In this, the first article in a new series of bringing our community’s cultural resources to our readers, SOMI Magazine is pleased to begin in a very big way with a world-renowned artist presenting his work in a world-renowned garden. We took a media tour to the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden to enjoy the ethereal blown glass and polymer work of Dale Chihuly in this, his most comprehensive garden exhibition to date. The show (December 6, 2014 – May 31, 2015) draws on his extensive body of work, along with a new piece, Sol del Citron. The blend of art and nature is spectacular and there are night time tours once a week in which to enjoy Chihuly’s use of neon.
Dale Chihuly graciously consented to be interviewed by SOMI Magazine.
SOMI: What got you interested in working with glass as an art form?
DC: While incorporating glass into tapestries in a weaving course at the University of Washington, 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.
In addition, there are only a few translucent materials light can go through and glass is one of those. Imagine entering Chartres Cathedral and looking up at the Rose Window where one can see a one-inch square of ruby red glass from 300 feet away. I have always been attracted to the way light passes through glass.
SOMI: Those of us in South Florida take great pride in the Fairchild. Can you tell our readers about your impressions of the Garden?
DC: I was pleased to be able to return to Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden with the most comprehensive exhibition of my work ever presented in a garden. The lush plantings and tropical setting at Fairchild provided great inspiration and such a beautiful environment and many wonderful opportunities for me to exhibit my work.
SOMI: Were you personally responsible for choosing the artwork? Were you responsible for the placement of each piece?
DC: I work with my team of course, but I’m always the one who chooses what works of art will go into an exhibition. When I design an exhibition, we work with a site plan here in my Studio in Seattle, Washington, to decide where the installations will go. Since I’d been to Fairchild many times, I was very familiar with the garden and knew where I wanted to site the major installations.
Again I work with my team, but ultimately I decided where the artwork would be placed in and around the garden.
SOMI: Can you describe how large-scale pieces are made and assembled in glass and polymer?
DC: First, we blow the glass at the Boathouse, which is my hotshop and studio on Lake Union in Seattle. Next, we bring all the individual elements to the mock-up facility in Ballard – a Seattle neighborhood. All of the works are mocked up life size, photographed, taken apart and sent to an exhibition, gallery, private home or corporate setting and then re-assembled again. But they’re not re-assembled in the same way they were the first time normally. We don’t number the parts. Each time it goes up, it goes up a little differently.
SOMI: When we visited the exhibition we were impressed not only with the art but with the way in which many of the monumentally large pieces were installed. Can you tell us a little about this?
DC: We shipped eight 53-foot containers from Tacoma to the garden and then beginning on November 11th, fifteen members of my install team began the process of installing the artwork over a period of fifteen days. My team stays in continual contact with me throughout the process, providing me with updates and photographs so I can monitor the progress. I arrived on-site to see the exhibition fully installed just before the opening, and made a few minor adjustments – it always depends once all of the artwork is fully installed. I may or may not decide to make some changes.
SOMI: Can you give us your insights about what inspired the newest work that you installed for this exhibition?
DC: This exhibition is in essence a culmination of my work in outdoor settings. Many of the installations have been presented in different ways from previous projects but are evolved and designed to complement the tropical setting. For example I created a new Sun installation that we titled Sol del Citron, using forms and colors that have never been presented before. I also redesigned a Neon installation specifically for the Garden to take advantage of the beautiful long vistas.
SOMI: Mr. Chihuly, thank you taking the time to share your thoughts with our readers. Can you tell us about your next exhibition?
DC: My next exhibition will actually in my hometown of Tacoma, Washington at the Museum of Glass. It will be the premier of my first drawing show which will be on-view March 1 – June 30, 2015.
Chihuly’s art is placed all around the property and whether you go by tram or on foot, each installation works seamlessly within the natural environment of the garden. Some pieces are so integrated, that you might think that they were always there, always a part of the landscape. There is a magical quality when Chihuly and Fairchild get together.
Dr. Carl Lewis, Fairchild Director said, “Each year, our Garden is transformed into a unique natural gallery where extraordinary works of art are intermixed with spectacular tropical foliage. Our landscape, meticulously designed to showcase the best of the natural world, melds beautifully with artistic expression. This year, we are pleased to have renowned American artist Dale Chihuly unveil his most comprehensive garden exhibition to date.”
Bruce Greer, President of Fairchild’s Board of Trustees said, “We are so thrilled to have the greatest glass artist of all time choose to come to Fairchild, one of the great botanic gardens.”
CHIHULY AT FAIRCHILD On exhibition, now through May 31, 2015 The Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden is located at 10901 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables, Florida 33156. For more information, visit www.fairchildgarden.org.