Persian Ceiling

Long-time readers of “Hoarded Ordinaries” might remember the entry I posted after seeing the glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History in March, 2006. Crafted by 19th century glass artisans Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, these botanical specimens amazed me with their life-like detail. “Hearing the phrase ‘glass flowers,'” I wrote, “I imagined the objects on exhibit would look like glass first and flowers second: pretty, colorful, and entirely artificial looking, more art than science.” What I’d expected when I went to see the Blaschkas’ glass flowers, in other words, was something like the work of Dale Chihuly.


The countless flower-like forms in “Through the Looking Glass,” the exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts through August 8th, are exactly what the Blaschkas’ flowers aren’t. Commissioned by a botany professor in 1886, the Blaschkas’ glass flowers are realistic specimens that capture plant anatomy in painstaking detail. Dale Chihuly’s flowering forms, on the other hand, suggest the color and shape of flowers as seen in a dream. The Blaschkas captured the anatomical details of plants as they are, and Dale Chihuly captures the contours and colors of flowers as they could be. “These are flowers,” you might say in response to the Blaschkas’ handiwork; of Chihuly’s specimens, “these are flowers on drugs.” Any questions?

Piled platters

“It’s like standing inside a kaleidoscope,” one museum-goer observed. “It’s like something out of Willy Wonka,” another woman noted. Stepping into Dale Chihuly’s fertile, flowering world, you’re forced to resort to metaphor, the forms before you not quite matching anything you’ve seen before. “It kind of looks like a cactus,” one visitor said in reference to Chihuly’s “Lime Green Icicle Tower,” and I overheard other onlookers comparing various pieces to fruit, candy, and an entire menagerie of exotic, sinuous creatures.

Turning the corner to consider the room-length wilderness of “Mille Fiori,” for instance, you might as well leave language at the door, the forms before you suggesting a hybrid riot of animal, vegetable, and miracle.

Mille Fiori

“Oh, my!” was how one child described it, and she stole the words right out of my mouth. Is this a marsh filled with reedy tangles or an exploded candy-factory offering a wealth of candy canes and rainbow-hued jawbreakers?

Mille Fiori

Time and again, I heard parents quizzing their wide-eyed youngsters: “Which one is your favorite?” And time and again, I heard children resorting to fanciful descriptions: “The pink snaky one!” “The one that looks like licorice!” “The peppermint!” Adults, too, pointed, gesticulated, and struggled to categorize what they saw. A debate arose, for instance, around a huddle of pointy-ended black blobs: were they tubers, snails, seals, or shrews? Unlike the Blaschkas’ glass flowers, which are politely labeled with genus and species, the creations in Chiluly-Land defy categorization, blurring the boundary between plant and animal, actual and imaginary. This ain’t your Grandma’s flower garden, but a psychedelic romp through a land of light and color.

Persian Ceiling

As if the thousand flowers of “Mille Fiori” weren’t mind-boggling enough, the glowing expanse of Chihuly’s “Persian Ceiling” evokes an other-worldly, aquatic realm. Are these underwater flowers, terrestrial jellyfish, or translucent denizens of a yet-to-be-discovered planet?

Persian Ceiling

The Blaschkas themselves made glass invertebrates–“jellyfish, anemones, planarians (flat worms), polychaetes (tube-dwelling worms), sponges, radiolarians and assorted molluscs”–that reside in Dublin’s Natural History Museum, which I visited in February, 2006…but again, the Blaschkas’ crystal jellies are worlds apart from Chihuly’s aquatic creatures. The Blaschkas captured the weird colors and stunning shapes of creatures that actually exist: their work mesmerizes because it suggests things you might see if you traveled the world with open eyes. Chihuly’s work, on the other hand, offers a fantastic glimpse into a world that never was: the muscae volitantes of imagination’s eye.

Persian Ceiling

Click here for more photos of Dale Chihuly’s “Mille Fiori,” or click here for more images of his “Persian Ceiling.” Click here to see a complete photo-set from Chihuly’s exhibit at the MFA. Enjoy!

Bird's eye view

Yesterday I went to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts to see “Through the Looking Glass,” an exhibit of Dale Chihuly glass sculptures on view through August 8th. By far the largest of the sculptures on display is the 42-foot-tall “Lime Green Icicle Tower,” which looms in the enclosed Shapiro Family Courtyard between the MFA’s old and new wings: a spiky spire of neon-green goodness.


Before seeing the “Lime Green Icicle Tower” in person, I’d read about the MFA’s campaign to purchase the piece, which costs more than a million dollars. “Through the Looking Glass” has been an inordinately popular show, with weekend crowds queuing for hours for a turn inside the exhibit’s riotously colorful galleries. Now that so many museum-goers have seen Chiluly’s work–and now that so many museum-goers have seen how the “Lime Green Icicle Tower” perfectly decorates the Shapiro Family Courtyard’s otherwise bland, empty expanse–it’s only natural to ask those appreciative crowds to chip-in for the sculpture’s purchase.

Stairway photo op

Having snapped a handful of pictures of ol’ Limey when I first arrived at the MFA yesterday, I found myself photographing him again and again from every angle and seemingly at every turn. The “Lime Green Icicle Tower” is one of those monumental pieces that seems so at-home in its present location, I can’t imagine the space without it.

From below

On the MFA website, there’s a short, time-lapse video of the installation of the “Lime Green Icicle Tower”: like an artificial Christmas tree, “Lime Green” was assembled branch by branch, starting at the base and working upward. Now that “Through the Looking Glass” is entering its final week, I hate to imagine crews tearing down ol’ Limey branch by branch, sending his pieces packing. Like a neon-green tree or spiky glass cactus, the “Lime Green Icicle Tower” has set down roots here in Boston, and I for one want him to stay.

Base reflection

Am I willing to put my money where my mouth is on that point? You bet your lime green icicle tower. Although the MFA has a page online where you can donate toward the sculpture’s purchase, and although cell-phone users can donate $10 by texting the word TOWER to 50555, I chose to make my contribution the old-fashioned way by dropping some cold green cash into one of the courtyard’s donation boxes.

Like individual branches assembled to form a towering green spire, your donation plus my donation plus every other museum-goers’ donation adds up to something enormous.

Click here to view my complete photo-set of Dale Chihuly’s “Lime Green Icicle Tower.” I’ll share the rest of my photos from “Through the Looking Glass” over the next week, as I’m able to sort through them. In the meantime, this is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Enormous.