Saturday in Tacoma: “Dale Chihuly’s Northwest”

Bryn agreed to go with me to check out the Chihuly exhibit at the Tacoma Art Museum that I’ve been wanting to see. First, however, we went to Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium since we were going to be down in that area (and we really like animals). Got to see one of the polar bears swimming up close, the arctic foxes, red wolves, and walruses. I love owls and they had several, although my favorite was the Pygmy Owl (above) who we couldn’t see at first, and then discovered at the top of his exhibit, looking down at us. I also think seahorses are really cool and was looking at one of them and happened to think that maybe he was going to the bathroom. Then I realized that it was actually a little teeny-tiny seahorse! He was having babies! And there were a bunch of them, but they looked like little specks! Anyhow, we finally had enough of viewing animals and headed for lunch and our next destination:

Dale Chihuly’s Northwest! Above is the official image that Tacoma Art Museum has been using to advertise the show. It was compelling enough that it got me. I really liked the juxtaposition of Native baskets, blankets that are associated with Natives (but made by whites), and a “basket” inspired by blankets made by a white artist. There’s definitely a story happening here. But how was the exhibit? Well, let me start by saying that I had never been to the Tacoma Art Museum. If the show had been bad, or I was expecting a long day of looking at art, I would have been disappointed. The building is nice enough, very contemporary, and the art on display was fine. But it is a rather small museum.

However, I was not disappointed. There was an initial gallery of Chihuly work that had been gifted to the museum by himself and others. The work was interesting and okay. But once we wandered through the other two galleries and got to the final section where the exhibit I’d wanted to see was, I was much more impressed. I tried taking a picture or two, but they didn’t do it justice. Below is an image from Chihuly’s website showing the huge wall of Pendleton trade blankets along with one (of the two) large wooden slab tables with glass that were in the center of the gallery. There is also a view I found on a random site that shows the opposite wall that was covered with framed Edward S. Curtis photogravures, and the structure (there was another on the opposite side of the room) with wooden shelves filled with Native basketry and Chihuly glass.

I loved being in that room. If Bryn hadn’t been with me, I probably would have lingered (as well as nerded out upstairs in the Art Resource Center–art books!). I even made a purchase in the gift shop. For eighty-two cents, I walked out with a postcard featuring a photo of the “Indian Room” in Chihuly’s Boathouse residence/studio in Seattle. And I was struck by the many similarities between how the exhibit was staged and the image of the room. If there had been a book or brochure about the exhibition, I would have bought it. But the postcard was a great, and much cheaper, way to remember. I found a slightly different, although similar view of the “Indian Room” on the Seattle Yacht Club’s site (below).

Ultimately, I’m really glad I went. It was a nice day and I have a newfound appreciation for Chihuly’s earlier glass art. If I could live in that gallery, I would! It was that great of a space. Plus I got to see owls. What’s not to like?

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