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For the week of Jan. 12 through Jan. 18, 2000

Chihuly chats

Master glass artist Dale Chihuly speaks in Ketchum

Express Staff Writer

j12chihuly2.jpg (10301 bytes)Photo Caption Internationally known glass artist Dale Chihuly discusses his "Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem" project at the Ketchum Community Library on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Photos courtesy of Dale Chihuly.

Dale Chihuly, the world’s most celebrated glass maker, had a New Year’s Eve like nobody else.

At the request of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley, he created a series of glass chandeliers with children in a Chicago youth program. He celebrated with them and with two representatives from every country in the world underneath their glittering works of art at Chicago’s millennial celebration. Then, the artist was airborne—flying over fireworks, he said—to the White House, where he was a guest of President Clinton the First Lady at their "Creators of the Century" millennial bash. At Mrs. Clinton’s request, Chihuly created two glass trees for the foyer to the White House.

But the most spectacular Chihuly millennial event happened hours before in Jerusalem without the artist. There, outside the Citadel fortress—now the Tower of David Museum—crowds gathered around what is by far the largest glass installation ever mounted in a museum or in a public space: "Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000."

A tribute to the ancient art of glassmaking, which originated 5,000 years ago in the Middle East, Chihuly’s Jerusalem installation includes 10,000 pieces of multi-colored, multi-dimensional glass. The glass was blown at the 500-year-old Hebron glass factory and at facilities in the United States, Finland, Japan, and the Czech Republic and installed by a 30-person team.

Chihuly, whose work appears in 175 museum collections and who is represented locally by the Gail Severn Gallery, discusses the Jerusalem millennial project at the Ketchum Community Library at 7 p.m. on Tuesday.

Born in 1941 in Tacoma, Wash., Chihuly is as dramatic looking as his work, with his curly hair, ubiquitous paint-splattered boots and his eye patch, which he wears as a result of an automobile accident in 1976 that cost him the sight in his left eye.

He has studied with the father of the American glass movement, Harvey Littleton, at the University of Wisconsin; received an MFA from the Rhode Island School of design; received a Fulbright Scholarship; and worked in the Venini glass factory in Venice, a city that he said reminds him of the Old City of Jerusalem.

"I can’t think of a place that has as much history," Chihuly said of the 2,000-year-old Citadel located at the entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City. "There were 20 or 20 different cultures that occupied it since it was built. Because of that it’s very rich, very complex."

Reached by phone at an inn in Taos, N.M., Chihuly’s voice boomed from the receiver as he discussed the Jerusalem project.

"It’s the most ambitious project I’ve ever done," he said.

More than a tribute to the origins of glassmaking, the glass art is intended to be a kind of peace offering to the war torn region. The Citadel once divided east and west Jerusalem between Israel and Jordan.

"Our crystals are going to help them forget their differences," Chihuly said.

The region is also personally meaningful to Chihuly because of a life-changing experience he had there in the early 1960s.

"I remember arriving at the kibbutz as a boy of 21 and leaving a man, just a few short months later," he said. "Before Lehav (the kibbutz), my life was more about having fun; and after Lehav I wanted to make some sort of contribution to society."

Indeed, since then Chihuly’s contributions to society have been numerous. He continues to lend his time to under-privileged children, most notably at the Hilltop Artists Residence Program, which he created in Tacoma to help at-risk youth. He founded the Pilchuck Glass School in Seattle, Wash., which has led glass artists to prominence worldwide. And for some 30 years his own glass art has dazzled critics and international audiences.

But no contribution that he has made to society has been as epic as "Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000." For the project, he created pieces larger than any he had done before.

Consider the "Crystal Mountain." The massive work rises 48 feet high, well above the Citadel’s soaring archways and towers. Weighing over 60 tons and supported by four miles of steel rods and 18,000 welds, the massive structure took six weeks to fabricate. It still looks gossamery despite the steel because of the 2,000 gold-pink crystals that were added to the end of the rods.

"Crystal Mountain" also has a musical dimension. Passersby can hear sounds—a subtle tingle mixed with the sound of church bells, a Gregorian chant, a muezzin calling Muslims to prayer, a cello with a cantorial sound, a cantor praying. Called "Echoes of Light and Time," the sound effect was achieved by placing eight sensors among the crystals to pick up the changing intensity of light and heat and the movement of sun through the glass.

"Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem 2000" went half a million dollars over budget, which Chihuly said he paid for.

"I didn’t expect to get as into it as much as I did, but the site and the people inspired me and pulled me in," he said.

And Chihuly has pulled in an audience. Some 585,000 people have visited the exhibit since it opened in July.

Can’t make it to the Community Library Tuesday night or to Israel? Check out Chihuly on the web at


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