Dale Chihuly is an American glass sculptor whose environmental artworks and installations have led to a revival of glass as a medium. He established the glass program in Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and cofounded the Pilchuck Glass School in his native Washington State. Behind his breathtaking and vibrant masterpieces, here are the following facts:
1. The deaths in Chihuly’s family shattered his ordinary post-war childhood.
- He reacted terribly to the passing of his father and only brother. He was arrested for breaking police car windows and streetlamps. He joked that these were his first works in glass.
- He and his mother went into debt, and Chihuly worked at a meatpacking plant to support his family. He alluded to this period of his life in “Glass Environment #3” where hanging glass objects were spray-painted red.
2. He discovered glassblowing through a weaving project.
- Chihuly was assigned to combine fibers with a different material, for his woven window hangings. Drawn to stained glass windows at cathedrals, he decided to incorporate glass into his work to give conventional tapestry a quality of luminosity.
- Inspired by a poster he had of a glassblower with cheeks puffed, he dipped a pipe into some melted stained glass and blew a bubble. From that moment, he decided he wanted to pursue glassblowing.
3. He had other trades aside from glassblowing.
- He majored in interior design and architecture. He made his own furniture and even remodeled the basement of his mother’s house.
- After discovering his true passion, he worked for six months as a commercial fisherman to raise the money for graduate school.
4. He was an activist against the Vietnam War, invasion of Cambodia, and Kent state killings.
- When he was teaching at RISD, he helped assemble marches and a student protest that shut down the campus.
- He collaborated with several people to erect a billboard and a glass sculpture containing strong anti-war statements.
5. He wears an eyepatch.
- He sustained deep cuts to his face and lost sight in his left eye after a car crash that sent him through his windshield. The accident also affected his perception of depth.
- Due to the challenges caused by the accident, the way he worked radically changed. Since he no longer felt safe working with hot molten glass, he opted to direct his team of glassblowers instead of working hands-on.
6. He changed the art of glassblowing through collaborative effort.
- Even before the accident, he worked with other artists, breaking the tradition of glassblowing as a solitary craft. As a director of a team, he was able to expand his works to a much larger scale and push the boundaries of glass to new heights.
- His team is also responsible for transporting and installing the artworks for various exhibitions worldwide. They have perfected the process of shipping and have a glass breakage rate of less than one percent.
Despite its fragile nature, Dale Chihuly has made a strong impact in the art world with his blown glass creations. He has revolutionized the potential of glass as a medium and his works are truly one-of-a-kind.