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THIS IS a tale of an artist who overcame significant adversity through entrepreneurial spirit. And, with his help, of a city that overcame significant environmental adversity through art. In retrospect, it is a win-win.

Dale Patrick Chihuly, Tacoma-born 1941, American glass sculptor and entrepreneur.

The artist is Dale Chihuly. The city is the 1941 place of his birth, Tacoma, Washington. Dale attended the University of Washington, Seattle, where in 1961 he learned the art of melting and fusing glass. Travels to Florence, Italy, and to the Middle East enriched his love of the genre.

A Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Washington came in 1965. Chihuly continued studies in glass blowing with a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin, Madison, the first university in the U.S. with such an arts program. A Master of Science degree in sculpture followed at this institution in 1967; a year later, he was awarded a Master of Arts degree in sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design. Then a Fulbright Fellowship gave Chihuly opportunity to study in Murano, an island in Venice renowned for its glass-blowing art.

In 1971, Chihuly co-founded the Pilchuck Glass School near Standwood, Washington. He also founded the Hilltop Artists Program in Tacoma.

In 1976, his life took a tragic turn in a car accident in England. Chihuly’s face was severely cut and he was blinded in his left eye. Three years later, he dislocated his right shoulder in a bodysurfing accident.

No longer able to maneuver the glass blowing apparatus, Chihuly trained others to do so with his guidance. “Once I stepped back,” he said, “I enjoyed the view…. more choreographer than dancer, more supervisor than participant, more director than actor.”

Chihuly Bridge Of Glass, 12 note cards and envelopes, six images. The Bridge of Glass’s Crystal Towers are made of Polyvitro, a weatherproof polyurethane.

Chihuly’s art business model has been a successful one. The Seattle TImes reported his estimated sales by 2004 as $29 million. Since then, his glass art has appeared in locales as varied as Kew Gardens, London; Coral Gables, Florida; San Francisco; Nashville; Boston; Dallas; and Montreal. There’s a permanent Chihuly installation in the Cerritos, California, Library. One of his art bowls can been seen in the living room of Fraser TV reruns.

Chihuly Bridge of Glass is a pedestrian bridge (and open-air gallery) spanning Interstate 705 in Tacoma, Washington. The city’s Museum of Glass is at one end.

Chihuly’s affinity for Tacoma is displayed by the Bridge of Glass. Described in as a “stunning link to the Thea Foss Waterway and the Museum of Glass,” this 500-ft. pedestrian bridge contains three Chihuly glass installations. Partially covered, the footbridge spans Interstate 705 and connects downtown Tacoma with its Museum Row.

Above, the “Seafoam Pavilion” ceiling framing the Crystal Towers. Below, a detail of “Seafoam Pavilion.”

One of the installations, “Seaform Pavilion,” suspends 2364 pieces of marine-inspired art above the walkway. Toward the center of the bridge, “Crystal Towers” consists of two 40-ft. structures likened to turquoise rock candy. The towers are made of 63 pieces of Polyvitro, a polyurethane material known for its durability. Closest to the museum is a “Venetian Wall,” an 80-ft.-long installation housing 109 examples of Art Deco glassworks.

Above, the Bridge of Glass’s Venetian Wall. Below, the Venetian Wall, the Crystal Towers, and downtown Tacoma in the background.

The Museum of Glass and Bridge of Glass are exemplary urban renewal. In 1991, Tacoma acquired 27 acres along its downtown waterfront, what had been considered one of the country’s most polluted Superfund sites. The city, federal agencies, and some 70 companies came up with more than $100 million to remedy matters.

Initially, its developers saw the museum as showcasing Chihuly’s artwork. Chihuly persuaded them to feature the works of glass artists from around the world. The three permanent installations on the Bridge of Glass are Chihuly’s contribution as well as his way of welcoming visitors to Tacoma’s Museum Row.

Let’s celebrate the man, his art, and its beneficial effect on urban civility. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2018

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