Chihuly Glass, What’s That?

Pilchuck Glass School

As a Washingtonian, that’s a question I rarely hear. Chihuly glass, made by the artist Dale Chihuly, is probably as well-known as Starbucks. Chihuly’s formations are a sight to see. They are magical, surreal, and sometimes alien. He’s had exhibitions all over the world, and permanent collections reside in countries like Kuwait, England, and Singapore.

Pilchuck Glass School
Interior display at the Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibition, Seattle, Washington. Photo credit Jay Beiler

 

In Washington, the best way to see Chihuly glass is at the Tacoma Museum of Glass and Seattle Center’s Chihuly Garden and Glass. If you are the kind of person that wants to get a better understanding of glass making and see world famous glass artists at work, I suggest a Pilchuck Glass School spring tour.

 

Pilchuck Glass School

What is Pilchuck Glass School? I’ve lived in Washington for 10+ years, as well as, 35-minutes away from the school, and never heard it mentioned. But, it’s where it all began and continues to be a sought-after destination for glass artists around the world.

In 1971, Pilchuck Glass School was founded by glass artist Dale Chihuly, and patrons Anne and John Hauberg. The campus sits on 54-acres, and has a hot shop, casting shop, flat shop, cold shop, print shop, kiln studio, as well as, a lodge with a kitchen and library, and faculty and student housing.

Its beginnings were humble. Students camped in the woods. The equipment was makeshift, and the glass inferior-quality. But, students experimented and explored glass making techniques. Chihuly’s motto was “artists teaching artists,” and soon European master glass artists visited and shared their techniques. Over the years, ideas were exchanged, and new forms of glass making emerged. Now, over 45-years later, it is a premier school for glass artists.

For the general public, they offer tours every spring, and in July have an open house.

Click here for Spring Tours dates for 2017. Click here for July Open House dates for 2017.

What can you expect on a Pilchuck Glass School Tour?

I should start off by saying I know nothing about the process of glass making or all the different artistic glass mediums, so I found the touring the facility fascinating. Also, Pilchuck is in a beautiful wooded setting, and on an 80+ degree day, it was calm and serene. The pictures below lead you on a visual tour of the campus.

Spring Tour Highlights:

  • Seeing glass artists and their teams at work in the Hot Shop. Until that moment, I hadn’t realized how much glass making, especially for large pieces, is a team effort as the glass is so heavy. Watching them fire, shape, re-fire, reshape, add, cool, the glass was mesmerizing. I could have watched them working on their glass projects all day, and there were plenty of people around to answer questions and explain what they were doing. If the artist had time, they would also chat and explain a few things.
  • Visiting the campus and seeing how far the school has come from its early days and understanding how important Pilchuck Glass School is to glass artists.
  • The Founders’ Totem pole. The tree was felled in Haines, Alaska, partially carved there, and then finished in Washington and given added glasswork touches.

Overall, I really enjoyed seeing Pilchuck Glass School and watching world famous glass artists working their craft first-hand. Also, the lunch was good with salads, sandwiches, and soup. What I felt was lacking was more in-depth education on what types of art can be made in each building. As a person who doesn’t work with glass, it would have been nice to see examples or have people on hand to explain the techniques. Also, the store was closed on Mondays, and my stepmother had envisioned going home with some keepsakes.

Spring Tour Options (Dates for 2017 are May 3 to May 7):

  • tour only
  • lunch/brunch tour
  • tea and tour
  • off the beaten path tour
  • Prices depend on age and tour

Click here for Spring Tours dates for 2017. Click here for July Open House dates for 2017.

Prices and 2017 Dates

Prices vary depending on the tour type. My stepmother and I joined the lunch tour, the cost for us was $35 each (senior/student pricing). The general price was $40 each. In 2017, the tour days are May 3 to May 7. Click here for more information on times and types of tours.

This year, the open house is July 16, from 12-5 p.m. General admission is $25, children under 5 are free. From its description, it sounds like there are more activities and hands-on displays of glass making in the buildings.

Before you go to Pilchuck Glass School I suggest watching the documentary, “Pilchuck, A Dance With Fire,” which is about the founding of the school.

4 thoughts on “Chihuly Glass, What’s That?”

  1. Great to see an amazing glass artist in Washington! I took my kids to the Corel museum of Glass in New York State and it was amazing seeing the beautiful work that these artisans create.

    Reply
  2. I just saw another Chihuly piece at the Milwaukee Art Museum last week, and I’m pretty sure there is one at the Meijer Gardens here in Grand Rapids, MI. His glass art is incredible, especially that piece on the ceiling at the Bellagio in Vegas. It would be so interesting to see where it all began!

    Reply

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