If you have been to the Spencer Theater, one of the first things you notice is the lovely glass artwork. “Jackie Spencer Morgan had the fine taste and vision to commission several pieces of hand-blown glass from world-renowned artist, Dale Chihuly,” said Charles Centilli, Executive Director of the Spencer Theater. His work is displayed in over 200 museum collections worldwide, including the Louvre in Paris, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and many other prestigious facilities. Chihuly’s most famous series of works include, the Baskets, Persians and Seaforms, however, he is also well-known for his large architectural installations.
“It has been said that Chihuly is to glasswork, what Picasso is to painting, so it’s not surprising that his pieces are extremely collectible,” said Centilli. The Spencer Theater has the largest Dale Chihuly collection in the Southwest. The first installation, called Indian Paint Brushes, or “cow tails” as Jackie dubbed it, is made from 177-pieces of vibrantly colored blown glass.
The second installation was the tall, red Christmas-tree shaped piece (Glowing Sunset Tower) in the Crystal Lobby, which is made up of 564 separate pieces of glass. According to Publicist Kathleen McDonald, “It was purchased for $500,000 and is part of a series of artwork known as The Towers.
All of the installations were overseen by the artist himself, (along with his team of glassblowers and an entourage of ex-wives, girlfriends, etc.). He intended to have the red tower outside, situated between two sloping vortices facing the Sacramento Mountains, however, as McDonald pointed out, “just one major hailstorm would have broken the massive glass structure into tiny pieces.” Occasionally, the “red Chihuly tree” has to be roped off due to concerns for its safety when popular shows bring the Spencer to near-capacity.
Chihuly’s next installation was The Persians and is a series of 36 stunning “plates” or bowls affixed to the wall. McDonald says, “Apparently, there is no significance to the name - he just liked the sound of the word.” The Persians look like giant, vibrantly colored flowers in bloom. They are roped off due to a patron accidentally knocking one of them off the wall. Chihuly personally came back to the Spencer to fix the broken artwork.
The last installation, Ruby Sea Garden & Chandellier, was in 2001. The bulbous purple tentacles are reminiscent of beautiful sea creatures gracefully reaching out to each other. They are located in an area that many patrons of the Spencer Theater do not frequent – the Founders Room and loggia.
Chihuly gave Jackie Spencer a glass sculpture called the Cobalt Blue Baskets. The vibrantly-colored bowls are loosely based on the woven baskets created by the Native Americans of the Taos Pueblo.
Dale Chihuly was born in 1941 in Tacoma, Washington. He studied interior design and architecture at the University of Washington and, after graduating in 1965, Chihuly went on to study glasswork at the Rhode Island Institute of Design (RISD). Three years later, Chihuly was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to work at the Venini factory in Venice, Italy. He learned new methods for blowing glass, including using the team approach, which turned out to be invaluable later on.
In 1976, Chihuly had a head-on collision in England. The car accident caused the loss of his left eye, which created problems with depth perception and peripheral vision. He found that he worked better directing projects, rather than being the head glassblower.
Chihuly went from making table-top sized objects to much larger architectural installations that are of such magnitude that he pushes the envelope for what is technically possible using glass as a medium. Chihuly has received many awards, including eight honorary doctorates and two fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.
The public may view the Spencer collection for free during performance hours and on weekly tours of the theater at 10 a.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call (575) 336-4800 for a tour reservation.