Since moving to the Pacific Northwest and living near Tacoma, Washington, I have grown to love art glass and in particular the works of Dale Chihuly. His brightly colored works of art, especially the outdoor pieces, really pop in the gray, rainy weather we have here. Chihuly grew up in Tacoma, and his works brighten many public spaces within the city. He creates immersive experiences that utilize color, light, unique forms, and plenty of space. Many of his pieces you can see in Tacoma are very site-specific and designed for a particular space. There are several of his works that you can see for free.
The locations mentioned below are all within walking distance of each other. Very accessible but, to access the Hotel Murano, you will have to walk up a big hill or you can drive. Parking is available on the street or below the Tacoma Art Museum. I find this is the perfect place to start and the parking is convenient.
Pro Tip: Download the free STQRY App for both Apple and Android to follow the Chihuly Glass Walking Tour. The audio tour gives you more insight into influences on his works and the techniques he used — often in his own words. It covers the Tacoma Art Museum, the Museum of Glass, and many other locations in the area.
I received press tickets to the museums and the other venues are free and open to the public.
1. The Tacoma Art Museum
The Tacoma Art Museum Chihuly gallery provides a good overview of his career. Chihuly recognized the importance of his hometown as a source of inspiration and support throughout his career and he gave generous gifts of his works to the museum over the years beginning in 1987. His long-time friend and patron Anne Gould Hauberg recognized his talent early on and became a collector. In 2013, she made a generous donation of Chihuly’s earlier work to the museum. The collection in this gallery represents different phases in his career including baskets, blankets, cylinders, sea forms, macchia, Persians, Ikebana, Putti, and Niijima Floats.
In 2006, Chihuly installed Ma Chihuly’s Floats in the museum’s central courtyard and later that year gifted them in honor of his mother, Viola. The exhibit is seasonal and is removed in late fall and then reinstalled each spring. It contains 39 Niijima Floats. He first made the floats on the island of Niijima, Japan. Chihuly was influenced by the traditional Japanese fishing floats which often wash ashore on beaches in Oregon and Washington. Because of their size, they are extremely difficult to make.
2. Union Station
After the museum, head over to Union Station which is just a couple of doors down. The massive, 1911 Romanesque Revival building was designed by Reed & Stern, famed for New York’s Grand Central Station. At the time, it was considered the grandest building north of San Francisco. Union Station was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988. It was restored to its original splendor and reopened in 1992 as a federal courthouse. The dramatic historic rotunda exhibits incredible glass sculptures created by Dale Chihuly for the site. It is quite the experience to walk in and see one of his signature chandeliers dominating the center of the rotunda.
Dale Chihuly and his wife Leslie generously donated five art installations in the building to the United States. The artworks include the over 20-foot-long End of Day chandelier, the Basket Drawing Wall, Water Reeds, Lackawanna Ikebana, and the Monarch Window. Walking into the rotunda, you can see how this huge space and historic building inspired Chihuly. It also allows for much bigger pieces.
Pro Tip: When inside the building, make sure to find the stairs at the far end to the second floor where you can get a closer look at these beautiful works. You can also listen and watch Chihuly at Union Station in his own words as he and his wife Leslie describe what the building and the artwork mean to them.
3. Bridge Of Glass
After Union Station, make your way to the Bridge of Glass, a 500-foot pedestrian bridge that links Tacoma to the Foss Waterway and the Museum of Glass. From the arches of the Washington State History Museum, walk into the Seaform Pavilion which has over 2,000 glass objects in the ceiling and gives the feeling of being underwater. Further ahead are two blue translucent, crystal towers which call to mind the glacial ice found at Mount Rainier. They appear different with the varying light conditions throughout the day. At night, they are illuminated from below and provide an iconic Tacoma image. Before you reach the Museum of Glass you will come to the Venetian Wall which contains 109 Chihuly sculptures along the wall. Just gorgeous.
4. Museum Of Glass
The Museum of Glass, as the name suggests, is all about glass art. From its onsite hot shop where you can see works of art come to life to its galleries, this museum is dedicated to sharing this beautiful art form with the community. The Spotlight on Dale Chihuly exhibition celebrates his impact on the Studio Glass movement and his connection to his hometown of Tacoma. From Chihuly’s visit to Murano until today, he has over 50 years of experience and innovation with glass art. View nine examples of his work from the museum’s permanent collection and learn about his different series. The highlight is the Gibson Chandelier. Watch a video of his Chihuly Over Venice project and view photos of him at the hot shop.
5. Hotel Murano
Your next destination is the Hotel Murano Art Collection, the hotel has a museum-quality collection of art glass throughout the public spaces in the hotel to include a dramatic chandelier in the lobby from Murano, Italy, which is famed for its glass. Look through the lobby where you will find works by Chihuly. On each guest floor of the hotel is a glass sculpture with information about the artist who created it. You’ll find photos and drawings that illustrate the process behind each work of art.
The collection is really stunning and, to get the most of your experience, book a tour. Docent-led tours of the collection can be arranged for guests and non-guests. Tours need to be booked in advance and there is a $5 per person fee. To schedule a tour, contact the hotel at [email protected]
The lobby is surprisingly cozy for such a huge open space. After a day of exploring, have a drink at Bar960 located in the lobby of the hotel. It is named after the temperature of glass cooling ovens. The granite-topped bar has a fireplace and beckons with crackling warmth. This is an elevated culinary experience, not just a bar. The menus are limited now due to COVID-19, but what is on there is well thought out. Enjoy signature bites with choices such as the Kobe burger, truffle mac n’ cheese, and gravy fries. The fries are elevated with a mushroom zinfandel gravy, cremini mushrooms, and Beecher’s cheese curds. There is a decent selection of microbrews and regional wines. The cocktails are creative and seasonal like the chai-infused Spiced Sidecar takes which features house-infused Chai vodka, Cointreau, fresh pressed lemon, lime, and orange juice served in a glass with a sugared rim.
Chihuly’s works in Tacoma are very special due to his connection to the city and his generous donations of art to the community and museums. You can easily see these venues all in one day if you just focus on Chihuly’s works or spend a weekend and take your time to enjoy downtown Tacoma. The Hotel Murano is centrally located to enjoy all the city has to offer. Fine dining is nearby with two excellent steakhouses, Stanford’s and El Gaucho. Tacoma also has a theater district with three theaters home to eight resident arts organizations. The huge variety of offerings includes ballets, symphonies, live comedy, musicals, concert bands, pop music, and even Broadway shows. The Tacoma Link Light Rail gets you around downtown for free.
Both the Museum of Glass and the Tacoma Art Museum have lovely gift shops with glass art for sale. The Hotel Murano also has a nice shop. Be on the lookout at gift shops around town of glass Christmas ornaments made with ashes from Mount St. Helen’s volcanic eruption. That sure is a one-of-a-kind souvenir.
Pro Tip: After visiting and observing his work in Tacoma, follow Chihuly Studio on Instagram and look for some of the works you experienced. I found it fascinating seeing his post on installing the works in Union Station. The Dale Chihuly official website has information about his works and you can see the influences on the works you saw in Tacoma.
“Glass is the most magical of all materials. It transmits light in a special way.” — Dale Chihuly
Here are more ways to experienced Dale Chihuly art: