Top 10 Things You Should Know About Dale Chihuly

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There’s no denying that Dale Chihuly is one of the most iconic living American artists. You’ve admired his hand-blown glass sculptures, marveled at his ambitious architectural installations, and seen his name in countless headlines. But, what more is there to know about the controversial artist? From his days as a commercial fisherman to his impressive antique bathing suit collection, we’ve compiled a list of the top ten things you should know about the glass artist Dale Chihuly.

1. Despite an initial disinterest in education, Dale Chihuly has spent quite a lot of time in the classroom

After graduating from the University of Washington with a degree in interior design, he enrolled in the country’s first glass program at the University of Wisconsin. Chihuly continued his graduate studies in the ceramics department at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he later established the glass program and taught for more than a decade. In 1971, with support of patrons Anne Gould Hauberg and John H. Hauber, Chihuly founded the Pilchuck Glass School, an international center for art glass education.

2. Chihuly loves travel and adventure.

During his time in college, he took a year off from school to travel throughout Europe and the Middle East and work at a kibbutz in Israel. Once he completed his degree, Chihuly worked as a commercial fisherman in Alaska, earning money so he could attend graduate school.

3. He isn’t just a glass artist.

Chihuly’s artistic oeuvre extends itself across several different mediums, including graphite, charcoal, acrylic, and printmaking.

chihuly-printsImage Left: Dale Chihuly, Macchia, 2003 Image Right: Dale Chihuly, Palm Springs, 20th/21st century

 

4. His signature eyepatch isn’t for dramatic flair.

Chihuly is blind in his left eye. While visiting England in 1976, he was involved in a serious car accident that left him without sight in his left eye and with 256 stitches in his face.

5. Dale Chihuly hasn’t blown glass since 1979.

Shortly after he lost his eyesight, Chihuly was involved in a body surfing accident that left him physically unable to hold a glassblowing pipe. Since then, he has relied on a team of talented glassblowers to carry out his artistic vision.

6. Weighing in at 40,000 pounds, Fiori di Como is one of Chihuly’s largest, and most popular glass sculptures.

The piece, located at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, is made up of about 2,000 pieces of hand-blown glass and covers approximately 2,000 square feet of the hotel ceiling. To create the massive installation, Chihuly employed a team of more than 100 professionals, including glassblowers, architects, engineers, shippers, installers, and fabricators.

fiori_di_como Dale Chihuly stands beneath Fiori Di Como in the lobby of the Bellagio, Photo: Las Vegas Review-Journal

 

7. Chihuly is no stranger to copycats.

In 2013, a Seattle man was sentenced to five months in federal prison for advertising and selling counterfeit Chihuly glass on eBay. According to court records, each of the pieces bore a signature that appeared to be Chihuly’s, as well as a forged certificate of authenticity. By the time the man was arrested, he had conned ten unknowing collectors out of $40,000. Several years prior, in 2006, Chihuly filed a lawsuit against two glassblowers, including a longtime former employee, for copyright infringement, accusing them of imitating his signature designs. Ultimately, legal experts concluded that influence on art style was not copyright infringement and the lawsuit was settled independently outside of court.

8. …or art world scandals.

A former Chihuly employee was accused of stealing 90 pieces of glass work worth over $3 million while working at the Chihuly warehouse in Tacoma. The stolen pieces had gone unnoticed until 2014, when employees at the Chihuly studio were contacted by an art appraiser who had some of the missing items. Unfortunately, this was not the only┬átime Chihuly’s glass sculptures have been the victim of theft. Earlier in 2014, four friends broke into the Denver Botanic Gardens and stole four sculptures worth $100,000, which they dumped in a cornfield before being arrested and charged in January.

9. He doesn’t just produce art, he collects it.

His diverse personal collection includes Navajo blankets, vintage children’s books, toy airplanes, antique bathing suits, and musical instruments, most notably, accordions.

sculptures2Image Left: Dale Chihuly, Imperial Iris Persian Set, 2000 Image Right: Dale Chihuly, Seaform Single, 1992

 

10. Chihuly is an active philanthropist.

He has donated millions of dollars worth of glass sculptures around the world, and he is the founder of Seniors Making Art, an international arts organization that provides free art classes to senior citizens. Chihuly has also served on the board of Hilltop Artists in Residence, a Tacoma nonprofit that offers glassblowing instructing and mentoring to at-risk students.

Featured Image: Dale Chihuly, Persian Ceiling (detail), 2012, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond