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Dale Chihuly: The Artist Behind the Gorgeous Glass Pieces

Two black and white photographs of Dale Chihuly hanging on a wall at his museum in Seattle.

Dale Chihuly is world renowned for incorporating his glass sculpture art into a variety of indoor and outdoor environments. He’s hung his unique chandelier sculptures over piazzas in Venice and floated colorful glass orbs in the garden fountains outside the Biltmore Estate. But do you know these amazing facts about Dale Chihuly?

Rising from the parched desert landscape, woven into the trees along a wooded path, or floating on a still pond, the glass sculpture art of Dale Chihuly evokes the sense of peering into a kaleidoscope. Born and raised in Washington, Chihuly established the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) glass program and is known as the world’s most prominent glass sculpture artist.

You might have walked under Dale Chilhuly’s elaborate display in the elegant lobby of the Bellagio in Las Vegas. Or perhaps you’ve seen his blown glass art incorporated into a museum or botanical garden halfway around the world. But here are ten fun facts about the acclaimed American artist that you might not know.

The artist Dale Chihuly showcasing his exquisite glass artistry.

    

Have You Visited a Dale Chihuly Exhibit?

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The zodiac sign Virgo on a blue background.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

1. The Glass Artist is a Virgo

Dale Chihuly was born on September 20, 1941, in Tacoma, Washington State, about 40 miles south of Seattle. His birthday makes him a Virgo, an astrological sign associated with being creative and hardworking. He is world renowned for turning molten glass into impressive glass sculptures that combine colorful bubbles, long, curled twists, and jellyfish-like blown glass components into one-of-a-kind masterpieces that have made him second to none in glass sculpture art.

Colorful tapestries hanging on the wall at a Chihuly exhibit in Seattle.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

2. He Started His Career in A Different Area of Art

After a year at the College of Puget Sound, Chihuly transferred to the University of Washington in Seattle and enrolled in the interior design program. After taking a gap year during his studies, Chihuly graduated from U-Dub in 1965 with a bachelor of arts in interior design.

Chihuly’s earliest experience with glass was quite different from what he’s known for today. Instead of blowing glass into elaborate chandeliers and soaring creations, he began by weaving small pieces into tapestries.

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Boats docked next to colorful buildings on a beautiful canal in Murano.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

3. The Glass Sculpture Artist Loves to Travel

During his gap year, Chihuly studied art in Florence, Italy, and architecture in the Middle East. He returned to Europe in 1968 as a Fulbright Fellow at Venini Fabrica, the famous glass-blowing factory on the island of Murano about a mile from Venice.

With good reason, Venice remains one of Dale Chihuly’s favorite cities. So, it’s no surprise that one of his first architectural installments was Chihuly Over Venice. In 1996, drawn to the water surrounding the famed Italian city, the glass artist and his team incorporated 14 massive glass sculptures into its buildings, bridges, and gardens. 

Related Article: 5 Important Things to Know Before Visiting a Chihuly Exhibit

Glass being blown in the Hot Shop in Tacoma, WA.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

4. He Worked as a Commercial Fisherman to Save Money for Graduate School

After graduating from the University of Washington, Chihuly landed a job at a large architectural firm in Seattle, but what he really wanted to do was become a glassblower. So he spent six months working as a commercial fisherman in Alaska to fund his graduate school studies.

A starfish made of glass in a Dale Chihuly display.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

5. Dale Chihuly is an American Pioneer

In 1966, Chihuly received a full scholarship to study at America’s first glass program at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. After receiving his master of science degree in sculpture, he moved to the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) where he added a master of fine arts degree in sculpture to his credentials and landed a Fulbright Fellowship to study in Italy. Chihuly was the first American glassblower to apprentice with the glass masters who had long guarded their centuries-old secrets on the tiny island of Murano. Throughout his career, Chiluly has consistently incorporated the techniques that he learned at Venini Fabrica.

Back in the United States, Chihuly shared his love of glass art by establishing the RISD glassblowing program and founding the Pilchuck Glass School on a former tree farm in Stanwood, Washington.

Two black and white photographs of Dale Chihuly hanging on a wall at his museum in Seattle.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

6. Why the Glass Sculptor Wears an Eye Patch

If you’re wondering why Dale Chihuly wears an eye patch, it’s due to a car accident in London in 1976. The impact sent him through the car’s windshield. Chihuly received more than 250 stitches in his face and lost sight in his left eye.

And if that accident weren’t traumatic enough, Dale Chihuly severely injured his shoulder in a body surfing accident a few years later. Between the two impairments, his limited depth perception and bum shoulder, Chihuly was forced to pass his glassblowing pipe to a team of artists in 1979.

For the past four decades, Chihuly has served as “more choreographer than dancer, more supervisor than participant, more director than actor” when creating his iconic works of glass sculpture art.

Dale Chihuly's exquisite glass sculptures displayed in a museum in Seattle.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

7. He's an Artist, Not a Fighter

Dating back to the 1960s, Dale Chihuly has been a pacifist. Organizing marches and coordinating campus protests, he spoke out against the Vietnam War, the invasion of Cambodia, and the Kent State killings.

A boat filled with colorful glass balls and surrounded by water lilies at the Biltmore.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

8. You Can See Chihuly Glass Exhibits Around the World

To call Dale Chihuly the world’s most renowned and prolific glass sculpture artist almost feels like an understatement. His work appears in more than 200 art museums around the world, including the Smithsonian, Louvre, and National Gallery of Australia.

A large glass sculpture by Dale Chihuly hanging from the ceiling of a building in Tacoma.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

You can also find his glass art displayed in his home state at the Tacoma Art Museum and Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum in the Seattle Center in Washington.

Dale Chihuly's glass ceiling dazzles at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
Photo Credit: YayImages.

In addition to museum collections, Chihuly’s work is also found:

  • Above the registration desk at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, where it took more than 100 glassblowers, architects, engineers, installers, and other professionals to install the 2,000-piece, 40,000-pound Fiori di Como ceiling sculpture admired by guests checking in to the luxury hotel. (Be sure to consult the Bellagio fountain schedule and check it out, too, when you visit.)
  • As part of an interactive children’s exhibit at the  Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, where guests can create their own masterpiece under the largest Chihuly permanent collection piece in the world using plastic forms that resemble Chihuly’s blown glass shapes.
  • At the Olympic Tower in the lobby of Abravanel Hall in Salt Lake City; a unique piece created to celebrate the 2002 Winter Olympics.

And, of course, there are the garden and architectural installments that incorporate Chihuly’s work into green spaces in botanical settings, ancient cities like Jerusalem, and historic buildings like the Biltmore Estate.

9. The Famed Glass Sculpture Artist Also Creates Other Types of Art

From his college-day woven tapestries that included small pieces of glass to two-dimensional paintings on flat pieces of glass, Dale Chihuly is more than a glass sculpture artist.

Chihuly's paintings on display in Seattle with his accordion collection hanging from the ceiling nearby.
Photo Credit: Sage Scott.

10. Dale Chihuly Owns Several Fascinating Collections

Inspired by art in its many forms, Dale Chihuly isn’t just an art creator — he’s also an art collector. While that revelation may conjure up images of a Venetian-style palace filled with sketches by Degas and sculptures from medieval times (like the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston), replace those visions in your mind with everyday objects.

Chihuly’s collections include ordinary items like Christmas tree ornaments, bottle openers, and musical instruments, especially accordions. And, if you visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum at the base of the Space Needle in Seattle, you’ll see many of his bottle openers and accordions on display in and around the cafe.

Frequently Asked Questions about Dale Chihuly

Got unanswered questions about Dale Chihuly and his mesmerizing glass art? Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked queries.

Who is Dale Chihuly?

Dale Chihuly is an American artist known for creating impressive, large-scale glass art pieces. While his work is displayed in more than 200 museums worldwide, he also incorporates his glass sculptures in a variety of unique indoor and outdoor exhibits.

How old is Dale Chihuly?

Born on September 20, 1941, Dale Chihuly turned 82 in 2023.

Where is Chihuly from?

Glass artist Dale Chihuly is from the Pacific Northwest, specifically Washington State.

How did Dale Chihuly lose his eye?

The American glass artist was involved in a terrible head-on car accident in London in 1976. After being thrown through the car’s windshield on impact, he received more than 250 stitches in his face and lost sight in his left eye.

Does Dale Chihuly still blow glass?

Unfortunately, no. After losing sight in his left eye and injuring his shoulder in a bodysurfing accident, Dale Chihuly passed his glass-blowing pipe to a team of artists in 1979.

While Chihuly no longer constructs glass sculptures, he does create beautiful paintings.

Is Dale Chihuly married?

Yes, Dale Chihuly married Leslie Jackson in 2005. The couple has a son, Jackson Viola Chihuly, born in 1998.

Do You Love Dale Chihuly’s Art?

Are you captivated by the swirling colors and bold shapes of Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures? What’s your favorite piece or Chihuly installation? Share your experiences in the comments section below.

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13 thoughts on “Dale Chihuly: The Artist Behind the Gorgeous Glass Pieces”

  1. The installation at the base of the Seattle space needle is glorious indoors and outdoors. I take visitors there and I see something new I missed from the last time. A treasure. Traveling has brought me to many of his world works. We are blessed to have had the experience.

  2. My husband booked us into a glass blowing course for Valentines day this year and it was one if the most wonderful experiences!

    We made a very basic drinking glass and it was so much fun. But quite basic in design, and not that easy. The amazing work that glass artist make is awe inspiring!

    Thank you for such an interesting article, I love learning new things even though I am almost 70!

  3. This is such a great article about Dale Chihuly. I learned so much about this glass artist and loved looking at pictures of his beautiful work. Thank you for sharing this information!

  4. I found this article about Dale Chihuly’s glass sculpture art so fascinating. I didn’t know about his connection to Italy.

  5. My parents actually WON a Dale Chihuly vase at a fundraiser years ago. They didn’t know who he was at the time!! Now we’ve all learned so much- he’s an amazing artist!

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