A Glass Act
A stunning collection by world renowned artist Dale Chihuly is making waves in downtown St. Petersburg
The work of renowned Seattle glass artist Dale Chihuly can be found in the collections of more than 200 museums worldwide, including the Smithsonian and the Louvre, but it is here along the waterfront of downtown St. Petersburg that he chose to open his first permanent gallery. The Chihuly Collection is a 10,000-square-foot shrine to the art of one of the world’s most recognized names in glass, featuring 16 installations containing thousands of pieces of glass.
In its first year since opening in July of 2010, the Chihuly has attracted some hundreds of thousands of visitors. Owned and operated by the Morean Arts Center, the Chihuly joins the new Dali Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts as the Holy Trinity of art in downtown St. Petersburg.
“The Chihuly has made a big impact in our community since opening,” says executive director of Visit St. Petersburg/Clearwater and one of the area’s biggest tourism boosters. “It’s been a huge asset, not only bringing in tourists to the area but also glass artists from across the country. When you add in the Dali Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts, and the performing arts like the Mahaffey and Ruth Eckerd Hall, we’ve become a cultural mecca.”
A Chihuly Primer
Dale Chihuly’s avant-garde works have been rocking the glass art world since he co-founded the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington in 1971. His series of Baskets, Persians and Seaforms are celebrated for their intrinsic organic qualities. But Chihuly is also renowned for large architectural installations such as Chihuly Over Venice (1995), when he installed glass sculptures over the canals and piazza of Venice.
The artist’s fondness for nature is evident in his “glass gardens,” temporary outdoor installations with a myriad of floral or botanical pieces sprouting from the ground, floating in water or hanging from trees. One such exhibit was installed in the Royal Botanic Gardens near London, others have been at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington DC, the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix and the Tower of David in Jerusalem.
Visiting the Collection
The Chihuly Collection – and the gallery itself – are nothing less than spectacular. Thanks to Tampa architect Alberto Alfonso, founding principal and president of Alfonso Architects, the visitor is welcomed into a sensual environment that flows seamlessly between mini galleries. Alfonso worked intimately with Chihuly to design an architectural showcase, incorporating natural elements of pine, oak and stone from the artist’s home state. In the dimly lit galleries, spot lighting is strategically placed to play up the brilliant colors and offer reflections of dazzling interplay.
The brilliant orange Persians mounted along one wall is a joyous study in color and movement. In Mille Fiori, Chihuli presents an indoor garden filled with Medusa-like tendrils and spikes in brilliant colors reaching for the sky.
Chandeliers are epic masterpieces often incorporating hundreds of hand-blown pieces of swirling tendrils and bulbous orbs into massive hanging cornucopias. There are three in the Collection to admire. Float Boat, a beached wooden rowboat filled with glass globes of every size and color, is a favorite of many, as is the Persian Ceiling, a glass hallway through which visitors look up to find a mesmerizing assortment of colorful glass reminiscent of an underwater garden filled with sea life.
Visitors should plan a full afternoon or morning to fully enjoy the Chihuly Collection; begin by watching the short video in the welcome center. Docent-led tours begin every hour on the half hour (no tours on Saturday and Sunday however docents are on hand). After your tour, head over to the Glass Studio and Hot Shop where you can learn how glass art is made by watching live demonstrations by skilled artisans.
Studio and Hot Shop
A visit to the Morean Arts Center’s Hot Shop and Glass Studio is a fine add-on to a visit to the Chihuly Collection. Local glass artisans present live narrated demonstrations from 1 to 5 pm daily, in which you can watch the process of glass-making from start to finish.
You can even try making your own glass art in a Personal Glass Experience where $75 will get you a half-hour lesson and a take-home piece. If you’re more serious about learning the art of glass, classes and workshops are offered through the Morean Arts Center.
“Not long ago, we were promoting world-class beaches as our No. 1 attraction,” says D.T. Minich. “Now we are promoting world-class beaches AND world-class art.”
The Chihuly Collection is at 400 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg; the Hot Shop and Glass Studio is at 719 Central Ave. Call 727-822-7872 or go to www.chihulycollectionstpete.com for tickets prices and more information.
By Marcia Biggs photos provided by the Morean Art Center
Article written for Destination Tampa Bay magazine