Seattle glass master Dale Chihuly has literally covered the world with his creations. Israel's Tower of David Museum exhibition "Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem" broke worldwide attendance records by chalking up more than 1,000,000 visitors last year. Even the Las Vegas Bellagio touts a grand ceiling bedecked with Chihuly flowers. Right now, Chihuly is producing one major installation a week and a show of some of his latest creations closes at Marlborough Gallery on 57th Street in New York on May 5, 2001.
But there is another artful side to this 60-year-old artisan. He collects all manner of decorative arts but on a mega scale that is in keeping with his artistic output.
What's his collection like? Rich, boundless and quixotic. Reams are stored over five buildings, including his boathouse, in Seattle and Tacoma.
There are wooden canoes, some 300 native American baskets, fish decoys and alligator luggage. It's not the studied, retro chic of Ralph Lauren's domesticated West. Rather, Chihuly's collections are marked by a dazzling diversity and depth. He's got no less than 500 Edward S. Curtis iconic photographic images of American Indians. Tucked among a collection of 1940s and 1950s cameras are more than 1,000 Frisbees. "It's the thrill of the throw in the air that attracts me to Frisbees," says Chihuly.
Front and center are a staggering 750-plus trade blankets, many of which are Pendletons, named for their manufacturer. Originally, the blankets were made for the Indian market in which Native Americans swapped their own woven blankets, baskets and even furs. A single hand-woven blanket was worth several Pendeltons, which the Indians prized for their warmth and more vibrant design. Even today, the range of colors, with hues like chartreuse and hot pink commonly juxtaposed, is startling.
Chilhuly studied both weaving and textiles and is attracted not only by the brilliant, arresting designs but also their meaning to the Indians. "It was said an Indian could survive with only one Pendleton blanket," says Chihuly, who is especially taken with examples dating back to 1875 right up to 1915.
More importantly, the blankets have served as a resource for his designs. As a college student at the University of Washington, Chihuly began collecting Pendeltons and then borrowed from their design traditions by weaving small pieces of glass into tapestries.
The glass artist's Blanket Cylinders from 1974 features a distinctive technique in which threads of colored glass are fused into a drawing of a specific Pendleton design then applied to surface of a hot glass cylinder.
Along with the blankets are some 40,000 books displayed in a room with one display wall measuring 50 feet long by 20 feet high. "I like books about artists, designers and architects that have the artist's name on the cover," says Chihuly. While he does not devote an enormous amount to time to reading, vintage cookbooks are among his favorites. He is not interested in first editions per se. "The first and second editions are identical; I don't get that," says Chihuly who frequents the downtown Strand Bookstore in New York.
Of course, there is glass, too -- 17th- and 18th-century Venetian beads, which were used for trade in Africa, along with early Roman glass. But he also has 75 Buddhas in teak and stone from Thailand, and a burgeoning collection of Japanese kimonos
The latest editions to his collecting are Victorian cast iron doorstoppers. With 50 under his wing, Chihuly particularly cherishes the ones done in the form of small dogs, kittens and assorted bouquets.
For furniture, he turns back to the '40s and '50s. Yes, Eames is represented along with Le Courbusier and Frank Lloyd Wright. But this collector is also drawn to non-names and the purity of design. Right now he counts more than 100 pieces of furniture from those decades.
One last note, while Chihuly has no curator, he fully intends to archive his collections.
Chihuly's Pendeltons and Their Influence on his Work. Portland Press, 2000. $75.