From tiny home studios to exquisite galleries, from the outstanding Chihuly Garden and Glass museum to the buzzy Refract festival, Seattle is a city that lives and breathes glass.
Besides the world-renowned Dale Chihuly, more than 700 glass artists work in the Puget Sound region that encompasses Seattle.
The region is also home to some 100 glass art studios and 38 glass art educational institutions, including the exceptional Pilchuk Glass School. After Netflix aired its reality glassmaking series titled Blown Away, Seattle’s star shone even more brilliantly.
It’s no wonder the international Glass Art Society has recognized the Pacific Northwest as the premier hub for glass art in the U.S.
Whether you’re a glass enthusiast or just glass-curious, it’s clear that Seattle is best in glass. Here are seven reasons to visit:
In this city, the glass experience begins right at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. Get your luggage off the carousel but don’t leave before you view some of the art, such as Dick Weiss’s Cow on Its Side, a whimsical mosaic of sideways udders in Concourse D.
When you get to the city centre, these pieces of free-to-see art by the glass master Chihuly top my list: Begin with the fiery six-metre-high glass structure titled Accendo, located in Seattle University’s Pigott Building. Then pop into the Sheraton Grand Seattle downtown for the remarkable collection of Chihuly art in a most unusual setting: the hotel lobby.
In a city where glass is already celebrated, Refract: The Seattle Glass Experience casts an even brighter spotlight on the medium.
“Refract opens it all up and makes artists more visible,” says Tracey Wickersham, senior director of cultural tourism with Visit Seattle. At this year’s festival, taking place Oct. 17-20, expect around 80 events including workshops, hotshop demonstrations and open houses, much of it free. Be ready to snag a coveted free ticket to tour The Boathouse, Dale Chihuly’s private studio and hotshop.
Home studios open their doors, and it’s a wonderful opportunity to get a behind-the-scenes look at the work of artists such as Milo Snyder, who’s known for his use of 3D printing technologies, and Karen Seymour, who creates lamps and other artworks in her basement kiln.
My highlights list begins, of course, with the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum: With eight galleries, a lush garden and a breathtaking centrepiece called the Glasshouse, every facet of this Seattle crown jewel — even the unique gift shop — is a testament to Chihuly’s passion.
“Dale and his vision, that’s the reason Seattle is the centre of ‘Glass America,’” says Michelle Bufano, the museum’s executive director.
A short walk away from the Chihuly, check out the Seattle Art Museum’s experimental glass art pieces. In nearby Tacoma, the Museum of Glass features live glassblowing demonstrations and glassmaking experiences. And a ferry ride away, the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art focuses on many artists who specialize in glass.
Start your planning with Visit Seattle’s Glass Art Guide brochure, available online. My top picks: Head first to Lino Tagliapietra’s elegant showroom, by appointment only, to see the last dazzling pieces from the now-retired Italian master. Then walk a mile south to the Stonington Gallery, which has represented Indigenous artists in the Pacific Northwest for some 40 years. Many artists are shown here, but the marine life artworks of Tlingit glass artist Raven Skyriver are a standout. For Skyriver, who was born on Lopez Island in Washington, the liquid nature of molten glass made the medium a natural fit. “I always try to put motion in my art,” Skyriver said, and indeed, his freehand sculpted glass piece titled Bolt (Pacific Squid) looks as though it could dart away at any moment.
Channel your inner glassblower at Seattle Glassblowing Studio and design a piece of your choosing. Beyond the “wow” factor of creating art, it’s exhilarating to experience the energy of some of the younger artists who teach here. Instructor Malcolm Ford, who guided me as I created a decorative bowl with a scalloped rim, has been working with glass for nearly half of his life, starting with classes in middle school and later through formal training. “I’ll be doing glass until I can’t,” Ford told me. Other studios offering classes include Area 253 Glassblowing and Tacoma Glassblowing Studio.
The views are endlessly Instagram-worthy but don’t forget that the Space Needle is also Seattle’s original and most iconic glass structure. In 2018, the Space Needle was made even better thanks to a renovation that added an open-air observation deck at the top with floor-to-ceiling glass panels that angle out for unobstructed 360-degree city vistas. You can even sit on Skyrisers, the glass benches affixed to barriers on the observation deck. Or, take the winding, circular stairway (made of glass, naturally) down to walk on the world’s first and only rotating glass floor, called the Loupe. I won’t lie — I needed a minute to work up the nerve to do this.
There’s plenty of glass to admire in the city’s buildings and one of the best ways to take it all in is with a walking tour from the Seattle Architecture Foundation. Of special note: The astonishing sight of Amazon’s Spheres, which are part of the company’s Seattle headquarters. The Spheres comprise three glass globes with 2,643 panes of glass that are part office space and part greenhouse, home to more than 40,000 plants from over 30 countries. (Free visits can be booked online.) You’ll also see many more buildings, including the Seattle Central Library, whose contemporary glass and steel design routinely lands it on “best” lists around the world.
Juanita Ng was a guest of Visit Seattle, which did not preview or approve this story.
Follow her on Instagram at instagram.com/JuanitaNg
IF YOU GO: SEATTLE
Planes, train, automobile, even ferry — it’s never been easier for Vancouver Islanders to travel to Seattle.
STAY: The Astra Hotel is a superb, high-tech choice in a great location. Rooms are spacious and feel like they’ve been designed with intention. I enjoyed the wireless charger and touch lighting and I loved Sparky, the hotel robot that brought me room service items. Sparky is also a pro at bringing food delivery to guests. The hotel has a beautiful rooftop restaurant and bar with Space Needle views.
DINE: For high-end dining, try Aerlume for its scrumptious menu and views, as well as its collection of stunning glass art. For a meal on the go, I can’t say enough good things about Ivar’s, a seafood chain that’s a Seattle institution. Have the delectable fried clams!
LINKS: Start your planning at Visit Seattle: www.visitseattle.org
For info on Refract: The Seattle Glass Experience, including hotel packages: refractseattle.org
For details on public glass art, galleries and more, download the Glass Art Guide: refractseattle.org/faq