Read more about Tacoma Museum of Glass and Dale Chihuly at

Tacoma Museum of Glass and Dale Chihuly

I'm not moved by paintings - they're so two-dimensional. It's always been the three-dimensional pull of sculpture, and particularly anything in glass. Translucent colors form rainbows, liquid shapes flow across space, and I am lured by the depths within depths.

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Blown Glass History

Although artists have worked in glass for thousands of years most of the accolades have gone to the community of artists on the island of Murano in the Venetian lagoon, and more recently to the mosaics creations of Louis Comfort Tiffany.

Blown glass, generally perceived more as a craft, hadn’t received any of the oh and ah attention it deserved until the mid 1960s when University of Wisconsin’s Harvey Littleton founded the American Studio Glass movement, introducing artists to the use of molten glass as a medium for contemporary art.

The movement leapt forward when Dale Chihuly, a student of Littleton, received a Fulbright Fellowship to study on the island of Murano in the Venetian lagoon. Chihuly was the first American glassblower to do so. The master's of Murano glass, who had jealously guarded their secrets, allowed Chihuly to learn their techniques.

Today, his work is found around the world, and the artists who have trained in his studio have spread across the country.

Murano, naturally, is home to Museo Vetrario (Glass Museum) in the Palazzo Giustinian. However, there are two museums of glass in the US, devoted to the exploration and promotion of this luminous and fluid art material - Corning Museum of Glass, and the Tacoma Museum of Glass.

Tacoma Museum of Glass

For Chihuly fans, an excellent place to experience his artistry is in Tacoma Washington, Chihuly's home city and the site of the Tacoma Museum of Glass.

Not only can visitors experience Chihuly's art, but the Museum of Glass showcases the techniques and diversity of intriguing medium, showing glass art in all its varied forms.

Main Plaza reflecting pool

With its monumental installation of Martin Blank this is a stunning and often photographed sight. In 2009, Martin Blank finished assembling his 207 foot-long outdoor glass art installation called Fluent Steps. There are 754 individually hand-sculpted clear glass pieces, most fabricated in the Museum's Hot Shop. The nine islands of glass that create an ever-changing tableaux.

Complementing this is the Water Forest by artist Howard Ben Tre – a forest of clear acrylic and bronze tubes through which water rises and falls. Walk around the through the glade for maximum effect.

The architecture is no less alluring

. Designed by Arthur Erickson, it features the unusual integration of conrete and glass - the horizontal series of platforms from the waterway to the rooftop plaza. But it is the tilted 90-foot cone is wrapped in matte finished stainless steel panels called angel hair that pulls your eye skyward. It houses the Hot Shop Amphitheater, the glass studio complete with facilities for advanced glassmaking and audience seating (with huge viewing screen for closeups) that puts visitors almost eye-to-eye with the glass artists.

Explore the exhibits

The exhibit space features works executed in glass from their permanent collection of 20th- and 21st-century glass. Docent-led tours are available, but you can also explore on your own with the interpretive text panels, interactive technology and gallery guides.

One of the more unusual and charming parts of their permanent collection is culled from their program that enables children 12 and under to design glass forms. Each month one of the designs is selected be the Hot Shop team to be realized in glass. If these are on exhibit at the time of your visit, be prepared to enjoy whimsical and delightful glass art.

Watch the artists creating their sculptures. Indulge in your fascination with glassblowing by observing the process. You’ll emerge with a great appreciation for both the amount of time, and the painstaking process. A team of artists is always on the floor (except when they take their lunch break, typically 1 to 2pm weekdays and Saturdays and 2 to 3pm on Sundays). But beyond just watching there’s an interpreter who explains the process, the art, the science and the history of making glass. Visitors even have an opportunity to ask questions. If you can’t make it to the museum - watch the Hot Shop Live

Read more about Tacoma Museum of Glass and Dale Chihuly at

Stroll the Bridge of Glass

The famous Chihuly Bridge of Glass is a 500-foot pedestrian bridge linking the museum to downtown Tacoma. It incorporates three installations.

The Venetian Wall greets you as you traverse the Bridge going into Tacoma. This eighty-foot installation displays 109 sculptures from three of Chihuly's series: Venetians, Ikebana, and Putti. The Museum of Glass describes the Venetian Wall as: a collection of some of the largest blown-glass works executed in the history of the medium.

Next, come the Crystal Towers rising forty feet above the bridge deck. At night their illumination causes a blue glow as the 63 large crystals are lit from below. Reminiscent of huge chunks of ice they are a total counterpoint to the delicacy of Chihuly's other forms.

Finally, get ready to gaze upwards for my favorite part of the Bridge a ceiling made of 2,364 objects from Chihuly's Seaform and Persian series. These colorful fluid forms are suspended in midair (placed on a clear plate glass ceiling). The effect is bit like walking under sea creatures.

If all this makes you want to try your hand at glass art, you’re in luck. The Museum of Glass offers workshops all year long. There's also a full program of regular and special events. Check the calender when planning your visit.

Do not forget to visit the gift shop to take home a piece of glass art. I brought home a whimsical wine bottle stopper that is a reminder of my visit, and a reason to visit again.

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Neala McCarten

Unless otherwise indicated, all photos by the author

Updated: August 7, 2016

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