Hello from the West Coast! I've arrived safe and sound in Seattle and have been eager to take advantage of your suggestions. I'll be sending dispatches from my trip over the next few days—and please feel free to continue to help me plan my trip!
Within minutes from arriving in Sea-Tac airport, I worked my way to downtown Tacoma, a smaller city a bit south of Seattle where Dale Chihuly, the glass sculptor whose blown-glass flowers grace the ceiling of the Bellagio hotel in Las Vegas, is originally from. The Museum of Glass (pictured, left) was completed in 2002 in part to celebrate Chihuly's role in the studio glass movement, and it helped to revitalize the city and redevelop the waterway downtown. Today, the gleaming silver building sits on the edge of the harbor, looking a bit like a blimp set down sideways in the center of the city.
The building itself has a bit of a split personality—one part upscale museum, where a collection of local and international artists display their delicately sculpted pieces, and one part studio, where visiting artists grunt, juggle blowtorches, and pour molten-hot glass into vats.
The huge, cone-shaped structure houses the Hot Shop, where visitors can sit in auditorium seating and watch the artists as they work. They looked a bit like garage-band punks (one had a T-shirt that said "Nice Glass" on the back) but their work had the look of an elaborately choreographed dance. As the artists worked, "Hot Shop Interpreter" Jeanne Ferraro explained to us that the first several hours of the day before visitors arrive is in fact a dress rehearsal, at which point the artists and apprentices work out their routines.
For over an hour, we watched as they took turns carrying the glass pieces from the "Glory Hole," which is around 2,300 degrees Fahrenheit, while others used an air compressor to blow air on the artists' hands as they rotated the pieces, ensuring the pieces held shape (the air helps to stop their hands from sweating). Another apprentice donned a silver space-looking suit to grab the final piece, which he then put in "the garage," which was a much cooler 900 degrees. Sculpting the work took about an hour, and as the team of artists sat—breathing heavy after they finished—you realized the delicate nature of the art was the result of a staggering amount of sweat.
Photos: Janelle Nanos