Alaska Fishing to Kibbutz, Chihuly Drifted to Hot Glass

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Photographer: Lili Rosboch/Bloomberg

"Glass Forest #6" by Dale Chihuly. This recreation of a work first made with James Carpenter in 1971 is realized with blown white glass filled with argon gas and neon.

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Photographer: Lili Rosboch/Bloomberg

"Glass Forest #6" by Dale Chihuly. This recreation of a work first made with James Carpenter in 1971 is realized with blown white glass filled with argon gas and neon. Close

"Glass Forest #6" by Dale Chihuly. This recreation of a work first made with James Carpenter in 1971 is realized with... Read More

Photographer: Lili Rosboch/Bloomberg

"Turquoise Reeds" by Dale Chihuly at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The installation, made of spear-shaped glass forms springing from trunks of red cedars, opens the show "Chihuly." Close

"Turquoise Reeds" by Dale Chihuly at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. The installation, made of spear-shaped glass... Read More

Photographer: Lili Rosboch/Bloomberg

Dale Chihuly's "Persian Ceiling" installation. Visitors are encouraged to lie on the floor and gaze at it. Close

Dale Chihuly's "Persian Ceiling" installation. Visitors are encouraged to lie on the floor and gaze at it.

Photographer: Lili Rosboch/Bloomberg

One of Dale Chihuly's famous "Boats," which are usually shown floating in the water. Close

One of Dale Chihuly's famous "Boats," which are usually shown floating in the water.

Photographer: Lili Rosboch/Bloomberg

Another "Boat" by Dale Chihuly filled with colorful pieces of blown glass. Close

Another "Boat" by Dale Chihuly filled with colorful pieces of blown glass.

Photographer: Lili Rosboch/Bloomberg

"Macchia Forest" by Dale Chihuly. Each "Macchia" is made of three or four layers of glass. Close

"Macchia Forest" by Dale Chihuly. Each "Macchia" is made of three or four layers of glass.

Photographer: Lili Rosboch/Bloomberg

"Mille Fiori" by Dale Chihuly. The installation, which looks like a colorful garden, is two and a half meters high. Close

"Mille Fiori" by Dale Chihuly. The installation, which looks like a colorful garden, is two and a half meters high.

Dale Chihuly has filled the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts with chandeliers, boats bearing flower stems and spheres and a forest of turquoise reeds. There’s also a remake of an early-1970s neon installation made with James Carpenter that looks like a lake of swans.

These days Chihuly, 72, who was born in Tacoma, Washington, works in Seattle with a team of 90. Most of his pieces are for business or residential clients. We spoke by phone.

Rosboch: How did you begin working with glass?

Chihuly: As a kid I was always interested in glass, but it wasn’t until I had to take a weaving class at the University of Washington in the early 1960s that I made my first artistic use of it -- I started weaving little bits of glass into tapestries.

One night a few years later, I melted some glass in a little oven and blew a bubble. I’d never seen glass blowing before so I was lucky to get it. And as soon as I blew that bubble I decided I wanted to be a glass blower.

Rosboch: How did that unfold?

Chihuly: I was working as a designer for an architect. I quit, went to Alaska and became a commercial fisherman to earn money for graduate school.

In 1966, I went to the University of Wisconsin, which was the first school to offer a glass-blowing program, and from there to the Rhode Island School of Design, then to Italy to study for a year in Venice. Then I started a glass program for RISD, where I taught for 10 years.

Father Figure

Rosboch: I understand you had an unusual experience in Israel.

Chihuly: It was 1962, in the middle of my college career, and I wasn’t doing that well, so I decided to travel. I had a little Volkswagen that I sold for $1,100, which gave me money for transportation to and from Europe and $75 a month for seven months.

In Istanbul I ran into a guy who was driving to Israel. I went with him and ended up at the kibbutz at Lahav.

I was only there for a month or two but there was this one guy who took me to sites like Masada, and I really looked up to him. He was my age and almost like a father to me.

When I went back to school, I was totally changed. I became a stellar student and ended up graduating in interior design and getting a good job.

Rosboch: Tell me about the glass-blowing process.

Chihuly: Well, you have a furnace that has molten glass in it -- anywhere from 50 pounds to thousands of pounds. You take a steel blowpipe, put it in the furnace and gather up some molten glass on the end of it, almost like honey. You take that out, make it symmetrical and blow a little bubble. Then you dip the blowpipe again and add another “gather” -- the number of gathers determining the weight.

Once that’s done you start forming the glass and you can work with tools. I work a great deal with natural things like heat, fire, centripetal force and gravity.

Loose Medium

Rosboch: What inspires you?

Chihuly: All kinds of things. And when you’re working with molten glass things just happen. It’s probably about as loose a medium as you could work with. It’s almost like working with water, very liquid and you can do a lot of things with it.

But traditionally it’s always been very tight. Glass blowing goes back 2000 years and there’s hardly anything that’s not symmetrical. Fortunately I was able to get around that.

(“Chihuly” runs through Oct. 27 at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, 1380 rue Sherbrooke Ouest, Montreal. Information: +1-514-285-2000; http://www.mbam.qc.ca.)

(Lili Rosboch writes for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

Muse highlights include Manuela Hoelterhoff on birds, Jeffrey Burke on books.

To contact the reporter on this story: Lili Rosboch in New York at erosboch2@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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