Chihuly Glass at Denver Botanic Gardens

Last year I wrote about the Denver Botanic Gardens after visiting in July, 2013. I've seen the gardens in various years in May, June, July, August and September. Each visit is special and different from each other. Every year Denver Botanic Gardens features a display of art throughout the gardens. This summer, DBG is featuring the art glass creations of Dale Chihuly.


I've seen Chihuly in the Gardens now in the desert spring during daylight and night at the Desert Botanic Gardens in Phoenix, during the heat of the southern summer at the Dallas Arboretum, and now in the fall at the Denver Botanic Gardens. Each time before arriving, I wonder if I will like Chihuly glass in the gardens, how I will react to it, and if it will seem commonplace or ordinary because of multiple visits. I was awed each time. The depth of color, the brilliance and creativity takes ones breath away. It is a fascinating and riveting display of color and light interposed in the gardens. Each visit is a separate experience. Climate, terrain, seasons and plant compositions all add to the singular nature of each venue and exhibit.


Chihuly's Glass in the Gardens is a result of over forty years of working with glass, exploring its possibilities and complexities. An evolution of concept, style and execution. Creating objects that resemble nature that work in nature. Water, color and space are the chief qualities that influence Chihuly in designing his glass. The way a piece responds to its surroundings is an important element in its success. While growing up, he admired his mothers large and delightful garden. Throughout his life, Chihuly stayed close to nature whenever out of the studio.

Chihuly's artistic background is evident in the placement of each piece and grouping. A degree in Interior Design and studies in architecture from the University of Washington and a Master of Art in Sculpture from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, with continued studies at the Rhode Island School of Design resulting in a MFA constitute the formal framework of his education.

At the moment he blew his first glass in his basement in 1965, he knew this was his calling. After earning money on a fishing boat during the summer of 1966 in Alaska, Chihuly then enrolled at the University of Wisconsin, Madison to study glassblowing in the first glass program in the United States. His diligence and creativity earned him scholarships, fellowships, grants and study programs home and abroad during this long learning process.


Pilchuck Pond, Chihuly’s first environmental installation at the Pilchuck Glass School he founded, was created in the summer of 1971. He later established the glass program at Rhode Island School of Design and taught there for more than a decade. After being a awarded a Fulbright Scholarship, Chihuly went to work at the Venini glass factory on the island of Murano. In England in 1976, an unfortunate auto accident caused a weeks long stay in the hospital with 256 stitches on his face, leaving him blinded in his left eye. He wears the black patch-pirate look that is familiar to us. Chihuly made many trips abroad learning an studying, including at a kibbutz in Negev Desert. 

Because of the accident, he guides and directs most of the blown objects, made by his team. Chihuly works side by side the team, describing what look he wants by drawings, paintings emails and texts and well as explanations and hand gestures. In assembling, there are no written rules in the creation of a chandelier or tower (chandeliers turned upside down). It's whatever looks good to him at the moment. The Chihuly crew have absorbed his creativity, as they work quickly and with self assurance in the installations. Chihuly credits his team for making everything possible. Each exhibit features thousands of glass pieces, all hand blown.

As I walked through the gardens, the placement of the glass works caused me to wonder time and again if Chihuly imitates nature, or does nature conform to Chihuly. A perusal of photos on Pinterst and other photo sites reinforces this thought -- the pieces are planted while plant life is young, do they grow into the shapes Chihuly has placed?

One might inquire does the glass sculpture detract from the plants and gardens? Yes and no. One's eye is immediately riveted on the sculpture, but after a time, the interplay of light, color form and texture between glass and plant is appreciated. I can only imagine much thought and planning precedes any instillation by both the Chihuly team and the botanic gardens. A symmetry of horticulture with art that produces stunning, crowd-pleasing effects.

My stay at the gardens for this visit was a mere four hours. But within that space of time, the changing light conditions, whether in angle or because of clouds or full sun, change the appearance of the sculptures in the gardens. Just as Monet never tired of painting his flowers and water lily garden in differing light conditions, the pairing of sculpture and plants captured and captivated my attention. After making the tour of the 23 acres and 45 garden areas, the conditions had altered enough that I wished to begin and tour the gardens again. Alas, time did not permit.

The Denver Botanic Gardens is the current venue for the exhibitions in gardens, Garden Cycle, which began in 2001 with Chihuly in the Park: A Garden of Glass at Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago. From Chicago, Garden Cycle has exhibited from coast to coast including Atlanta Botanical Gardens, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, Coral Gables, Florida; Missouri Botanical Gardens, St. Louis; New York Botanical Gardens; Pittsburg, Dallas Arboretum, Desert Botanic Gardens, Phoenix (2008 & 2013-2014); Columbus, Ohio, Grand Rapids, Michigan; Nashville, Tennessee and abroad at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, London (2005) and the island resort of Sentosa, Singapore (2009). Numerous other outdoor installations have been exhibited at museums and galleries here and abroad. (


A visitor to a Chihuly studio session likened the experience to what she imagined it must have been like watching Monet paint his water lily series, a glimpse of the making of a masterpiece. Chihuly has received many honors and acclaims for his innovative glass sculptures that have "blown" away the bounds on what we think of art and glass. Millions of people flock to see his exhibits, and in turn, the supporting garden or museum.

Viewing Chihuly's Garden Cycle is well worth the drive to see this magnificent display of art glass sculpture by the worlds most reknown glass artist. The emotional impact of photos can convey some of the excitement, but never near as much as seeing it in person. Chihuly at Denver Botanic Gardens continues until November 30th, 2014. From there, it travels back to the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, Florida, opening on December 6 and continuing until May 31st.


If you are unable to attend and wish to learn more about this art, visit Chihuly's website, click on Learn More, and scroll down to the videos. Choose from among a dozen videos that describe the process and the art.




Angie Hanna, October 13, 2014.