As part of the Art at Fairchild program at the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in Coral Gables, a special installation of glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly will be on display until May 31, 2015. Instituted in 2004, Art at Fairchild has brought exhibits by such artists as Roy Lichtenstein and Fernando Botero to this tropical wonderland; Chihuly was here once before in 2005.
Born in 1941 in Tacoma, Washington, Dale Chihuly is credited as a leader in establishing glassblowing as a fine art. He studied at the University of Wisconsin in the first university level glass program in the United States. With a Fulbright Fellowship, he went on to train in Venice. He developed and taught at the Rhode Island School of Design’s glass program and cofounded the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington.
Chihuly is known for his grand scale installations, the placement of glass sculptures in gardens, cities and museums throughout the world including his famous Chandeliers over Venice, as well as installations in Jerusalem, the Royal Gardens outside of London, Montreal, Seattle, San Francisco, and Boston. His works are on exhibit in more than 22 international museums. Hehas had shows at the Louvre in Paris and the Victoria and Albert in London. There are permanent exhibits at various museums and other locations around the United States including the Morean Arts Center in St. Petersburg, Florida. I’ve seen his collection at this gallery and it is well worth a visit if you are in St. Pete.
An auto accident in 1976 left Chihuly blind in one eye and without depth perception. The signature eye patch he wears is witness to that damage and, as a result of that and a later shoulder injury, he now directs a team of glassblowers to create his designs rather than blowing the glass himself.
The 83 acre Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden was established in 1938 “dedicated to exploring, explaining and conserving the world of tropical plants.” A conservation and education based garden welcomes more than 350,000 visitors per year. It claims to be one of the best botanic gardens in the world and is also home to the American Orchid Society
The garden’s foliage and blooms are diverse and beautiful; some familiar to southwest Florida residents,others very exotic, with flora from all over the world. On a recent visit there, the many colors and sweet and pungent fragrances that permeated the air were a delight to the senses.
Chihuly’s twenty six installations are well integrated into the various environs at Fairchild. Some are out in the open, inviting the sun’s glare to dazzle the eye. Others are tucked among the plantings, lakes, and ponds seeming to become a part of them. All have a playfulness about them with their striking colors, some monochrome, others a representation of the full color spectrum. The geometric designs include spheres of all sizes, spikes, and twisted tendrils. They are all made of glass, polyvitro (a polymer), or neon.
The designs are divided into what I would classify as structural and naturalistic. Structures include huge spiked and tendriled towers, chandeliers, smooth bubble shaped floats bobbing in water, and heavy baskets/bowls.
The naturalistic involve recreated reeds, cattails, fiori (flowers), sunbursts, Walla Walla onions, herons, and belugas. Walking the pathway surrounded on both sides by purple colored reeds placed among unusual plantings from the Americas and Madagascar gives the feeling of entering an enchanted land. The changing hue and dappled lighting of red reeds placed alonga passageway as the sun and clouds reflect on them is mesmerizing. The stately cobalt herons popping out of a lily pond are actually a permanent display at the Fairchild, what Chihuly calls “Reichenbach floats” were added for this special show.
My favorite display was a short path lined on both sides with brilliant sapphire blue reeds, fiori, and floats ending at a similarly colored star bursting up from a pool of water. I also liked the glass filled Venetian styled boats in two of the eleven lakes on the grounds of the Fairchild. One was filled with glass bubble floats of all sizes and colors, the other with intricately shaped and twisted fiori. And then there was the array of almost two dozen different types of fiori in the rainforest section of the Fairchild. They fit in so well, I sometimes had to look twice to realize they were manmade.
The Fairchild is open daily from 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM. During this exhibit, there are special “Tropical Chihuly Nights” tickets on Thursdays and Sundays from 6:00-9:00PM during which the gardens and sculptures are lit. There is also a special Night GlassPass onthose days which allows all day and night entry, including a “sunset”” tram tour at 5:00PM.
The Fairchild’s location in Coral Gables is about a two hour drive from Marco Island. The regular admission price includes a narrated tram tour as well as guided walking tours. They hold a number of special events throughout the year including orchid, chocolate, and mango festivals.
The Fairchild is accessible for people with disabilities and wheelchairs are available for loan on a first come first served basis. Cold water stations are available at very welcomed locations throughout the grounds. The Glasshouse Café with its Chihuly chandelier and view of the butterfly garden provides a cool respite and varied lunch choices. There is a second Lakeside Café near the beginning of the tram tour. Bug spray is recommended. The Fairchild’s website is www.fairchildgarden.org
Vickie is a former member of the Marco Island City Council and Artistic Director of the Marco Island Film Festival, and has been a volunteer for many island organizations. She is presently on the board of the Naples Mac Users Group. Prior to relocating to Marco, Vickie served as a school psychologist, Director of Special Services, and college instructor and also was a consultant to the New Jersey Department of Education.