Hot Shop Chihuly

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How would you like to spend your day toiling in front of a furnace heated to 2150° Fahrenheit? You will hold tight onto your stick of molten silica and batch, and you will poke it in and out of the deadly cauldron. After a long while standing at the Gates of Glass, you will shape, roll, snip and blow your fiery ball into marvelous, magical art.

If you want to see adventurous artists playing with sear, then consider driving down to the Hot Shop at the beautiful Museum of Glass in Tacoma. You can sit in the amphitheatre and watch Benjamin Cobb and the Hot Shop team hard at work beneath a 90 foot, stainless steel cone designed by Canadian architect, Arthur Erickson.

hot glass

These fire-wielding artists move effortlessly between intense focus and easy jokes as they step casually around the flesh-melting glass droppings on the floor.

Tacoma is birthplace to the renowned artist Dale Chihuly and his glass fingerprints can be seen in this museum, on the adjoining Bridge of Glass and over at the Tacoma Museum of Art.

Chihuly is the enormously influential artist who founded the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington. His glasswork and drawings are featured in more than 200 museums. He and his teams have created massive glass architectural installations such as the V&A Chandelier at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, the Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, the massive Fiori di Como ceiling at the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas and his Venetian Chandelier project.

Dale Chihuly has strong ties to Vancouver. He has long been affiliated with Diane Farris and her Gallery. In 1998, Chihuly was getting ready for the opening of his new Vancouver show when he noticed the sun streaming through the Farris Gallery windows onto the unfinished cement floor.

As Farris explains: ‘He looked at me and said ” I’m going to do a painting on these windows.” He asked for “one tube of every colour you can get.” Within the hour he was at it, squirting the paint directly onto the windows from the tubes, then tossing them across the space into a box to the cheering of the gathered crowd.’ The landlord was none to pleased, but Chihuly’s spontaneous artistic outpouring made international news.

Here in Vancouver, the work of Chihuly and his team can also be seen outside The Residences on Georgia. The Persian Wall was commissioned in 1998 and plays beautifully against the water feature below.

chihuly at the residences

If you do drive down to the Tacoma Museum of Glass, you might be lucky enough to see Chihuly popping by to work with the Hot Shop team. Chihuly was the first visiting artist to premiere the Museum’s Hot Shop on their July 2002 grand opening weekend. In visiting the museum, we learn that: ‘although initially the Museum focused exclusively on Dale Chihuly, the artist himself insisted that the Museum should expand its mission to include works in glass by artists worldwide.’

To that end, the Hot Shop regularly plays host to visiting glass artists from around the world, such as the Italian Glass Master Pino Signoretto in 2013. Signoretto is an internationally celebrated artist who started blowing glass at age 10 and was recognized as a Master Glassblower by the age of 16. “I was born like this,” he says. “I eat, I drink, I live glass.”

As Signoretto says: “The Glass Master cannot turn back: his work remains indomitable; he has no margin for error. I have found my life’s purpose in this search for perfection.” Here he is in Heart to Hand, a short film by Derek Klein. In it, we learn about Signoretto’s Italian history in glass and see him doing his incredible work alongside Chihuly and the Hot Shop team:

The Hot Shop and Chihuly are also focused on supporting next generation artists and – as we see in the Hilltop Artists program that Chihuly and Kathy Kaperick started in 1995 – ‘using glass art to connect young people from diverse cultural and economic backgrounds to better futures.’

Even young children can get a start in glass design at the Hot Shop. Kids Design Glass Too features the quirky, uninhibited drawings of young children that are brought to glass life by the Hot Shop Team. Past collaborative artworks included young Benjamin’s ‘Venus Flytrap With A Light Sabre,’ Colin’s ‘Super Stanley The Evil,’  Maya’s ‘Bird of Free Colors’ and Nicholas’ ‘A Cucumber All Dressed Up For The Night.’

With all of his experience in influencing museums, artists and art movements, what advice does Dale Chihuly offer to young artists? ‘Surround yourself with artists and see as much art as possible. Go with your gut and create something that nobody has ever seen before.’

Written by Elizabeth Newton

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Elizabeth Newton

Elizabeth Newton