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Someone You Should Know: Dale and Leslie Chihuly

Published on: April 28, 2012

Dale and Leslie ChihulyDale Chihuly, the Northwest artist who helped establish the studio glass movement, is one of the most well-known and renowned glass artists of our time. Dale and his wife, Leslie Jackson Chihuly, provide vision and direction for Pilchuck Glass School, Tacoma’s Museum of Glass, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra and the Seniors Making Art organization. This month, Chihuly Garden and Glass opens at Seattle Center. The complex will include eight indoor galleries, The Bookstore, the Collections Café, a glass house and an outdoor garden.

What first captured you about glass and moved you to study the art form?

Dale: My first serious use of glass consisted of my weaving small pieces of glass into tapestries. This was during my junior and senior years at the University of Washington. In 1965, I blew my first glass bubble. My fascination for it probably comes in part from discovering the process that night by accident. From that moment, I became obsessed with learning all I could about glass.

What do you hope Chihuly Garden and Glass will mean to Seattle — and to America?

We hope Chihuly Garden and Glass will provide a memorable experience and also a good understanding of my career. I hope this project brings something new and unique to the city, and that people who live in the region will visit and will want to return with their families, friends and guests.

How has the Northwest impacted your work?

My “Baskets” series was influenced by Northwest Coast Indian baskets that I saw at the Washington State Historical Museum during the summer of 1977. The “Baskets” went on to inform many of my series that followed. The “Seaforms,” “Macchia” and “Soft Cylinders” all came directly from the style of blowing I developed for the “Baskets.”

What advice would you give a young passionate artist given the economic challenges of the profession?

If you’re really passionate about being an artist, follow your gut and give it your all. Wherever your career takes you, you will always have the excitement of making and sharing your artwork with others.

Leslie, what advice do you have for parents who hope to instill an appreciation of art and art forms in their kids?

Leslie: Participate in all kinds of art experiences, from exhibitions to music performances, to film screenings, to theater, dance and poetry. The beauty of creativity is that it has many languages, and the more kids are exposed, the more they can make connections to leading a creative life. 

How did your parents cultivate creativity in you?

Our parents were supportive of our creative endeavors. Both of us appreciate the freedom we had to express ourselves. I loved dance, music and poetry. My mother was a teacher and very encouraging. She talked a lot about the arts, and since we lived in a small town, she would drive me hours to another city for lessons.

Dale’s mom expressed herself through wonderful cooking and gardening. She let him redecorate the basement in their family home. The Jackson family often sang around the piano. Music was part of the home. Dale learned the value of teamwork, which is essential in his artworks, from his father, who was a union organizer.

In what ways do you hope to impact families with the work you are committed to around the arts in Seattle?

I am very interested in increasing opportunities for all people to enjoy the arts and through that enjoyment, to make a connection between creativity and excellence in all fields of endeavor.

What can schools do to enhance art education and foster an appreciation of the arts?

Ideally, exposure to the arts would be part of everyone’s educational experience. We both believe that understanding creativity within oneself and seeing it in others helps in building community and translates into more fulfilling and productive lives.

What character trait do you value most in your son, Jackson, and how do you teach it to him?

The value we most appreciate in Jackson is empathy. Being able to connect with others, and being sensitive to what others think and feel, is so important.

When Jackson looks back at both of his parents, what do you think he would say he is most proud of?

We hope he will be proud of our efforts to make a difference in people’s lives through music, art and community building. While we get much too busy at times, we hope he understands and is proud of our commitment to our life’s work. We hope Jackson will discover how he wants to positively impact the lives of others and will find his own creative and philanthropic path.

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