CULTURE Chihuly's Venetians Piccolos

Published on July 30th, 2015 | by Nick Stillman

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Venice comes to Tacoma with Chihuly’s Venetians and a killer party. OK, fine, I was impressed.

The press preview tour of Chihuly’s Venetians: The George R. Stroemple Collection was my first time setting foot in the Museum of Glass. Which, as someone whose diet is 50% Le Donut, 40% 1111 beer, and 10% Tacoma Farmer’s Markets, is embarrassing.

Visiting the Museum of Glass is something I’ve known I should do, that I needed to experience, but there was never that thing – that moment or event that convinced me my time had come. Now, I realize, it has arrived.

Can one be a Tacoman and have no appreciation for glass art? For me, it was only a matter of time.

Getting to know Dale

Dale Chihuly (American, born 1941) May Green Spotted Venetian with Two Putti, 1991 Photo courtesy of the George R. Stroemple Collection, a Stroemple/Stirek Collaboration

Dale Chihuly (American, born 1941) May Green Spotted Venetian with Two Putti, 1991 Photo courtesy of the George R. Stroemple Collection, a Stroemple/Stirek Collaboration

I strolled through the exhibit, nodding in what I hoped appeared a thoughtful and intelligent way, trying my best to appear professionally detached. I was “press” now after all, and I had worn my nicest shoes as a way to fool myself into believing it was true (my footwear and self-esteem are intrinsically linked, had I been wearing my running shoes I would have tried to leap the glittering Chihuly vases). But I was failing in my attempt to appreciate properly; the pieces looked similar to those lining the Bridge of Glass, sculptures I recently experienced as a blur on my very professional sprint to the museum. My opinion of those Venetian vases, for some time, has been: aesthetically diverse, expertly executed, beautiful, bongs. I was trying to unlearn this. I wanted to get glass art.

When curatorial assistant Katie Phelps began to describe the evolution of the vessels, showing us Dale Chihuly’s first from 1989, a simple vase with putti (cherubs) lining the bottom, the idea of glass art began to take shape.

“All of these are ‘hot’ sculpted,” said Katie, gesturing to the over thirty pieces that were all distinct, intricate, wild. “That means they are spontaneously sculpted on the spot, as a single piece.” She explained what this meant, describing the process of a team working together in a race against time and heat to sculpt hot glass, and I didn’t understand how human beings could have accomplished this.

Dale Chihuly (American, born 1941) Lavender Piccolo Venetian with Cerulean Lilies, 1993 Photo courtesy of the George R. Stroemple Collection, a Stroemple/Stirek Collaboration

Dale Chihuly (American, born 1941) Lavender Piccolo Venetian with Cerulean Lilies, 1993 Photo courtesy of the George R. Stroemple Collection, a Stroemple/Stirek Collaboration

“Wow,” was my professional response. I meant it. I stared at that first vase and then the ones surrounding it. The evolution was striking. From composed, almost tentative simplicity in that very first piece, to compounding vivid colors, ever more wild and daring shapes, and the inclusion of more and more delicate figures. The longer I looked, the more entranced I became. I wiggled my toes in my uncomfortable shoes. I could feel myself becoming impressed and was practically bothered by the ease of conversion.

“This is the beginning: ‘The Chihuly.’ That American style Dale Chihuly helped produce.” Katie declared.

It began, confirmed my press packet, when Chihuly received a rare fellowship to Venice in the 60s. Venice, as it turns out, knows a bit about making glass. It also has a habit of inspiring people. Very inspirational, this Venice. Chihuly returned, opened the Pilchuck School, and the beginning of the American Studio Glass Movement in the Northwest began. After a subsequent trip to Venice in 1987, Chihuly wanted to embody this Italian influence in his art. That progression – of initial inspiration in that first vase, to the evolution of the art form – is evident in this collection.

“We’re a very young museum,” said Kate, when I asked why now, when the pieces in this collection were older than the vases on the bridge. “This is our chance to tell our story again. To articulate that Tacoma and the Pacific Northwest are an epicenter of glass art. Explain who we are and why we’re important.”

And I got it; the Stroemple collection captures the essence of American glass art – it is collaborative, spontaneous, obsessive, experimental, and fun. Here was the chance to reintroduce the pieces and the art that started a movement. Here, in Tacoma.

An “epicenter,” she had said! Tacoma: more than just donuts and beer.

I actually felt ashamed, ashamed of my lack of previous appreciation for my city and the role it had played and continues to play in the art world, and of my shoes, which felt suddenly un-Tacoma and pretentious. There was nothing collaborative or fun about my shoes.

Party in the epicenter of glass art

Dale Chihuly (American, born 1941) Golden Putti Venetian with Dragon, 1994 Photo courtesy of the George R. Stroemple Collection, a Stroemple/Stirek Collaboration

Dale Chihuly (American, born 1941) Golden Putti Venetian with Dragon, 1994 Photo courtesy of the George R. Stroemple Collection, a Stroemple/Stirek Collaboration

Chihuly’s Venetians: The George R. Stroemple Collection, along with the neighboring exhibit Tools of the Trade, which showcases the process of glass art with interactive exhibits, will introduce you to something that should need no introduction to a Tacoman, but does anyway because some of you are as terrible as I am.

When you are surrounded by beauty, it can become tempting to mistake beauty for surroundings.

If you want to be reintroduced to a medium that can be overlooked because it is so easy to see, go to the MOG (this is the acronym I was unaware of until my press kit), visit the Hot Shop, visit Tools of the Trade, and see some of the work that created a “renaissance” (don’t worry, my guide didn’t laugh at this either) in Chihuly’s Venetians.

The opportunity is here, the Party at the Piazza celebrating the opening of the show on August 1 will have all things Venice – and it’s free. So not like Venice, exactly. Chihuly went to Venice and came back inspired. Now Venice is coming here – maybe check it out? Yeah. Definitely check it out.

Takeaway: Glass Art – more than just fancy bongs.

Dale Chihuly (American, born 1941) Gilded Mystic Blue Putti Venetian with Swan and Cherubs, 1994 Photo courtesy of the George R. Stroemple Collection, a Stroemple/Stirek Collaboration

Dale Chihuly (American, born 1941) Gilded Mystic Blue Putti Venetian with Swan and Cherubs, 1994 Photo courtesy of the George R. Stroemple Collection, a Stroemple/Stirek Collaboration

Here are the facts. People like facts.

What: The release of Chihuly’s Venetians: The George R. Stroemple Collection, and one hell of a party involving edible glass and non-edible magicians named, aptly, Party at the Piazza.
When: Exhibit opens July 25 and runs through January 4, 2016, the Party at the Piazza is August 1, 10 am – 9 pm.
Where: The Museum of Glass and, the party is at, well, the Piazza.
Why/How?: Be reintroduced to glass art, be inspired. Venice inspired Chihuly, Chihuly inspired Tacoma, and now it’s time for one big inspirational party. Magicians!

Museum of Glass
1801 Dock Street
Tacoma, WA 98401

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About the Author

Nick Stillman

Nick is a writer of science fiction and non-science fiction and a maker of non-fictional coffee. He spends most of his time being divorced and confused and catless in his Hilltop apartment. To read more by Nick, please hop in your time machine and proceed to a date when he’s feeling confident enough to finish his website.



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