10 Things You Never Knew About Dale Chihuly

Chihuly Glass Hero Chihuly at Kew Gardens, photo via Wikimedia Commons

One of the most innovative glassmakers of the contemporary age, Dale Chihuly reveals to the world through his art glass the incredible feats possible with the medium. From the monumental Chihuly glass installations that grace public spaces and museums around the globe, to smaller works in private collections, Dale Chihuly’s art inspires us daily. In celebration of his birthday on September 20, we wanted to tip our hats to the American art glass icon with some fascinating yet little-known facts about the artist that might make you want to collect his work even more.

1. Dale Chihuly originally wasn’t interested in studying art.  

Born in Tacoma, Washington in 1941, Chihuly enjoyed a vibrant childhood in the Pacific Northwest. The 1950s, though, proved devastating as he lost both his only sibling – a brother – in an aviation accident in 1956 and his father to a heart attack two years later. It is perhaps owed to these deaths that Chihuly, upon graduating from high school in 1959, was reluctant to pursue post-secondary education. Fortunately, however, his outlook changed, and he eventually graduated from the University of Washington in 1965 and subsequently attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he completed his Master’s degree in Sculpture.

Dale Chihuly

Portrait of Dale Chihuly, 1992, at Pilchuck Glass School, near Stanwood, Washington via Wikimedia Commons

2. Chihuly’s first “glass art” led to his arrest.

In a 2000 interview with Susan Resneck Pierce for Arches, Chihuly shared the emotional tumult that accompanied the death of his family members that resulted in his running with the wrong crowd who committed acts of vandalism: “I got in trouble, too, in high school, for doing stuff I shouldn’t have. . . .I ran around with guys who ultimately did get in trouble. I would never—you know, sometimes we put out a street light, my first work in glass!—but I wouldn’t steal a car.” This glass-breaking, though, led to Chihuly’s arrest before his mother convinced him to channel his energy into his education. 

Dale Chihuly - Postrio Persian Installation, 1996 blown glass

Lot 353: Dale Chihuly (American, born 1941), 20th Century Decorative Arts and Design, Bonhams, Los Angeles, CA (27 October 2014), Est: $70,000-$100,000

3. Dale Chihuly has been known to channel aspects of his biography into his art.

Like many artists, Chihuly found ways to reflect upon his own experiences and interests from the very outset of his career. One example can be seen in his early Glass Environment #3, wherein Chihuly sprayed some of his art glass with red paint in homage to his job in a meatpacking plant (which he took to support his mother following his father’s death).  The same can be seen in his exploratory 1977 Baskets series, wherein Chihuly deviated from traditional glassblowing techniques to explore more organic forms created from centrifugal forces in homage to the traditional baskets made by Northwest Coast Indian cultures indigenous to the Pacific Northwest. This experimental style grew in his later Macchia series.

Large Dale Chihuly Mardi Gras tabletop or hanging sculpture

Lot 819: Large Dale Chihuly Mardi Gras Tabletop or Hanging Sculpture, Toomey & Co. Auctioneers, Oak Park, IL (7 December 2013), Est: $50,000-$70,000

4. Chihuly’s interest in art glass began during a textiles course.

Following studies abroad in both Italy and Israel in 1962, Chihuly returned to the Pacific Northwest and recommitted himself to his studies. The following year, he studied weaving with University of Washington faculty member Doris Brockway and, as part of his work, began to incorporate portions of glass into the textiles he created. That initial exploration won him one of his earliest accolades – an award from the Seattle Weavers Guild – and he started studying the art of glass-blowing only a few years later. 

Dale Chihuly - Blown Glass Chandelier

Lot 356: Dale Chihuly: Blown Glass Chandelier, Abell Auction, Commerce, CA (21 February 2016), Est: $100,000-$150,000, Sold: $110,000

5. Dale Chihuly has worn several professional “hats.”

In addition to working in a meatpacking plant, Chihuly also worked for a brief period in 1966 as a commercial fisherman in Alaska while saving up funds to attend graduate school at the University of Wisconsin. He also designed furniture and worked on some interior spaces for his mother, as his undergraduate degree was actually in the field of interior design.

Dale Chihuly Italian Blue Macchia with Midnight Blue Lip Wrap

Lot 270: Dale Chihuly, Sotheby’s, New York, NY (6 March 2013), Est: $8,000-$12,000

6. Dale Chihuly wears a characteristic eye-patch because he is blind in one eye.

Chihuly himself experienced immense suffering in the form of a catastrophic car crash in England in 1976 that thrust him through the windshield. He endured horrific cuts to his face – necessitating more than 250 stitches – and irreparable damage to his left eye. Recuperation took months and forced Chihuly to reconsider his artistic practice altogether.

Dale Chihuly Large Macchia, 1992

Lot 3613: Dale Chihuly (American, born 1941) Large Macchia, 1992, Bonhams, New York, NY (9 December 2009), Est: $18,000-$25,000

7. Much Chihuly art is created not solely by him but by his workshop.

Since Chihuly’s accident that left him blind in one eye resulted in a loss of depth perception made him wary of working with molten glass. Instead, Chihuly worked from that point onward with his workshop team to bring Chihuly glass art to life. This new mode of practice resulted in a series of dynamic collaborations with some of the most noted art glass makers in the world, including William Morris and Lino Tagliapietra.

Dale Chihuly, Ox Blood Persian Set with Black Lip Wraps

Lot 107: Dale Chihuly, Ox Blood Persian Set with Black Lip Wraps, Wright, Chicago, IL (28 June 2016), Est: $15,000-$20,000, Sold: $31,250

8. Dale Chihuly currently holds the title for having created the largest art glass sculpture in the world.

This spectacular installation, entitled Fiori di Como, lives across the ceiling of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada. Commissioned by hotel owner, Steve Wynn, in 1998, Chihuly’s Bellagio installation spans 2,000 square feet and amounts to 20 tons of hand-blown glass suspended by a steel rod armature hidden in the ceiling. The delicate forms of vibrantly-colored flower blossoms, however, convey a sense of lightness and ethereality as a testament to the brilliance of Chihuly glass. For some more large numbers, let’s talk about the value: According to TripSavvy, Fiori di Como is valued at $3 million.

9. Dale Chihuly is one of the few living artists with two “museums” devoted to him.

Fans of Chihuly art glass who have been fortunate to visit Seattle have probably made a pilgrimage to Chihuly Gardens and Glass. Housed as a long-term exhibition within the Seattle Center in the downtown district of the city, Chihuly Gardens and Glass creates a dynamic space where Chihuly’s imaginative glass forms meld with nature and architecture in playful ways. The same can be said of the Chihuly Collection presented by the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, Florida. Established in 2010, this stand-alone collection features an array of Chihuly art glass that is sure to scintillate visitors.

Dale Chihuly - Kew Gardens

A Dale Chihuly glass sculpture in Kew Gardens, London, UK (photo by Jessica T. Smith, Invaluable)

10. Beyond Chihuly Gardens and Glass, Chihuly art glass is featured in more than 200 museums around the globe.

You can find Chihuly glass on almost every continent, as numerous international museums house examples of his art. From the impressive Chihuly Bridge of Glass that adorns an entrance to the museum in Chihuly’s hometown of Tacoma, Washington, to the sweeping tower of swirling sea life captured in art glass in Atlantis the Palm in the United Arab Emirates and his recent exhibition at Kew Gardens in London, Chihuly’s art glass is beloved the world over.

Looking for more? Browse Dale Chihuly works for sale at auction now on Invaluable.