A Sea of Glass

by Louise Irvine

Chihuly’s deep ties to the ocean in the Pacific Northwest have inspired his Seaforms, which are often reminiscent of the radial patterns on shells and sea urchins. Some of his undulating forms suggest translucent jellyfish with floating tendrils. However, his Seaforms evoke the ebb and flow of the tides and the essence of marine life without attempting to depict them realistically.

Often in the placement of his glass objects, Chihuly strives for the scattered effect created by a wave from the ocean which is different each time. As a child, he would search for sea glass and glass fishing floats blown in on the waves. He has always loved the legend of the shipwrecked Mediterranean sailors who accidentally created glass from sand in a beach bonfire and some blocks of soda thousands of years ago.

Exploring Chihuly’s Seaforms at WMODA is like looking at the wonders of the deep through a glass-bottomed boat. In one coral pink composition, eleven organic forms resemble lustrous oyster shells with hidden pearls. Nearby, a deep cobalt blue set encompasses seven amorphous forms with rippling textures. Optic molds are used in the glassblowing process to create shell-like ribs, which increase the strength of the thin glass and lines of color around the body emphasize their wave-like forms.

Chihuly’s collaborations with the Venetian maestros have led to more literal interpretations of marine life. With the celebrated Murano glass sculptor Pino Signoretto, he created luminous glass vessels adorned with sea creatures from the lagoons of Venice cavorting with playful putti from Baroque art. With Lino Tagiapietra, Chihuly conjured up the Venetians series with riotous tendrils and tentacles entwining vessels or sprouting from chandeliers. Lino Tagliapietra, now in his 85th year, has been blowing glass in Murano since he was twelve. Making shells of cased glass fascinated him for many years and WMODA has a striking abstract Conchiglia in clear glass.

Coral Reefs

Miami glassblower, Rob Stern, has worked with Chihuly and his team on numerous occasions during his 30-year career. He trained specifically with Pino Signoretto and was in his studio on the day that Pino began collaborating on the Venetian Putti series with Chihuly and Lino. Like his mentors, Rob has often been inspired by sea life and several of his spectacular conch shells are on display at WMODA. He has also been creating luminous coral heads, particularly the endangered Elkhorn and Staghorn varieties.

Not surprisingly for a Floridian, Rob loves the water and diving in the Keys. He is concerned for the future of the coral reefs, which are dying of disease and environmental change. His awareness has been fueled by his friend Ty Pennington, who has been supporting the Plant a Million Corals project with Dr. David Vaughan. In Rob’s own words, “My aesthetic resides at the crossroads where humans and nature intersect. Between organic and angular, a space, which connects the temporary man-made to the pre-existing and eternal cosmos.”

Josh Fradis has also been exploring the natural shapes, textures and colors found in Florida’s ocean reefs for his new Coral Caverns. Creating the caverns is an exciting process as Josh forces the molten hot glass into thermal shock by dipping it into cold water to achieve the deep fissures which expose the brilliant interior colors. Some caverns are inhabited by octopus, sea anemones and other reef dwellers. Josh also makes waves of glass inspired by the Caribbean, Hawaiian and Pacific oceans which range in color from azure to deep aquamarine and sea green.

1000 Mermaids

The human connection with our oceans has long been symbolized by mermaids. They appear in the myths and folklore of many cultures and take on different appearances in sea dreams and freshwater fantasies. Chelsea Rousso, who became a glass artist after a successful career as a fashion designer, has been inspired by mermaids for her wearable glass as well as for her fused glass panels. Exploring the beauty of Florida seascapes has been the theme for several of Chelsea’s creative glass classes at WMODA and her protégés, such as Ann Orvieto, have produced some beautiful kiln formed glass art with aquatic themes.

Mermaids are now helping to create awareness of our marine environment thanks to the 1000 Mermaids Project, a public Eco-Art installation and artificial coral reef off the east coast of Florida. Chris O’Hare, the founder of Reef Cells, has patented a Coral Lok system that encourages corals and other marine life to attach to eco-friendly materials, including limestone concrete and calcium carbonate modules. The artificial reef is inhabited by mermaids created by Chris using body scans of real people. This exciting fusing of art with marine biology has created an underwater sculpture garden, which is an exciting destination for divers to explore.

Learn more about the 1000 Mermaids Project

Learn more about the Plant a Million Corals project

Read more about Mermaids at WMODA

Take part in our new Magical Mermaids trivia trail at WMODA.

Check out all the aquatic glass designs for sale at the WMODA Museum shop.

“Glass itself is so much like water. If you let it go on its own, it almost ends up looking like something that came from the sea.”

-Dale Chihuly.