Spring Arts-Blown glass flowers
Image: Will Austin

Visual Art

From the Fun Forest...
The Fun Forest’s days were numbered. A once-bustling Gayway where little Joe Kennedy (Bobby’s son) rode the Wild Mouse coaster and carnival gamers won stuffed donkeys, the multimillion-dollar amusement park had become a dreary forest—a ghost town of derelict bumper cars. The city decided not to renew its lease in 2007, and the Fun Forest owner started selling it off, piece by piece. The Wild River. The Orbiter. The Tornado. On January 2, 2011, the carousel made its final turn.

...To the Glass Forest
In April 2011, the Seattle City Council unanimously approved a Dale Chihuly glass art exhibition at the site of the Fun Forest—a space Chihuly’s work could occupy for the next 30 years, all but securing the Northwest artist’s local legacy. The numbers were staggering: a projected $25 million for construction, $50 million for glass, and a 1.5-acre property with an outdoor exhibit that could be seen from the Space Needle. And maybe from space. “Every artist wants their work to be seen by as many people as possible,” Chihuly said. “It’s a dream come true.”

The exhibition, slated to open this spring, is divided into nine galleries—which include the neon Glass Forest, a 15-foot Sealife Tower, and the largest collection of Mille Fiori—in addition to a 70-seat theater, gift shop, cafe, and a 4,500-square-foot Glasshouse, home to Chihuly’s largest and latest work (pictured). Chihuly Garden and Glass, opening this spring, chihulygardenandglass.com

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The Making of a Sculpture

1. At Chihuly’s Boathouse hot shop on Lake Union, a team of glassblowers—plus Chihuly—start molding the 1,400-odd individual Persians that will comprise the Glasshouse installation. The process takes three to four months.

2.Persians combine the delicacy of threaded Venetian glass…with the distinctive woven patterns that are the hallmark of his Baskets and Sea Forms,” wrote art historian Robert Hobbs. Chihuly’s first Persian Ceiling made its debut at Seattle Art Museum in 1992, and the new collection glows in autumn shades: red, orange, yellow, amber, oxblood, and citron.

3. As the Persians are completed, they’re packed into boxes and driven to Chihuly’s mockup studio about four miles away in Ballard.

4. Based on Chihuly’s early sketches and vision, his team fits the pieces together, one by one. “You just start putting this up and see what it looks like,” he said. “It just kind of unfolds—it happens.”

5. Chihuly visits the studio at all hours to tweak the angle of a piece, ever so slightly.

6. Once a 25-foot section of Persians is nestled together, the installation is disassembled, packed back into boxes, loaded onto another truck, and moved to a larger studio for the final mockup. Since the pieces aren’t numbered, Chihuly and his team fit them back together organically. (A nightmare for the Type A among us.)

7. Final destination: Seattle Center, where the 100-foot-long sculpture—one of the largest suspended single pieces Chihuly has ever made, bigger than the Fiori di Como in the Bellagio in Vegas—hangs 43 feet off the ground. The space is modeled after the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. “This is Dale’s Sainte-Chapelle,” his wife Leslie remarked.