Haden Holmes Brown, 334/844-1484

AU Museum's Chihuly Chandelier


AUBURN -- The John F. Hughes family of Birmingham has donated to Auburn University's Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art a unique glass chandelier designed by internationally renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly.

The installation of the chandelier, specifically designed by Chihuly for the museum's newly constructed building, will take place over a four-day period, from April 22 through April 25.

Chihuly's three-tier, hand-blown sculpture will be installed in the museum's 45-foot rotunda, providing a distinctive focal point to the building's interior. The chandelier is more than 30 feet in length, weighs nearly 2,000 pounds and is composed of more than 600 individual pieces of amber, pale yellow, lavender, olive and gold-leaf glass elements.

"I knew this museum had to have this chandelier," said Hughes, an AU alumnus. "I knew it would announce to the world that our museum embodies the very finest in quality. And you don't get any better than Dale Chihuly -- he's the best there is."

Chihuly, 59, was born in Tacoma, Wash., and has based his glass-making operations in nearby Seattle. He has helped make his native region the glass center of the world. It is estimated that at any given time there are 150-200 Chihuly installations scattered across the United States alone. Three or four exhibitions of his work are occurring simultaneously around the globe. In 2000, during the design phase of the Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art's construction, the museum's director, Michael De Marsche, contacted Chihuly's Pilchuck Studios.

"We didn't have a dime to put toward the making of a chandelier," De Marsche said. "But I felt if Dale would provide a design, we'd have a fighting chance to convince patrons to provide the necessary funding.

"I just knew that the organic forms and spectacular colors of a Chihuly chandelier would make our rotunda space come alive. We got lucky when Dale believed in us and went ahead and developed what is, I think, one of his finest chandelier designs."

In March, a group of museum patrons traveled to Pilchuck Studios to view the fully-assembled work.

Hughes, a 1950 graduate of Auburn's architecture school, recalls his initial response to the work.

"When we first saw the chandelier, nobody could say a word for five, maybe 10 minutes," Hughes said. "We had seen other Chihuly works that emphasized reds, blues, greens and yellows. Although our chandelier still looked like a contemporary piece, it had a more traditional beauty. The chandelier is going to make this community and the Auburn alumni mighty proud."

Zane Mills, coordinator of the Auburn project for Chihuly's studio, has called the reaction to the chandelier "overwhelming." Mills says even members of Chihuly's staff have been stunned by the reception to the piece.

"We haven't had a piece that has generated this much excitement in the studio in a long time," Mills said. "Each time someone walked around the corner to view it, their mouth would drop open immediately. This chandelier has an incredible presence."

In 1968, Chihuly was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to work at the Venini factory in Venice, Italy. While in Venice, Chihuly observed a team oriented approach to blowing glass, which is critical to the way he works today. In 1971 Chihuly co-founded Pilchuck Glass school in Washington. Since the establishment of the school, Chihuly has led the avant-garde movement in the fine art of glass making.

By the early 1990s he had begun to mass glass elements together to create large-scale works, placing some outdoors. He embarked on Chihuly over Venice, a two-year project that culminated in his chandeliers being suspended over the canals and piazzas of Venice.

In 1999 he mounted his most ambitious installation to date, Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem, an exhibition of large-scale sculptures in Jerusalem. More than one million visitors attended the Tower of David Museum to view his installations.

In 2001 he presented his first major glasshouse exhibition at the Garfield Park Conservatory, Chicago. A pedestrian bridge, The Chihuly Bridge of Glass, was dedicated and opened to the public in his hometown of Tacoma in 2002. The bridge is his largest civic project to date and includes three pavilions: the Seaform Pavilion, The Crystal Towers and The Venetian Pavilion.

Chihuly's work is included in more than 200 museum collections worldwide, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian America Art Museum, the Musee des Arts Decoratifs, Palais du Louvre, and the Corning Museum of Glass.

# # #


CONTACT: DeMarsche, 334/844-1484.

(Editor's note: The Chihuly chandelier will be available for media viewing on April 24 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m.)

(Contact the AU Office of Marketing and Communications for photographs of the Chihuly chandelier. Photograph credit: Dale Chihuly, Amber Luster Chandelier, glass, 2003, A Gift of The John F. Hughes Family, from the Permanent Collection of The Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art at Auburn University. Photographer: Jan Cook).