Piece by Piece: Blue Reeds and Marlins with White Oak

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

The practice of blowing air through a long hollow tube into a ball of molten glass has existed for over two millennia and produced many treasures. Yet the view of blown glass as a fine art medium is still relatively new.

Ceramics professor and artist Harvey Littleton is credited as the first to introduce fellow artists to glassblowing in 1962, at a workshop at the Toledo Museum of Art. The name that's now synonymous with glass art in America, however, is Dale Chihuly.

The Seattle-based artist studied in Venice, the historical mecca for glassblowing, as a Fulbright scholar in the late '60s. In 1971, he founded the Pilchuck Glass School. While training future generations of artists and fostering a scene that's made Seattle the country's glass art capital, he's produced a massive body of nature-inspired sculptures that seem to capture the essence of light. They've adorned museums, private homes and 10 botanical gardens around the world.

In 2003, Franklin Park Conservatory debuted its first collaboration with the artist, the exhibition Chihuly at the Conservatory. After a group of supporters purchased most of the works in the show, the conservatory kept many on display. In Chihuly Reimagined, which opens this weekend, all of the original pieces will be unveiled in different locations and configurations alongside three entirely new installations.

Of what hasn't been seen before, the work that could make the biggest impression is Blue Reeds and Marlins with White Oak, partly because of the tree that inspired it. As conservatory director Bruce Harkey explained, it was one of the oldest in Franklin Park, but it didn't survive a harsh winter storm.

By the time the oak was cut down into three huge chunks, the conservatory staff was looking for a way to make use of them on site. Enter artist Tom Lind, Chihuly Studio's project manager for exhibitions.

Like Warhol and Jeff Koons, Chihuly creates detailed concepts that are carried out by other artists. "Dale puts a lot of faith in the people who do installation for him," Lind said. "He knows they work very well and he trusts them."

With this particular work, Lind arranged around the hollow trunks a number of reedy and spiraling tubes in deep blue made by Chihuly artists in a factory in Finland. They offer explosions of color around the earthy bark and recreate a sense of soaring height the tree lost in death.

Because the tree is meant to stay at the conservatory but Chihuly will recycle the individual glass pieces for different sites and artworks, the assemblage also defines site-specific. It will exist only at the Conservatory, only through March.

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At Franklin Park Conservatory through March 28

Web: fpconservatory.org