081913 Chihuly Garden/Space Needle, Seattle, WA

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I don’t recall when or how I became a fan of Dale Chihuly’s work which I find a bit odd as his is pretty much the only name I know in the world of glass-blowing.  Well, there’s Bob Snodgrass of course, and while both Chihuly and Snodgrass make bowls it’s Chihuly’s non-utilitarianism that elevates him.  Though obviously an innovator Chihuly’s brilliance is in his art, and while nobody can argue the artistic merit of Snodgrass’s work his brilliance is in his innovation.  

Perhaps you’re unfamiliar with both of them?  Have you ever been to Vegas?  Well, Chihuly is responsible for the massive, 2,100 square foot monstrosity of coloured glass that is suspended from the ceiling of the Bellagio lobby, an epic conglomeration of enormous hand-blown flowers and stems that was commissioned for a cool ten million dollars.  Not bad for a glass artist.  As to Snodgrass; have you ever been to a Grateful Dead concert?  If so, you’ll have seen Snodgrass’s work – or at least his innovations – all over the lot.

Anywho, on August 19th, 2013 m’lady and I woke up in the heart of Seattle at my buddy Evil’s place.  He has a cool job at one of those big Seattle world-domination companies and had a busy day helping to dominate said world so m’lady and I set out on our own.  Evil’s apartment was overlooking the famous Space Needle (I suppose it was the other way around) which itself was overlooking the Chihuly Garden and the Experience Music Project so we were mere steps away from a day of solid tourism.  We took those few steps and started with a Chihuly Garden/Space Needle combo ticket and headed straight into the glass museum.

The first room we entered had a large table containing bowl clusters – smaller bowls artistically matched and carefully placed inside much larger bowls – and a shelf along one wall containing single pieces.  When we had visited Chihuly’s gallery in Florida the year before we had seen some of his bowls for sale in the gift shop.  Small bowls started at about $7,000 with the large lotus-like pieces going for $30,000+.  These are big old US dollars too, so you get how expensive this stuff is.  The arrangements in this first room were quite stunning.  They were sitting out in the open and could be viewed from every possible angle, each offering a fresh perspective on the master’s use of colour and light.  We hovered and circled and scratched our chins saying things like “Hmmmm”.

Behind us a lady entered the room with her little girl, aged perhaps six.  To our horror the girl ran directly up to the open table, reached into one of the bowl clusters and plucked one of the small bowls out.  M’lady and I froze with our jaws slack; the girl’s mother barely reacted at all.

“Now honey, be careful,” she said with a voice that sounded like a shrug as she casually turned away from the kid and glanced over the pieces on the shelf.  The kid was having none of it, parading around the room with the five-figure glass orb clutched in her sticky little hands.  After a few moments the mother turned towards her daughter and reached for the bowl.  The girl squealed a bratty “Mine!” and turned away clinging tightly to her fragile treasure like it was a newfound doll in a toy store.  She wanted this thing and she was going to have it.

I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!  How could this lady not realize what was happening?  She just paid $20 to get into a glass museum, how was it possible that she could be so cavalier about this?  Almost dizzy with awe I scanned the room; won’t someone come stop this before the girl smashes this piece of art to the floor?

“Come on now, put it back,” the mom said, not seeming to care at all as she continued perusing the rest of the room like she was in a clothing store.  “No!” screamed the little monster.

Silently stammering, I was about to approach the mom when out of the corner of my eye I noticed the security guard that had been standing in the doorway flanking the two rooms the whole time.  “There’s no touching,” he said.  Somehow the lady convinced her daughter to put the glass bowl back and the little brat immediately ran towards the adjoining shelf and started picking up something else.  “Really honey, you shouldn’t do that,” said the mom as she followed, clearly just not getting it.

Once they moved on to the next room I went up to the guard, my heart pounding.  “Does that sort of thing happen often?”

“No,” he answered, a bit dazed.  “I’ve never seen anyone even touch anything, let alone pick something up.”

I told him that simply watching it had almost given me a heart attack.  He looked at me for a second.  “Yeah, maybe I should call this in,” he said, pulling out his walkie-talkie.

It actually took another room or two of art gazing before I calmed my racing heart.  Much of the indoor rooms were filled with pieces very similar to what we saw in Tampa, intricate glass chandeliers that look like frozen balloons, an alien forest of spires and petals, massive glass orbs balancing on pedestals.  It was certainly not the place for kids, though there were kids everywhere.

While the largest piece was an impressive conglomeration that hung in it’s own glass sunhouse, the main attraction was the very impressive outdoor garden.  Nestled among a who’s who of flora were Chihuly’s colourful plant-like creations, the real and the imagined blending together in an almost seamless collaboration between man and nature.  The shimmering glass augmented the wooden trees while the floating, organic lily pads added context to the bobbing, glinting orbs.  The hues were matched like a sommelier matches wine to cheese, combining the natural and artificial mediums into a singular experience.

In my reverie I wondered at what point in the museum visit the reality of what almost happened would sink in to that mother’s skull.

As I mentioned, this was a combo ticket, so after the garden we got in line for the elevator ride up Seattle’s Space Needle.  We never quite figured out why you had to pick a specific ascension time when you book the tickets as we missed our time and still got up one of the two lifts just fine.

About a third the height of the CN Tower, the Space Needle offered impressive views of the low-laying city.  We slowly walked the circumference of the viewing platform and retired inside for a drink.  M’lady enjoyed a tall Pike’s Place coffee and while I was tempted to order a Starbucks in Starbucksland I hit the bar for a beer instead.

Truly though, my favourite part of the Space Needle was a display panel in the lobby that showed the inspiration for the tower, a doodle sketched on a napkin by hotelier/visionary Edward E. Carlson.  It astounds me to this day that such a major architectural undertaking had begun with an infant-like scrawl of a stick with a rough circle on top.

To be honest, it gives me hope.

And the Jimi Hendrix pavilion?  Well, that’s another story.

The original sketch concept of the Space Needle

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