In Chihuly’s Footsteps · UK & Europe

By Louise Irvine

While in London in July, I was invited to give a lecture to the Women’s Institute about the Chihuly collection at WMODA and so I continued in the glass master’s footsteps to explore his work across the Atlantic. A prestigious Fulbright Scholarship enabled Dale Chihuly to study glassmaking in Murano in 1968 and inspired his extraordinary career of cultural exchange with Europe.

Dale Chihuly studied interior design at the University of Washington and ceramics at Rhode Island School of Design before discovering glass as an artistic medium in 1965. He received a scholarship to attend Harvey Littleton’s new glass program at the University of Wisconsin and learned about glass blowing in a studio setting. Chihuly’s Fulbright experiences at the Venini factory on the island of Murano introduced him to the coveted secrets of Venetian glassmaking, closely guarded from outsiders since Renaissance times. He continued the Murano team approach to glass production when he returned to the US.


Chihuly established a glass program at the Rhode Island School of Design where he taught for twenty years. He also co-founded the Pilchuck Summer School in Washington State which has drawn international glassmaking experts from Europe to teach American students since 1971.

While traveling in England in 1976, Chihuly was involved in a devastating car accident and lost the sight in his left eye after being propelled through the windshield. He injured his arm in a later accident and the physical aspects of glass blowing were delegated to his studio team led by talented gaffers such as William Morris. Chihuly later said “Once I stepped back, I liked the view.”


In the early 1980s, the Chihuly team worked on the Macchia series, which is the Italian name for spot. The goal was to create giant vessels up to 4 feet in diameter using all 300 colors in the hot shop. Colored glass frit was fused onto the exterior layer of the vessel to create a speckled effect. The undulating Macchia shapes were derived from the Fazzoletto handkerchief forms made by the Venini factory in Murano in the 1950s. The Macchia designs were also inspired by the dazzling flower display in his mother’s garden in Tacoma, WA. Chihuly often presents his Macchia forms on tall metal stands as if bursting into bloom in a perennial border.


Venini’s Italian Art Deco designs later inspired the exuberant Venetian series which Chihuly made in collaboration with Lino Tagliapietra at his studio in Seattle. The audacious Venetians feature a profusion of spiraling ribbons, feathers, leaves, and flames which transform conventional vase forms beyond all recognition. The bizarre Baroque style forms are often adorned with frolicking putti sculpted in glass by Pino Signoretto. A Chihuly Venetian was once described as a vase which has had an affair with a chandelier!


Chandeliers have been a specialty of Murano glassmakers since the 1700s when they introduced ornate Rococo designs of translucent flowers, leaves and fruits. Chihuly also learned traditional Irish crystal manufacturing techniques at the Waterford factory in 1995 when he took his entire team to experiment with innovative forms for his Chihuly Over Venice project. He shipped around 12,000 pieces of glass made in Europe and the USA as components for 14 chandeliers suspended over the canals of Venice.

During Chihuly’s visit to Ireland, he was given the opportunity to embellish the gardens at Lismore Castle, the hunting estate of the Dukes of Devonshire. The magnificent Turquoise Frost chandelier, one of Chihuly’s first garden installations, is now in Arthur Wiener’s home in the Hamptons and has been enjoyed by WMODA guests at fund-raising events such as Art on Fire in 2016.

The name chandelier is something of a misnomer as there is no internal light source for these spectacular hanging sculptures comprising hundreds of blown glass forms like living organisms with writhing tendrils. Sometimes, the frenzied tornado-like structures stand on the ground like the tower at Arthur Wiener’s Hamptons home. 

Chihuly in London

Chihuly’s amorphous explosions in glass led to a commission from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London to create a chandelier for the great rotunda in the entrance hall. The spectacular Ice Blue & Spring Green sculpture includes more than 1,400 blown glass forms. It is 27 feet long and 12 feet wide, and was completed in time for Chihuly’s 2001 exhibition at the V & A. In the same year, Chihuly began his Garden cycle and for the last 20 years, he has created major installations for botanical gardens and conservatories around the world.

Chihuly has long been in awe of the great 19th century glass palaces clad in sheets of handblown glass and one of his favorites is the Temperate House at London’s Kew Gardens, the world’s largest surviving Victorian glasshouse. Chihuly’s first epic exhibition at Kew was held in 2005 and his Thames Skiff was acquired by the Saudi billionaire, Dr. Wallid Juffali, who created a lake specially for it at his Bishopsgate mansion in Surrey. When this spectacular collection was sold at auction by Bonhams in 2018, the Thames Skiff changed hands for £75,000 and the chandelier for the Chihuly Spa sold for £87,500.

Chihuly chandeliers were commissioned by several famous London venues including Claridge’s Hotel where the Gilded Dawn chandelier shimmers above their elegant afternoon tea experience in the iconic Art Deco foyer. Harrods installed their Amber & Gold chandelier thanks to the Halycon Gallery which helped establish Chihuly’s reputation in London with the opening exhibition of their New Bond Street gallery in 2011. Chihuly created his first Persian Pergola ceiling in a gallery setting for Halycon’s Beyond the Object exhibition in 2014 and his flaming sculpture of the sun was a major public art attraction in Berkeley Square, Mayfair.

Chihuly returned to Kew Gardens in 2019 with 11 shipping containers for his incredible Reflections on Nature exhibition which celebrated his career of more than 50 years as a glass artist. His Summer Sun and celestial Sapphire Star vied for attention with his vibrant Persian chandelier suspended from the ceiling of the Temperate House. Chihuly’s immersive garden experiences inspired The Rug Company to launch their limited edition Chihuly Studio Collection and Kew was the perfect photoshoot location for the five designs. Thanks to their DCOTA showroom in Dania Beach, the new Harvest and Rosette rugs make striking wallflowers in Chihuly’s Macchia Garden at WMODA.

Read more about Chihuly...

Chihuly at the Smithsonian
Chihuly’s Poetic Persians
Chihuly - Rainbow Glass