview. It is my pleasure to introduce you to the one… The only… Dale Chihuly.
How did you first get into glass blowing? What inspired you to get started?
While incorporating glass into tapestries, I also developed a way to melt and fuse the pieces of colored glass together with copper wire, which I could then weave into the fabric. One night, I melted a few pounds of stained glass in one of my kilns and dipped a steel pipe into it. I blew into the pipe and a bubble of glass appeared. I had never seen glassblowing before. My fascination for it probably comes in part from discovering the process that night by accident. From that moment, I became obsessed with learning all I could about glass.
I received a B.A. in Interior Design from the University of Washington in 1965, which is the year I blew my first glass bubble. From there I went to the University of Wisconsin and learned from Harvey Littleton – who started the Studio Glass movement in 1962 – and after that attended Rhode Island School of Design to get my MFA. I was awarded the Fulbright Fellowship, which allowed me to go to Italy to work in the Venini factory. When I arrived back in the United States, I worked to establish the glass program at RISD and ended up teaching there for 11 years.
You have work all over the world. Is it possible to pick a favorite piece?
It is difficult to pick a favorite – I’ve had the opportunity to work in so many wonderful locations around the world. Perhaps the next installation will be my favorite.
What is your favorite color to work with?
I don’t have a favorite color – I’ve been known to say I never met a color I didn’t like.
We just saw your exhibit at the Desert Botanical Gardens in Phoenix, Arizona. Did you build those pieces for that exhibit, or did you already have some of those completed? I love the boat, by the way!
The exhibition includes new, site-specific installations as well as early works representing the breadth and scope of my vision over the last four decades.
How do you transport this stuff? Some of these pieces are massive.
The artwork is packaged in Tacoma, Washington. Many boxes with individual elements are shipped to a museum, gallery or garden and my team installs the artworks on site.
You wear an eye patch. What happened?
In 1976, while in London, I was in an automobile accident, which left me without sight in my left eye.
If I wanted to learn how to blow glass like this, where would I begin?
There are a lot of community centers which offer glassblowing instruction – I would start there!
What’s next for Dale Chihuly?
I just unveiled The Sun in London’s Berkeley Square this past week and I have upcoming gallery shows at Arthur Roger (New Orleans) and Pismo (Denver) along with a garden exhibition at Denver Botanic Gardens.