December 05, 2012

Dale Chihuly's Native influences

Dale Chihuly's American Indian Influences

Iconic baskets and Pendleton woolen blankets inspire far more delicate interpretations in glass.

By Amy Pallas
Dale Chihuly revolutionized the art of blown glass, transforming the delicate material into monumental sculptures and large-scale installations. But before he interspersed glass fronds amid the greenery of the Kew Gardens in London, before he suspended 700-pound chandeliers over Venice, and before he installed 2,000 riotously colored glass blossoms on the ceiling of the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the avant-garde artist created intimate earth-toned glass vessels inspired by Native American blankets and baskets.

At the new Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, you can see these early works mingling with their Native American influences in a permanent exhibit modeled after the Northwest room of the artist's legendary Boathouse studio on Seattle's Lake Union. In the breathtaking exhibit, wooden shelves display Chihuly's glass Tabac Baskets alongside woven originals from the artist's personal collection, which he began after a 1977 visit to the Washington State Historical Society. It was there that the artist discovered a pile of nested misshapen Native American baskets from the Northwest Coast that would change his art forever.

Struck by how time and gravity had caused the baskets to slump and bow, the innovative Chihuly began employing gravity in his glass blowing to form vessels with organic shapes and flowing rims. By adapting the historical society's unusual display tactic, Chihuly devised a unique approach to exhibit glass. Resting one, two, or three glass vessels precariously inside one another, Chihuly created the signature look he has become known for.

A dramatically lit table that spans the length of the exhibition hall supports additional smoky ochre-tinted glass baskets, whose looping edges beckon a finger to trace their rims. Bold Navajo Blanket Cylinders are also displayed, demonstrating Chihuly's first application of his now famous “drawing pickup technique,” whereby glass threads are arranged on a flat surface before a molten cylinder is rolled over them, fusing stunning sketches of Navajo blankets to the vessel.
Comment:  For more on Native art, see The Sugar Project: Modern Day Navajo Monster and Mapuche Bar-Code Tapestries.

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