Chihuly: Shivers of Joy

I don’t know about you, but I get excited in stationery stores. There’s a thrill I get seeing shelf after shelf of paper and pens and Post-It notes. It’s not the same ordering HP ink online, although I do that a lot.

It’s that sense of anticipation. Every shiny pen, every ream of paper represents potential – a way to transfer your inner world to the outer world. Gives me the shivers.

It’s not a stationery store, but the Chihuly exhibit at the ROM gave me the same shivers (both times I went) from the first space through to the last. Dale Chihuly’s inner world has been transformed into the outer world through the medium of glass.


I know I’m not alone in the shivers thing. I heard kids and parents trying to pick their “favourite.” It’s a tough choice: dazzling colours compete for eye-time, but for me, the forms are the most enthralling.

Chihuly is acknowledged as one of the world’s greatest glass sculptors, and part of the thrill of seeing his work in person is getting that tactile sense of volume. You don’t just see his work. You feel it, even if it’s cordoned off.


Glass is a remarkable material – somewhere between a liquid and a solid – and this exhibit plays to both states. You’re immersed in a watery world, with direct references to boats, and undersea creatures, and other fluid shapes. You can even lie down on comfy sandbags in one space and look up at a sea of colourful jellyfish-like shapes.

Then there are rock-hard chunky pieces that could be crystals chipped from a subterranean cavern. Pieces inspired by the Northwest Coast Indian baskets.

There’s even a star-like form that looks like the one that rose over the tree in The Grinch Who Stole Christmas when all the Whos came out to sing. Glass: It’s a shapeshifter.

Star in Chihuly exhibit

To create such varied forms takes a master – in fact it takes a whole team of master craftsmen and craftswomen, which is what Chihuly has in Seattle. He’s built that team up over the years, many recruited from the Pilchuck School he founded in 1971 with like-minded friends.

It’s still going strong. (You can learn more in the Emmy-award-winning doc Pilchuck: A Dance with Fire, which I caught on PBS after I saw the exhibit.)

I’m telling everyone I know who hasn’t seen the exhibit yet to go, before it ends in January 2017. I promise volts of colour and light and forms with a presence so palpable it just could give you shivers.

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