Glass art glimmers in Nashville

By Daniel Callicott

Colorful, onion-shaped orbs dazzle as they float in a serene pond. Twisted serpentine shapes entwine, competing for attention. So, what makes the sight special? All are made of hand-blown glass.

The man behind the sculptures is world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. His works have been featured in museums, botanical gardens and public sites in many countries, including the United States, Russia, Israel, Canada, Iceland, Italy and Japan.

Currently, Chihuly’s sculptures decorate the lawns of Cheekwood Botanical Gardens & Museum of Art in Nashville. The exhibit, “Chihuly at Cheekwood,” will run through Oct. 31. The show is part of Cheekwood’s 50th anniversary celebration.

Cheekwood also collaborated with the Nashville Symphony and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts to create “Chihuly in Nashville.”

Mark Scala, chief curator at the Frist center, said the partnership came as a natural result of working with an artist who creates both outdoor and indoor glass sculptures.

One might question how difficult it is to display glass sculptures safely, but Scala said the museum only has to take a few extra precautions.

“Glass is actually a stable, sturdy medium, especially when it has a certain thickness,” Scala said. “Obviously, (glass) is handled with extreme care because of its brittleness, but there are few differences between how one ships and handles glass and how one ships and handles paintings.”

Chihuly assembles his taller glass structures using metal support systems.

The tallest of the sculptures on display at Cheekwood stands 30 feet tall.

The installation of such a sculpture requires weeks of work, since each piece must be assembled by hand.

Chihuly’s works are stylistically diverse and feature global inspirations.

Chihuly has created many unique forms called “Ikebanas,” “Macchia,” “Persians” and “Seaforms.” Some appear more delicate and crystalline, while others are thicker and opaque. The common element all Chihuly’s works possess is an abundance of color and polished shine.

Scala said Chihuly’s artistic style appeals to many different types of people because of its innovative nature.

“He breaks down boundaries, creating works that are both beautiful and thoughtful,” Scala said. “They concern our relationship with the natural world and are an important part of decorative traditions from around the world.”

Of the pieces on display at the Frist center, Scala said the “Seaforms” are his favorites. Visually, the “Seaforms” are reminiscent of crystal seashells, jellyfish or other aquatic life.

Emily Beard, communications coordinator for the Frist center, said the response from the Nashville community has been enthusiastic. She said tourists from other parts of the country have also shown interest in the exhibits in Nashville.

“Chihuly has quite a large fan base,” Beard said. “He is one of the most popular living artists, so people will travel long distances to see his works.”

For students with ID cards, tickets for “Chihuly at the Frist” are $7 each, and $12 each for “Chihuly at Cheekwood.”

Scala said the exhibitions will not disappoint visitors.

“(Chihuly) solves difficult problems in engineering and installation and creates a near-sublime experience for visitors,” Scala said. “The exhibition will transport you from the everyday.”

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.