After graduating in 1965 and working for a time for John Graham Architects, Chihuly enrolled in Harvey Littleton’s seminal glass program at the University of Wisconsin. Littleton is considered the father of the American studio glass movement, which changed the medium world-wide from one of craft and design to one in which artists may work directly with the material for their own aesthetic expression. Chihuly received his M.S. in 1967. He continued his glass studies at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and was awarded an M.F.A. in 1968. After a Fulbright Fellowship, working and observing in the Venini factory in Venice, Chihuly returned to RISD to establish and head a glass department.
In 1971 Chihuly co-founded Pilchuck Glass School, fifty miles north of Seattle. Now considered an international glass communications center, it attracts students and teachers from around the world. Chihuly has been the recipient of many awards including honorary doctorates from the University of Puget Sound, the Rhode Island School of Design, and the California College of Arts and Crafts. He is a Fellow of the American Craft Council and has received the Governor’s Art Award from both Rhode Island and Washington. He has also been honored with two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Council for the Arts Visual Artist’s Award, and the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Award.
In 1992, Chihuly was named the first National Living Treasure in the United States. His work is included in over 170 museum collections from New York to Kyoto. In 1986, Kodansha International Ltd. published Chihuly: Color, Glass, and Form. That same year he became the fourth American to be honored by a one-man exhibition at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. Three other Northwesterners — the painter Mark Tobey, the textile designer Jack Lenor Larsen, and the painter and sculptor Roy Lichtenstein — have also shown in the Louvre. This exhibition was also seen in four other countries.
In 1988, Henry Geldzahler curated an exhibition of Chihuly’s Persians for the Dia Art Foundation. This exhibition toured North America. Also in 1988, Chihuly began a new body of work with the Venetian master Lino Tagliapietro. Inspired by Venetian glass of the Art Deco period, these pieces have been celebrated in the book Dale Chihuly: Venetians, published by Twin Palms Press in 1990.
A survey exhibition was presented at the Azabu Museum, Tokyo in 1990. The following year Chihuly: Venetians originated at the Umeleckoprymslove muzeum v Praze in Praha, Czechoslovakia; this exhibition was also shown at the Rohss Konstodjmuseet in Goteborg, Sweden, and Museum fur Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg. At the Glasmuseum in Ebeltoft, Denmark, Chihuly had the honor of exhibiting with Klaus Moje in the summer of 1991.
In 1992, Chihuly opened the year with a special installation of Niijima Floats at the American Craft Museum in New York. The first one-man exhibition to be held in the Seattle Art Museum’s new home, designed by Robert Venturi, surveyed Chihuly’s large- scale architectural installations and went on to tour the United States. The Seattle public television station, KCTS, produced a half-hour documentary following the preparations for this exhibition. The program has been seen in many United States and Australian markets. In 2003, he completed designs for the sets of the Seattle Opera’s production of Debussy’s Pelleas and Melisande. One of Chihuly’s largest permanent installation works was completed for the corporate headquarters of Little Caesar’s in Detroit
To accompany the exhibition Form from Fire, The Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach, in association with the University of Washington Press, published an expanded catalog (Chihuly: Form from Fire) with essays by Henry Geldzahler and Walter Darby Bannard. To document Chihuly’s creative process, the Seattle Opera, in association with the University of Washington Press, produced Pelleas + Melisande + Chihuly, with full-color illustrations of the drawings and maquettes the artist made as he designed the sets for this impressionistic opera. Chihuly’s first one-man exhibition in Australia opened at the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney before starting on its tour.
In 1994 Portland Press published Chihuly Baskets, which presented that series along with reproductions of Chihuly’s own collection of Northwest Native baskets, a form which inspired his own baskets of handblown glass. The exhibition opened in Wenatchee, Washington, in September 1994 and has been touring the United States since. Another series, Seaforms, was published in 1995, and a tour of the Seaforms exhibition began its national tour at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C., in February 1996.
In March 1996 following the Academy Awards, the Governors Ball featured a major installation of Chihuly’s work. Installations have come to the fore in all of the artist’s recent creations, and one of his most notable public installations can be seen in Union Station in Tacoma, Washington. The centerpiece of the installation is a cobalt blue Chandelier, a configuration of forms that has been the focus of the artist’s imagination for much of the recent past and has led him to pursue a great accomplishment in his career: Chihuly over Venice.
Chihuly over Venice, an international, multifaceted project, began with Chihuly’s fascination with chandeliers and became a two year-long aesthetic and cultural phenomenon. In the summer of 1995, Chihuly took his team of glassblowers to work with the artisans in the famed Iittala glass works in Nuutajarvi, Finland. This blow yielded strong working relationships between the Finns and the Americans, as well as thousands of glass sculptures, many incorporated into chandlers hung in various outdoor locations in and around the Nuutajarvi River. Many were new to the artist’s oeuvre, such as Reeds and Belugas and Seal Pups.
The next trip for Chihuly and his team was to Waterford, Ireland, where glass was blown, sometimes etched, and installed in and around the 500 year-old Lismore Castle. Again new shapes and colors and friends resulted.
Perhaps the most powerfully emotional of all the blows was the trip to Monterrey, Mexico, where Chihuly and his team worked side-by-side with workers in the huge and noisy VitroCrisa factory, which employs 50,000 people and produces 5 million bottles a day for commercial use. Bonds were formed between the Americans and the Mexicans that transcended the work, although that, too, was extraordinary.
The fourth blow took place in Venice, Italy, in September 1996, where Chandeliers from each country, including the United States, were installed in campos and along the canals of that city famed for its tradition of glass. The year ended with Chihuly’s first permanent outdoor installation, the Icicle Creek Chandelier, at the Sleeping Lady Retreat and Conference Center, in Leavenworth, Washington. In January 1997, Chihuly traveled to the Virgin Islands and stayed on St. Croix, where he created a suite more than 100 drawings, inspired by the island scenery.
1998 was a year of growth and expansion of the artwork as well as a continued sharing of ideas and talents across the oceans. While hundreds of thousands of people viewed an exhibition throughout Japan, Chihuly and his team blew glass on the island of Niijima. In Australia, the Sydney Opera House was one of the sites for the installation of artwork during the Sydney Arts Festival, where Chihuly was the guest of honor.
The fall of 1998 marked the installation of major works created for exciting public architectural spaces. Two large chandeliers were created for the lobby of Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony. Four major permanent installations were created for the Atlantis Resort on Paradise Island, Bahamas-Temple of the Sun, Temple of the Moon, Crystal Gate, Atlantis Chandelier. During the month of October, Chihuly installed his largest glass sculpture to date, the Fiori di Como, a ceiling sculpture in the lobby of the Bellagio Resort in Las Vegas. The work is composed of over one thousand hand blown forms, creating a colored veil of glass.
In 1999, Chihuly mounted an ambitious installation, Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem. More than one million visitors attended the Tower of David Museum to view his installations.
In 2001, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London curated the exhibition Chihuly at the V&A. He exhibited at the Salt Lake Art Center during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games and Paralympic Games in Salt Lake City, Utah. His first major glasshouse exhibition, Chihuly in the Park: A Garden of Glass was on display at the Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago. The Chihuly Bridge of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, was dedicated in 2002.
In the summer of 2005, Chihuly returned to London, England and transformed the famous landscape of London’s Kew Gardens with large scale, organically-shaped glass sculptures set throughout Kew’s 300-acre garden landscape. Gardens of Glass: Chihuly at Kew included a series of spectacular installations placed within the great glasshouses.
A major Chihuly exhibition at the 79-acre Missouri Botanical Garden opened in April, 2006. Much of the art is displayed within the tropical rain forest of the garden’s famous Climatron geodesic glass dome conservatory and the adjacent Shoenberg Temperate House.