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If you like Dale Chihuly's story, you might also like:
J. Carter Brown,
Frank Gehry,
Philip Johnson,
Maya Lin,
James Rosenquist,
Fritz Scholder
and Wayne Thiebaud

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Dale Chihuly
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Dale Chihuly
 
Dale Chihuly
Profile of Dale Chihuly Biography of Dale Chihuly Interview with Dale Chihuly Dale Chihuly Photo Gallery

Dale Chihuly Interview

Master Glass Artist

June 28, 1996
Sun Valley, Idaho

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  Dale Chihuly

(At the Academy of Achievement's 1996 Summit in Sun Valley, Idaho, Dale Chihuly participated in an informal discussion of the nature of creativity with Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Kary Mullis and the Academy's student delegates. Dale Chihuly's remarks from that discussion are incorporated in the text of this interview.)

You've brought a whole team here to Sun Valley, and a traveling workshop, and you're putting together all these pieces. Can you tell us what they are?

Dale Chihuly: We're working on a project where we're making about 20 Chandeliers, in several countries, and then we're taking the Chandeliers and putting them over the canals of Venice. When the Academy of Achievement heard that I was doing this project, they asked if I wouldn't bring a few of the pieces here and hang them for the final banquet.


What you see here are six Chandeliers, hung in this banquet room, and we brought them over from my studio in Seattle, and each chandelier is made up of several pieces. This one here is over 200 parts, each part is hand-blown, and they're hung on a stainless steel armature. You hang the bottom one first, and then the next one -- you wire them on-- and the next one, and you keep wiring all the way up until you get the desired amount of pieces. They're not set in any particular way, so when you take it apart and you put it up again somewhere else, it's not exactly the same. Each one of these countries we went to, we tried to do parts that were similar, a feeling of that country, and this sort of turquoise one was done in Finland. It was the first time we'd made this shape. We started building this in the factory in Finland and built it up from there. Now, this is not like the original one, 'cause it's got a different armature inside. And this one here is blown into an optical mold, we call it, a ribbed mold, and that's why you see these lines going down the parts. They're made rather quickly, very fluid, sort of organic, and I call them Chandeliers, but I suppose they're more like hanging sculptures. People often ask, "Are they lit from within?" They can be. In this case they're not. They're being hit above by 600-watt spotlights from each side. So it gives it a more lively feeling than if they were being lit from the inside, where you would then get sort of an overall glow. From the outside it's better.


How many people does it take to make one of these pieces? How long does it take?

Dale Chihuly: Oh, I don't usually talk about that too much, 'cause it's so fast!


Nobody works as fast as I do. Let's put it this way, we arrived in Finland to blow Chandeliers with a crew of 30. The day we arrived, on a Wednesday, we hung a chandelier that night, having never been to the village before. Wasn't a very good chandelier! But anyway, we made 2,000 pieces of glass in Finland in seven days. But that was a lot of people working. This is the sixth chandelier in this line here, down here about 200 feet. And this is the Orange Hornet Chandelier. This is made in a kind of a screw mold. So you blow into this mold with this kind of screw, and then you twist it out. And I don't know, it's got this sort of organic feeling like a hornet, or like a grub or something, and it's a transparent, translucent orange that, when the light gets on this thing, it's spectacular. It's the smallest one in the group. There's probably only about 100 parts, and a piece like this might weigh, say, 300 pounds. But they get as big as 3,000 parts, and weigh as much as two tons. So it's all relative to where we're putting them, and what we're making them for, and what we want them to do.


Dale Chihuly Interview Photo
Dale Chihuly Interview Photo


Can you tell us how this whole project came about?


Dale Chihuly: A couple of years ago, I started thinking about hanging Chandeliers over the canals of Venice. At the same time, almost, I thought I'd like to go to different countries and do this. And at the same time, I also thought it would make an interesting movie. So the idea just sort of went boom, boom, boom. Chandeliers over the canals, several countries, a film showing the whole thing. I thought about the idea, and I just went ahead and did it. That's one thing that you have to be able to do, I think, if you want to really reach high points, is you've got to take the idea and go, knowing, of course, that it can fail. But never thinking... I've never once thought about this thing as failing, even though I'll tell you at the end of the story some of the problems we're having. But we went first to Finland, with 30 people from the Boathouse, my studio, and we worked hand-in-hand with the Finns to make Chandeliers, but then when I got there I started doing some other things as well. Because I'm constantly changing my mind about what I want to do. Then we went to Ireland. Then we went to Mexico. And now we're about to go to Venice to hang these Chandeliers --15 or 20 of them -- over the canals of Venice.

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Dale Chihuly Interview Photo
First of all, the project is very expensive, which I really extended myself to do. And then secondly, making the film isn't so easy either! There are problems there. And thirdly, I did all of this knowing that somehow I was going to be able to hang these Chandeliers in Venice. I went to Venice -- three times now this year -- and the Minister of Culture met with me and said that, yes, we could do this project, gave it his blessing. And I talked to the Minister of Culture this morning, in Venice, and we still don't have permission to hang these Chandeliers. And he's always saying, "Oh well, any day now we'll have the permission from the Department of Public Something-or-other." And then he'll sidetrack me off onto some other subject of where we're going to store the glass, or... In any event, I by all accounts should probably be nervous at this. Because not only are we going, but there's probably 1,000 people going to see this. Which I didn't really want to have happen, it just sort of happened. And even if we get permission, we don't really know how long they're going to let us leave them up. I haven't even got to that yet. So we're going to do whatever it takes to do it.


I was at a party with Hillary Clinton the other night, and she likes my work, and I almost asked Hillary, I was going to say, "Hillary, can you do me a favor and can one of your staff make a call to Venice for me?" But I didn't ask her, because I sort of feel that I want to do this. I don't want to put a lot of pressure on over there from different people and politicians. I want to just sort of go through... my instinct is to go through the normal channel. So here's this big project going on, and people constantly are asking me, "Why are you doing this project?" And I've always wondered. It's funny that they would ask that. Seems perfectly sensible to me to want to hang Chandeliers over the canals of Venice. Even if they haven't been done before, you can tell it's a good idea right away. So I'm wondering why they question... We have a 12-minute video of stage one of Finland, where in that, I got fairly carried away throwing glass into the river -- and doing all these projects, and spheres coming out of the water -- but mostly really involved with throwing glass in the river and then having to go downstream and picking it up. So you show this at a talk, and people -- and it does not explain what's going on -- and then people afterwards, some of them are really confused, like, "What were you doing there?" Like, "Why would you throw glass in the water?" Other people fully understand what's going on. I don't think it has anything to do with whether they're an artist or not, but they can see that this is some creative process that probably hasn't been done before either. And that here's this person, very intrigued with the water and the glass and how they go together.


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