Monday, November 26, 2012

Chihuly Garden and Glass Abound in a Spectrum of Eye Candy

Purple glass spikes stand next to tree trunk in Chihuly Garden
The first time I heard of glass artist Dale Chihuly was in 1998 at the Columbus Museum of Art. Awed by his unique glass creations in a multitude of shapes and colors, I came upon his work at many venues since, some large like Phipps Conservatory in Pittsburgh, others small like the Plains Art Museum in Fargo, North Dakota.
Chihuly’s glass pieces have been so universally displayed all over the world it’s almost impossible not to come across them if you travel. They’re so ubiquitous, I almost started to take them for granted - until I visited Chihuly Garden and Glass, which opened in the shadow of the Space Needle in Seattle on May 21st.
Billed as the most comprehensive exhibition of the Washington-based artist’s work ever assembled, the Chihuly experience takes place indoors in eight separate galleries and a 40-foot tall Glasshouse and outdoors in a lush garden, where glass competes with and compliments the trees, shrubs and flowers, all native to the West Coast. On a tour of the galleries with exhibitions coordinator, Hillary Lee, I learned that the collection represents 50 years of Chihuly’s art and is shown progressively, one stage influencing the next. As we walked from gallery to gallery, all purposely dimly lit except for the brilliantly illuminated glass, I discovered that each room dazzles in its own way, starting with the Glass Forest in Gallery One, a breathtaking curtain raiser made up of his early thin, wispy and undulating glass stems and pods.
Majestic in its sheer size and burst of color, the 15-foot tall Sea Life Tower in Gallery Three is made up of over 1,000 individual glass pieces. On the walls, charcoal sketches of individual pieces show the works in their conceptual state.
Equally impressive is the Persian Ceiling in Gallery Four, where 1,375 glass pieces inspired by Middle East glass from the 12th to 14th centuries, are a reflection of the artist’s Persian series, begun in 1986.
"Putti [chubby, naked child-angels} are the only figurative pieces in the installation, and this is the only room painted white in order to have the light play on the colored pieces," said Lee. "The walls in the other galleries are charcoal gray."
The largest gallery, Mille Fiori, or a thousand flowers, is a sea of color with green grass clusters, red spears and yellow and gold "Persians, while the Float Boat Gallery is a carnival 90 globes that fill a canoe.
"Chihuly got the idea for putting glass pieces in a boat while preparing for a show in Venice," Lee said. "He put the pieces in the river, then had children in a boat collect them. While watching them return, he got the idea for the installation."
For some, the showstopper experience comes in the Glasshouse where a 100-foot long glass sculpture, one of Chihuly’s largest suspended sculptures, is a riot of reds, oranges, yellows and ambers with 1,340 pieces held together on five separate steel arms.
My personal favorite spot was the one and a half acre garden outside, where the glass works are installed to look like they grew upwards from the ground just like the varied horticultural plantings. While some oohed and aahed at the 31-foot tall Citron Icecycle Tower, I took special pleasure in long, violet glass spikes that surrounded a massive section of a fallen log from Olympia National Forest complete with dark red, almost black, glass seal pups.
The Center offers a complimentary audio tour in which visitors can listen to Chihuly and others talk about what inspired his art and the process with which it was created. Spotlight Talks which give greater depth into the galleries, garden and Glasshouse are offered every half hour.
Last summer, visitors could return at 8 p.m. the evening of their visit to see the garden lit at night by nearly 200 lights plus another 180 in the Glasshouse. The evening experience is always available but not always with the reentry option.
If You’re Going
For more information, phone 206-753-4940 or
For a Place to Dine, the Collections CafĂ©, 3405 Harrison St. in Seattle, is an integral part of the Chihuly Garden and Glass and takes its name from the array of items on display from Dale Chihuly’s personal collections.
The exhibits start with a series of blown up post cards of glass conservatories near the entrance (the one of the Crystal Palace in London are said to be Chihuly’s favorite) to an amazing collection of 82 accordions that dangle from the ceiling to a wall of old plastic radios to the collections under each glass topped table (mine was stocked with vintage cameras from the 1950s).
Using locally-sourced Northwest ingredients, Chefs Jeff Maxfield and Ivan Szilak serve up a cuisine that’s just as interesting as the ambiance. Some of my favorites include the watermelon salad, fresh pomegranate-basil lemonade, pepper-crusted ahi tuna sliders, grilled wild salmon and the lamb tagliatelle. Phone 206-753-4935.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Chicago - Still That Toddlin' Town

Cloud Gate at Millennium Park

The last time I was in Chicago, Millennium Park, the 24-1/2 acre state-of-the-art collection of architecture, art and landscape design that straddles Michigan Avenue in the Loop, was still under construction.
Intended to celebrate the turn of the millennium in 2000, the park was completed four years behind schedule, but has really caught on since by becoming one of Chicago’s top three attractions.
After my first, but amazing, visit to the top of Willis Tower, formerly Sears Tower, which once held the title of the world’s tallest building for 25 years and, at 110-stories, is still the tallest in the Western Hemisphere, I strolled into Millennium Park.
Located on what was once an industrial wasteland, the park offers hundreds of free cultural events, including many in the Frank Gerhy-designed Pritzker Pavilion, a colossal elliptical structure made of stainless steel.
Another popular installation, Cloud Gate, is a 12-foot tall concave sculpture with a highly polished surface that distorts the images of its surroundings. I joined the throng of visitors who walked up to and around Cloud Gate to watch their reflection change shapes, much like the trick mirrors at an amusement park or carnival.
Not to be overlooked, the Crown Fountain is made up of two, 50-foot glass block towers built at the ends of a reflecting pool. Faces of Chicago residents are projected onto the towers, and the designer positioned holes where their mouths are located to make them look like they’re spouting water.
Five acres of the park are devoted to the Lurie Garden, enclosed on two sides by a fifteen-foot tall hedge. As I made my way through the horticultural setting, I spotted a young lady crouched on her hands and knees plating bulbs.
"You’ll have to come back this spring when 100,000 of them will be in bloom," she said.
For lunch I headed across Michigan Avenue to The Gage, a gastropub with an amazing list of hand-crafted beers. I liked the lively Chicago vibe of the place named for the Gage Group of late 1800 buildings whose facades were designed by Louis Sullivan in collaboration with Holabird and Roche, a Chicago architectural firm.
A couple of Gage menu items that enticed me included mussels vindaloo mussels and a copious venison burger with all the fixings. 24 S. Michigan Avenue. Phone 312-372-4243 or
With a couple hours to spare, a friend and I popped into the Art Institute of Chicago, founded in 1879. I had no idea the place was so huge (it has eight buildings totaling a million square feet, nearly 500 employees and 300,000 works of art in its permanent collection).
For those in a hurry, the visitors guide suggests a list of 12 works that include Seurat’s "A Sunday on the Grande Jatte," Van Gogh’s "The Bedroom," Marc Chagall’s "America Windows," Dali’s "Venus de Milo with Drawers" and Grant Woods "American Gothic." Armed with the museum’s audio guide, I wandered along on my own and an hour and a half later, sensed that I had merely touched the surface of the holdings.

Staff Outside Lockwood Restaurant
 As I waited for a table at the Palmer House’s Lockwood Restaurant, I sat in the lobby, abuzz with activity, due partly to the presence of a film crew making a documentary. Sitting on a cushy sofa, I took in the eye candy of the 141 year old grand dame of a hotel’s four-diamond rated elegance. They just don’t make them like this anymore crossed my mind as I gazed at its famous frescoed ceiling.
Dinner at the Lockwood (where the brownie was invented) proved memorable from start (an amuse bouche of cauliflower mousse with foie gras) to finish (wild Alaskan halibut with trumpet mushrooms and artichokes) followed by pear fig tatin with Port  ice cream.

Pear Tatin at the Lockwood Restaurant

I ended my day with a concert by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra performing the work Beethoven considered his crowning achievement, "Missa Solemnis." The before concert lecture by William White, assistant conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony, gave me valuable insights into the work. Led by conductor Bernard Haitink with four soloists, the massive Chicago Symphony Chorus and the orchestra, the "Missa" was 90 non-stop minutes of unbridled classical music bliss.
If You’re Going
For more information on Chicago, phone Choose Chicago at 312-567-8500 or
For a place to stay, the Flemish House was built in 1892 as a single family greystone rowhouse. Located on quiet but elegant Cedar Street just off Michigan Avenue in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood, the Flemish House takes its name from the building’s exterior Flemish Revival detailing.
 The owners have chosen an English Arts and Crafts interior decor and have undertaken a sensitive restoration program since purchasing the property in 1997. Guests can choose between furnished studio, one and two bedroom apartments complete with stocked kitchens. Phone 312-664-9981 or