Happy 80th Birthday, Chihuly!

Dale Chihuly is a pioneer and an icon. As one of the foremost names in contemporary glass, Chihuly is known the world over; from the shores of Tacoma, WA, where he was born, to the gardens of Europe and the galleries and museums of America, Jerusalem, Australia, Japan, and more—so many, many more! Over six decades, his prominence in the glass field remains unmatched.

But did you know that today is Chihuly’s birthday? His 80th birthday! From everyone at The Corning Museum of Glass, we wish Dale many happy returns.

Dale Chihuly at Pilchuck Glass School in the early 1970s.

As a celebrated artist, painter, teacher, and leader he is revered by his peers, admired by the glassmakers that follow in his wake, and adored by fans around the world. Chihuly has worked tirelessly to bring glass art into the mainstream, and his name has become synonymous with bright bold colors and large-scale installations.

The Corning Museum of Glass has many beautiful examples of Chihuly’s work; including baskets, cylinders, chandeliers, Venetian vessels, and, of course, the tall green installation standing in our lobby that is often the very first piece of art that our guests encounter.

To celebrate Chihuly’s birthday, I took a tour of some of my own favorites, and maybe yours too, and where better to start than in the lobby.

  • Fern Green Tower, made in 1999 and reconfigured in 2013, 2000.4.6, a gift of the artist
Fern Green Tower

Fern Green Tower was originally made in 1999 but was reconfigured at Chihuly’s request in 2013 prior to the opening of the new Contemporary Art + Design Galleries in 2015. This change increased the height of the sculpture from 11 feet to 15 1/2 feet with 200 additional blown glass elements taking the total to 712.

One of a series of large-scale towers produced in a constellation of colors, Fern Green Tower is the perfect introduction to Chihuly’s artistic style. Exuberant in spirit and ambitious in scope, this piece is mysterious and inviting and a great place for your first photos.

Many blogs have been written about this piece, describing its construction and the delicate hands needed to keep it clean.

Cadmium Yellow-Orange Venetian #398

This is an example of one of Chihuly’s best-known series – the “Venetians” – that he made with Lino Tagliapietra (who retired earlier this year) in the early 90s. This ongoing series pays homage to historical Venetian glass, which is an important inspiration to glassmakers today. From the beginning of his involvement with glass in the 1960s, Chihuly has focused on the sculptural qualities of the material, using the blown vessel as a vehicle for the exploration of color and form

The contrasting color of the dark, plant-like forms at the top to the bold yellow of the vessel’s body help this object to stand out in the gallery and I’m always drawn to it.

Macchia Seaform Group

Chihuly’s Seaforms are characterized by their soft colors and open, unstructured forms that are the result of shaping the glass with heat, gravity, and minimal tooling. This Seaform Group is a hybrid that includes elements of Chihuly’s Macchia (spotted) vessels.

This collection reminds me of my childhood days at the beach, picking through the sand and shells at the bottom of my bucket and discovering all kinds of new shapes and colors.

Black Cylinder #3
  • Black Cylinder #3, 2006, 2010.4.128, assisted by Flora C. Mace, Joey Kirkpatrick, and James Mongrain

Working at the Rhode Island School of Design in 1975 and 1976, Chihuly devised a decorative technique in which he picked up colored glass threads on the surface of a cylindrical glass vessel during the blowing process. The patterns of the glass threads were inspired by old Diné (Navajo) blankets from the American Southwest, and vintage Pendleton trade blankets made in the Pacific Northwest, which Chihuly personally collected. This series of vessels was called the “Navajo Blanket Cylinders.” In 1995 and again in 2006, Chihuly made a new series of tall glass vessels, first in bright pink and then in black, based on the mid-1970s Navajo blanket cylinders. Flora Mace, who made many of the early glass thread designs, rejoined Chihuly, with her partner, Joey Kirkpatrick, to make the thread drawings for both of the recent series. This cylinder was given to the Museum in memory of the Museum’s founding director, Thomas S. Buechner, Chihuly’s longtime friend, and is signed “Chihuly” on the exterior wall.


Chihuly had only been making chandeliers for a year when he was commissioned to make this one for Bullseye Glass Company in Portland, OR. Using a special melt of pink glass colored with the rare-earth element erbium, the cotton-candy color of the glass reminded Chihuly of his favorite pickup truck. Comprising 205 unique elements, the chandelier is crowned with a solid glass cupid (putto) hanging from the center.

Erbium Chandelier with Gilded Putto

I always enjoy walking beneath this chandelier and looking up to see how the light is playing across its surface.

Join us in wishing Dale Chihuly a happy birthday. On your next trip to the Museum, how many Chihuly objects will you find and what is your favorite?

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