Tacoma’s native son returns

// Dale Chihuly’s newest exhibit pays homage to his hometown

After creating art and travelling the world for more than three decades, Dale Chihuly is happy to be home.

The world-renowned artist unveiled his newest exhibit, “Dale Chihuly’s Northwest,” this spring at the Tacoma Art Museum. It runs through Sept. 25.

“It feels great,” Chihuly said. “I’m so proud of Tacoma. It’s my hometown.”

Chihuly’s exhibit pays homage to his hometown and other local sources of inspiration with a selection of about 85 original pieces of artwork, including baskets, cylinders, soft cylinders, and Pilchuck stumps created by the artist over the last 30 years. The exhibit also highlights Chihuly’s fascination with Native American culture by showcasing about 300 objects from his personal collection of wool trade blankets, Willits canoes and Edward S. Curtis portraits of Native people.

“The number one word from museum visitors who see this work is ‘wow,’” Tacoma Art Museum Director Stephanie Stebich said. “This exhibit is a great testament to a great American artist.”

Visitors to the exhibit are invited to enter a large-scale installation inspired by Chihuly’s renowned Northwest Room from his Seattle Boathouse. It allows visitors to share the artist’s personal vision as they immerse themselves in the art, colors, spaces and cultural heritage that have helped shape Chihuly’s work.

The installation contains a sampling of the artist’s glass, from early baskets to recent works including the “Silver Series” and the rarely exhibited “Pilchuck Stumps.”

To accompany Chihuly’s pieces, the Washington State History Museum donated about 50 Native American baskets from its collection for display. Native American art has inspired Chihuly for more than 30 years. He first saw the traditional baskets in the museum’s storage area and began experimenting with undulating forms and sets – which ultimately became a hallmark of his style.

Chihuly’s exhibition history started at Tacoma Art Museum in 1971 with a piece in the 1st National Invitational Hand Blown Glass Exhibition. Since then, he has continued to use Tacoma and the museum as an experimental space and home for his work. Today, Tacoma Art Museum houses an extensive collection of Chihuly’s glass artwork on permanent public display.

This year, Chihuly celebrates his 70th birthday, but he does not plan on slowing down anytime soon. He has several exhibits on display around the country, including one show at the Museum of Fine Art in Boston. He is also keeping busy with personal commissions and his foundation to inspire and educate the public regarding all forms of art, and to provide support to artists and arts organizations. When reflecting on his extensive career, Chihuly said he never expected fame.

“I never really planned this, it just sort of happened,” he said. “I spent so much time trying to grow bigger and bigger. Now, we’ve been trying to get smaller.”

Tacoma Art Museum (1701 Pacific Ave. in Tacoma) is open Wednesday-Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and third Thursday of the month from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for student/military/seniors (65+), and $25 for families of four. Children 5 and younger are free. For more information, call (253) 272-4258.

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