Return to story


January 10, 2013 12:10 am


Step into the magical world of Dale Chihuly at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, on display through Feb. 10. Here, a detail of the artist's 'Macchia Forest' (2012).



"Chihuly at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts" is an adventure in what is possible in the visual arts.

While glass making was known in ancient times, the American glass studio movement celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. Dale Chihuly is the acknowledged leader in the field.

The Richmond exhibit features eight installations of his voluptuous forms and shapes that resonate light and color through the unique translucence of glass. But rather than compare glasswork to another art like painting where color and light are also key elements, these pieces are akin to poetry in transporting to places of wild imagination and pure enchantment.

Upon entering the first gallery, "Boat Room" with its two drab wooden oversized row boats, one is reminded of a mythical hero preparing for a fantastic journey by stocking up with what else but hundreds of multicolored glittering glass balls.

On the facing wall, the multiple images of organic representations in "Drawing Wall" are like musical variations on a theme.

Walking under "Persian Ceiling" with thousands of glassworks overhead, dabbling light through the archway, is like dancing in a rainbow.

The quiet elegance that pervades "Northwest Room" is most dramatic. Here are items one might find in a Western trading post. A long low table and shelves filled with Tabac baskets and pottery casually intermingle beneath Edward S. Curtis photo portraits of Indian tribal men and a wall with rows of a hundred folded Pendleton blankets.

The most spectacular "Laguna Torcello" was inspired by Venetian lagoons. Lyrical, like an ode to beauty, it is wordlessly delightful.

Organic forms in abstractions like "Macchia Forest," a neon-blue "Tumbleweed" and stalks of "Blue Reeds," are the stuff found in bewitching forests in fairy tales.

VMFA also features two other large-scale Chihuly works. "Blue Ridge Chandelier" is a 3,000-pound glasswork, with more than a thousand hand-blown glass elements, adjacent to the Tiffany "Christ Resurrection Window." "Red Reeds" consists of hundreds of 10-foot spears in the reflection pool in the sculpture garden.

The basics of glass making are as simple as earth, wind and fire: a combination of silica found in sand, heated with fire, and shaped with the breathe of human glass blowers. How this becomes an artwork that is both fragile and enduring is magic, as is this show.

Sheila Wickouski, a former Fredericksburg resident, is a freelance reviewer for The Free Lance-Star.

What: "Chihuly at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts"

When: Through Feb. 10. Full schedule of VMFA events in conjunction with this exhibit is available online

Where: Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, 200 N. Boulevard, Richmond

Cost: $16-$20. Free for VMFA members, children 6 and under, and active-duty military personnel and their immediate families. Info: 804/340-1405;

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.