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Spring Home Design

Collected Inspiration: From blankets to baskets to books, Dale Chihuly gathers treasures to create them

The ceiling of "The Pergola Hallway" leading to the hot shop contains between 700 and 900 glass components. On the walls is the work of artist Michael Lawson, a longtime friend Dale Chihuly met when both were students at the University of Washington. Leading to the hot shop are a set of doors designed by Chihuly and James Carpenter.
The word "collection" can have many associations when you're talking about internationally known glass artist and native son Dale Chihuly.

There are those who collect Chihuly's work.

There is his distinct approach to art installations, where form, color and light reverberate through elaborate collections of blown-glass pieces.

And then there are the personal collections that Chihuly has creatively installed in his "Boathouse" on Seattle's Lake Union. Together, these collections tell the story of a lifetime of interests and highlight the work of collaborators, colleagues and friends. They also uniquely define the waterfront property that is part studio and hot shop, part personal retreat.
In the middle of the Douglas fir table in "The Indian Room" is a collection of Pablo Picasso ceramic pitchers filled with dried roses. Chihuly's collections of blankets and baskets line the walls; the baskets along the far wall are juxtaposed with the Chihuly glass pieces that were inspired by them. The birch-bark canoe is from an Algonquin tribe. The bike is a 1914 Indian motorcycle, one of only two known to exist.
"I started collecting about the time I started teaching at RISD," says Chihuly, referring to the Rhode Island School of Design where, in 1969, he established a program for glass art and taught for more than a decade before returning home to the Seattle area in 1983.

"Every Sunday we went to this place called the Norton Flea Market," Chihuly reminisces. The marketplace in Norton, Mass., is no longer open, but in its day was famous throughout New England. "You started seeing things that you liked, then you'd go back the next Sunday, and pretty soon you had a little collection."

"Later I started narrowing things down," he notes. "And I've given away a lot of the collections I had back then. Now I'm more particular."
Chihuly, who co-founded The Pilchuck Glass School in 1971, bought the landmark Pocock Building in 1990.
His interests, however, are still quite broad, revealing a genuine appreciation for the simple splendor of everyday objects — whether they're watches or tin lunch boxes, canoes or cars, golden Buddhas or books. Chihuly states it quite well for all who love to seek and find: "I like collecting stuff."

And, as for many who collect, the attraction to a particular group of items can be visual or visceral. Which may explain his collection of more than 300 accordions, most of which are in the studio he keeps in his home town of Tacoma, where his mother still lives. "I like the looks of them a lot," he says. "Both my brother and father played the accordion."
"The Evelyn Room," named after a sign that Chihuly found in an antique shop, features an 88-foot table made from a single downed Douglas fir. Chihuly also works at the table, painting, signing works and reviewing prototypes for his many books. The high shelving on the left side displays masks from a defunct theatrical troupe; hung high on the right is a 1950s eight-man Pocock racing shell, a tribute to the original owners of the building.
There are also quirky finds, such as the unique set of East German theatrical masks that Chihuly discovered in a Tacoma shop and displays on a long shelf in "The Evelyn Room" of his lakeside retreat. "I heard that a costume shop in Tacoma went out of business and had these masks," he says. "When I saw them I really liked them, and I put the word out, and other people found many of them for me."

Chihuly began bringing his personal treasures to the waterfront in 1990, when he bought the former Pocock racing-shell factory and named it "The Boathouse." The large dining area, which doubles as a work space, is built on the former dock of the historic building. Dominating the paint-spattered room is an 88-foot-long table carved from a Douglas fir found downed on Vancouver Island in British Columbia. The table can seat up to 84 people, and Chihuly often allows nonprofits to use the space for fund-raisers.
An entire wall of "The Indian Room," right, is covered with Edward S. Curtis photogravures that are hung frame-to-frame.
From here, it's easy to take in the comings and goings on the lake. "I love the wooden boats, and I get to see them all the time," says Chihuly. "I am fortunate to have a really great location on the water."

Water has always played an inspirational part in his work, such as in his "Seaforms" series or the "Boats" installations, which began in Nuutajärvi, Finland, during the "Chihuly Over Venice" project in 1995. "The molten glass can't help but remind you of the water," he says.

An avid swimmer, he can be surrounded by both water and glass in "The Pool Room," which contains a 54-foot swimming pool that features an installation of his "Seaforms" under safety glass at the bottom of the pool.
The hallway outside "The Pool Room" is home to a series of 1920s dance-hall star lights that Chihuly obtained through an antique shop. The large David Hockney portrait, at right, is of Henry Geldzahler, former curator of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In 1976, Geldzahler acquired three of Chihuly's Navajo Cylinders for the museum's permanent collection, creating a turning point in Chihuly's career and starting a long friendship. Along the wall on the left is a whimsical collection of dispensers used in shops to hold package string.
Chihuly continues to add to his collection of Indian trade blankets and woven baskets displayed in the large sitting room adjacent to the pool. He has consistently credited the beautiful crafts of Native Americans as a significant source of inspiration for his early, breakthrough work.

"The baskets I started in 1977," he says, "and it was one of the most important series that I've ever done. That was when I first started working with the glass and letting the glass be natural and formed by the fire and gravity and centrifugal force."

"Then, I just started putting one inside the other," he adds, describing his early venture in displaying multiple pieces that would eventually emerge as an individual characteristic of his work.

Throughout The Boathouse, his signature pieces mingle with the various collectibles. Drawing on his background in interior design and architecture, which he studied at the University of Washington, he is constantly moving things about and re-energizing the space. Installations like the swimming pool and the glass-filled ceiling of "The Pergola Hallway" are also regularly recomposed.
Also a collector of first-edition children's books, Chihuly has lined the walls of one bathroom with classics such as the "Cherry Ames" nurse series, "Mother Goose" and the Campfire Boys classics. A voracious reader, Chihuly many years ago considered opening a bookstore.
"I'm lucky to have a big space and be able to change things around," Chihuly says. The Boathouse also gives him a chance to install new experimental work and see how it feels.

Quite literally, he says, "I'm able to try out an idea and live with it."

To Explore the Art of Displaying

It seems everyone has a passion for collecting something. Even Freud started collecting artifacts as a tool to help him with his self-analysis. Which may be the very essence of why anyone chooses to collect: It's a form of self-expression.

Now that summer is approaching, and the garage sales and flea markets are in full swing, it's prime time for adding to your caches. Here are a few books to give you some ideas for displaying your treasures:
Chihuly's black Austin Healy is parked in the garage alongside one of his motorcycles. The paintings are by his longtime friend, artist Michael Lawson.
"The Art of Display: Creating Style with Decorative Objects" by Katherine Sorrell (Mitchell Beazley, $29.95). A well-organized book that explores how you can display your objects in a variety of spaces and surfaces. Included is a bit of practical advice on topics such as mounting textiles, shelving and display accessories.

"The Artful Home: Furniture, Sculpture & Objects" by Louis Sagar (, $29.95). The latest from the interior expert Sagar, an influential lifestyle retailer who for years showed many how to display treasured finds in his New York store, Zona Home. The book highlights work of artists featured on, and gives general tips on how to display objects. Also by Sagar, and considered a revolutionary home-design manual, is "Zona Home: Essential Designs for Living" by Louis Sagar, Lisa Light and Marti Sagar (HarperCollins). Although out of print, copies are easy to come by via a variety of online booksellers.

"A Passion for Collecting: Decorating with Your Favorite Objects" by Caroline Clifton-Mogg, photography by Simon Upton (Bulfinch, $40). Full of beautiful photographs and ideas, the author creates categories of collecting personas — such as The Antiquarian, The Inheritor or The Miniaturist — and covers a diverse sampling of collectibles.

"House Beautiful Collections on Display: Decorating with Your Favorite Objects" by Elaine Louie and the editors of House Beautiful magazine (Hearst Books, $29.95). Written by New York Times journalist Louie, the book gives snapshots of a variety of collecting ideas. Lots of great information.

More about the artist

To find out more about Dale Chihuly and his work, visit his Web site at

Robin Fogel Avni is a free-lance writer specializing in lifestyle issues and trends affected by technology. Her e-mail is robinavni@ Benjamin Benschneider is a Pacific Northwest magazine staff photographer.