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Tacoma, Washington: Chihuly Glass


Author: Carole Terwilliger Meyers

No longer hidden in the shadow of Seattle and Mt. Rainier, Tacoma is, like Cinderella with her missing slipper, bringing attention to itself with glass.

A visit to the city is worthwhile if just to see its new Museum of Glass, opened in 2002. The museum’s ultra modern architecture features a roof anchored on one side by a sea of bobbing crimson glass apples. Another wing is enclosed by a stunning 90-foot-tall stainless steel cone tilted at a 17-degree angle--meant to evoke the memory of the sawmill wood burners that once dotted the area.

Famous contemporary glass artist Dale Chihuly, whose dazzling and colorful oversize glass works are seen in museums throughout the world, was born and raised in Tacoma. That explains why this museum, an homage to Mr. Chihuly, is here, even though he now lives and works in Seattle.

Inside the cone, a hot shop brings together internationally recognized glass artists and resident artists to explore the dynamic medium of glass. Visitors seated in theater-style seats can watch the hot and noisy glass-making process from beginning to end, with live close-ups projected on a large overhead screen.

Though the Museum of Glass has no permanent exhibits, it does schedule many special events. Sometimes William Wilde Zeitler performs on his glass armonica, a musical instrument invented in 1761 by Benjamin Franklin. Mr. Zeitler made the instrument himself and plays it using the “wet finger around a wine glass rim” principle. Visitors will also want time in the museum store stocked with extraordinary objects, many of which are one-of-a-kind pieces designed, blown, and cold-worked in the museum’s hot shop.

More of Chihuly’s work is displayed prominently on a 500-foot-long pedestrian freeway overpass known as the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. Pedestrians pass by magnificent pieces of the master’s “Venetians” displayed in large windows, and pass under a breath-taking canopy of dangling glass sea creatures referred to as "Seaforms." The bridge, a unique piece of public art, crosses Interstate 705 between the glass museum and the Washington State History Museum, which displays the state’s largest permanent model railroad and is also well worth a visit.

More Chihuly Glass
Tacoma Art Museum. Now in its new $27 million home, this clean-lined museum displays Chihuly’s “Mille Fiori-a thousand flowers.” Bordering on gaudy, with Medussa tendrils trailing everywhere, it is a massive, vibrantly colorful glass garden in which some flowers reach more than 25 feet high. It will blow your socks off. But only through January 11, 2004, at which time it will be dismantled and returned to Chihuly’s glass archives.
Union Station. Built in 1911 by the Northern Pacific Railroad, for which Tacoma was the western terminus in 1873, this Romanesque building with a striking copper dome now serves as a federal courthouse. Its 98-foot-high rotunda is once again open to the public and is famous locally for its signature Chihuly “Monarch Window” displaying objects that also resemble giant orange California poppies.University of Washington. Across the street from the Washington State History Museum, this university’s campus library displays “Red Salmon,” an enormous hanging installation.
The Swiss pub. Chihuly liked this pub so much when it opened in 1993 that he loaned the owners eight pieces from his “Venetian” series. They are displayed atop a South African mahogany bar that was brought by sailing ship around Cape Horn in the late 1880s.
Sheraton Tacoma Hotel. A lobby display case holds an array of bowls.
Sea-Tac International Airport. A large display case on the ticketing level shows a retrospective of pieces spanning 30 years.