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The Dale Chihuly Experience

It’s common to hear that Dale Chihuly is from Tacoma. It’s less common for someone to announce that the world-renowned glass artist is actually in Tacoma, as Tacoma Art Museum did last month when it invited the press to a rare appearance by the city’s greatest art export. 

Surrounded by the art and ephemera that constitutes the current exhibit Dale Chihuly’s Northwest Experience, Chihuly himself looked like a specimen of the artist with his shock of white hair, paint-splattered shoes and eye-patch. After a brief laudatory introduction by museum director Stephanie Stebich, Chihuly addressed the press, pointing to two canoes hanging from the ceiling.

“How many of you know about Willits Brothers Canoes?” he asked to silence. “I’ve always liked canoes. Some of the most beautiful canoes ever made came from Tacoma.”

The artist proceeded to walk through his personal history, from his days as a student at Stadium High School to his discovery of glass blowing at the University of Washington up to his return to the Northwest where he embraced his role as a commercial artist after a 10-year tenure teaching at Rhode Island School of Design.

He opened the floor to questions. How has the down economy affected his sales? “It hasn’t affected my commissions very much, but things have slowed down in gallery sales.” What keeps him coming back? “Tacoma is where I was raised. I like the architecture. I like its relationship to the water.”

Then the question that had been hanging above the proceedings —along with the canoes—was asked: What will happen to Tacoma after the Chihuly Museum is opened at Seattle Center next year?

“Hopefully it will bring people,” he replied. “If they want to see that, they’ll want to come over here and see this.”

Stebich stepped in for the first time in 20 minutes. “We’re talking about ticketing, joint programming, you know, all boats rise in this type of thing. If you really know and love Dale’s work, you want to see more of it and that means you have to come to Tacoma.” 

Dale Chihuly’s Northwest Experience shows through September 21.

See more in the August 2011 issue   →