Spaced Out and Glassy-Eyed in Seattle

Sunday, December 02, 2012 Road Junkies 0 Comments

Westward Ho, Day 29:  Seattle, WA

After a five and a half hour flight back to Seattle yesterday, rest was at the top of our agenda when we arrived.  All recharged, this morning we were ready to tackle Seattle's urban center.  Even better, there was no workday traffic to impede our drive downtown to take in Seattle's Space Needle and the nearby Chihuly Garden and Glass museum. 

When Seattle submitted a successful bid for the 1962 World's Fair, city leaders wanted to construct a lasting symbol for the event, much as Paris did with the Eiffel Tower, which was built as the entrance arch to the 1889 exposition.  With a theme of 'Century 21,' planners attempted to market Seattle and its fair as futuristic and forward-looking.  Space exploration had just begun, and the sky was no longer the limit.  What better commemorative monument than a space ship on a pedestal?

Celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, the 605-ft. Space Needle was the tallest structure in the city at the time of its debut.  Today it is dwarfed by five downtown skyscrapers that exceed its height by as much as 330 feet.  The Eiffel Tower, on the other hand, remains the tallest structure in Paris, still 1.5 times taller than the next contender, so that enduring symbol still dominates the Parisian skyline.

Seattle's Space Needle continues to attract plenty of visitors, who ride the golden capsule elevators to the viewing platform or the rotating restaurant at the top.  In celebration of the holiday season, a space age Santa was holding court at the observation level today, and dozens of kids were standing in line waiting to whisper their wishes in Santa's ear.

Shouldn't the child be whispering in Santa's ear?
After we landed back on earth from our space voyage, we headed next door to check out the new Chihuly Garden and Glass museum.  Even if you haven't heard of Washington native son Dale Chihuly, chances are you have seen some of his work—or some of his employees' work.  Probably the world's most prolific and highest earning glass artist, Chihuly is as flamboyant as his large-scale art pieces, which resemble giant pieces of shiny candy.

Dale Chihuly
Born in Tacoma, Chihuly studied art in Washington and Wisconsin before he was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to study glass in Venice.  Returning to his home state, Chihuly founded an international center for glass art education and began producing his own style of glass sculptures utilizing brighter colors and larger scales than was typical for the medium.  After losing sight in his left eye to an auto accident in 1976, the artist continued to blow glass until a shoulder injury three years later left him unable to hold the blowing pipe.

This seminal event transformed Chihuly's work and his art.  Hiring others to do the work he was now unable to do, the artist became, in his own words, "more choreographer than dancer, more supervisor than participant, more director than actor."  In the ensuing years, his 'team,' has swelled to 90 or more, and this has permitted him to become quite prolific and profitable.  Critics allege that his works often resemble each other and are more business than art.

And, as so often happens, some of Chihuly's most ardent detractors are those from his hometown.  One local critic panned, "Seeing yet another generic Chihuly glass sculpture that one of his assistants crafted induces the same gag factor that you get listening to a Kenny G Christmas album."  Yet wherever his work is exhibited—and most major U.S. cities have had at least a temporary Chihuly show—fans of his gigantic glass baubles surge in to admire his creations.  Artist or entrepreneur?  Love him or hate him?  You be the judge.

Ikebana Boat
Glass Forest (neon lit)
Mille Fiori (Italian for 1000 Flowers)
Mille Fiori
Sealife Tower (15' x 12')
Detail from Persian Ceiling
Persian Ceiling
Orange Hornet chandelier
Space Needle, as seen through Glasshouse and its hanging sculpture
Glasshouse, 16' sun, and garden elements
Garden reeds and balls
More garden elements
We enjoyed the museum, as we have other Chihuly works we have seen.  Unlike the Seattle critic, we would liken Chihuly not to the mellow Kenny G (another Seattle native), but to the equally baroque Canadian entertainment company, Cirque du Soliel.  Yes, there is a certain similarity in Chihuly pieces as there is in Cirque productions.  But those recognizable, signature features do not diminish the quality of the glass art or the circus performances.  They merely whet the appetite for the next opportunity to experience the creators' predictably high quality art forms.

More Photos from Today

Seattle downtown from Space Needle observation platform
Another Space Needle view
Surprise!  Another day of rain in Seattle...
Soggy Pike Place
Proof that one moment of blue sky sneaked into Seattle today