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Nice Glass | Tacoma, WA

The Museum of Glass and the Chihuly bridge, in the revitalized waterfront district of downtown Tacoma, were both completed after my last visit to the city...so you can guess where I spent my free time before heading to the airport this time around. I'd heard amazing tales of the museum from friends who've visited Tacoma more recently and I had to check it out for myself. I can now boast my own amazing tales because this excursion did not disappoint.


The exhibit Contrasts: a glass primer, by visiting curator Vicki Halper, runs through November 2009. I've never paused so long to ponder glass and I found the entire experience fascinating. The exhibit challenges the viewer to not simply say "I like it" or "I don't like it..." but rather it provides a vocabulary to describe the artwork before making a judgment. This description-first attitude is how I approach any exhibit (or film, etc.), but it was surreal to see these instructions emblazoned on the wall. I also learned a great deal about glass as art. For instance, a number of pieces focus on "appearance and formation" with words such as "natural/fabricated, hot/warm/cold, transparent/translucent/opaque, factory/studio" - while other pieces focus on the "aesthetic and iconographic" with words like "forms/surface, vessel/sculpture, useful/fanciful, art/craft." Vessels function, sculptures describe...and so on.

The northwest is generally considered the womb of the studio glass movement and Dale Chihuly is the famous Tacoma-ite artist at the center of it all. Almost better than the museum itself is the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. There are three parts to this outdoor, 500-foot, 24/7/365 art exhibit: the crystal towers (which you can see in my photos above), the Venetian Bridge, and the Seaform Pavilion (photos of both below). I've traveled to Venice and visited both Murano and Burano in search of beautiful glass...and who knew I would find a breathtaking rival in my own backyard.

The bridge passes over the 705 freeway, the high-traffic entrance to Tacoma. One side of the bridge is full of cubbyholes housing individual pieces of Chihuly's blown glass. This section is known as the Venetian Wall. The sun shining is a rare moment in Tacoma, but even without the sun blazing through the back of the cases, the bridge takes your breath away. I tried to take a comprehensive photo that would do it justice, but I couldn't capture it how it deserves to be captured. I recommend you check out the professional photos. The second half of the bridge is known as the Seaform Pavilion. As awesome as the Venetian wall is, I think this is the more magical half. It's magical because it sneaks up on you and attacks you with the brightest colors you've ever seen. You walk under thick panels of glass housing Chihuly's colorful glass interpretations of sea creatures and flowing water. I could spend all day under there I loved it so much.

Before the museum and the bridge came to be, Chihuly installed a number of pieces in the courthouse (previously the railroad's Union Station). My favorite is the massive half-circle window facing the waterfront.

I went into the museum gift shop intending to purchase a $1.50 postcard, or perhaps splurge $30 for a book of Maya Lin's landscape work (Maya Lin is most famous for designing the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial at age 21 and had a really moving piece in the current Mining Glass exhibit). I exited the museum gift shop 30 minutes later and hundreds of dollars poorer with a magnificent Kosta Boda vase tucked under my arm. Oops. It was a very KJBella moment...she knows exactly what I'm talking about. I don't regret it for a moment. It was love at first sight when, from across the room, my eyes locked on the graceful Olle Brozen vase. It's an Artist Choice piece from the floating flowers collection and it's just what my living room has been missing...

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