Role Models & Heroes: Dale Chihuly (2018)

By October 1, 2018 February 18th, 2019 Bnei Mitzvah, Heroes & Role Models

The following essay on role model Dale Chihuly was written by Benjamin Casper, a middle schooler, enrolled in City Congregation’s Bar/Bat Mitzvah program. Students spend a year and a half researching their heritage, values and beliefs, and write on a Jewish subject of their choice, their major project. The process  improves both the student’s writing and critical thinking skills, as well as his/her self confidence and overall maturity.


I have chosen Dale Chihuly [2 Dale portrait] as my role model. He is a glass blowing artist who has taken an incredibly old technique and turned it into a means of creating unimaginably beautiful art. As you might find after hearing this essay, Chihuly is determined, passionate, thoughtful, kind, and innovative. These qualities are all things I strive for as a kid and as a person in general.
I first became interested in glass blowing while I was on a trip with my 5th grade classmates in D.C. On our last day, we went to an American Indian art museum. There was an exhibit about glass blowing that I was particularly drawn to. On the wall there was a red and black crow head, and when I saw it, I told my dad, “I want to be a glass blower.” I was first introduced to Chihuly’s work when I went to see the Christmas window displays at Barney’s in 2015. [3 – Barney’s window] He had designed a cluster of “ice spikes” that were made out of glass. It was difficult for me to pull myself away from these particular windows.
Chihuly was born in Tacoma, Washington, on September 20th, 1941. His brother was killed in the Navy air force when Chihuly was fifteen and his father died the year after. These losses forged a very close bond between Chihuly and his mother who was a big influence on him in terms of college and design. Chihuly became interested in glass when he was at the University of Washington learning textiles. The first time Dale Chihuly got a “bubble” in a piece of glass was when he was around 24 years old and melted a few pounds of stained glass in a kiln in his house. Chihuly wanted to see what would happen if he blew into the glass, so he grabbed a gas pipe from his basement and blew into it. He was somehow able to get a bubble in the glass having never seen glass blowing in his life! Chihuly has been blowing glass ever since and still has the ability to be unusually creative and inventive with his designs. [4 – Red Bowl] To me, a role model is someone whom you look up to and/or admire in some way, shape or form. You want to be like them, you share their ideals, beliefs and/or values. Dale Chihuly fits this definition for me because I am currently interested in becoming an artist of some sort, and I share many of his values. Some of these values include Chihuly’s determination, compassion, creativity, and generosity. While I don’t necessarily incorporate all of his values, I still strive for them in my life.
Dale Chihuly’s determination can be seen throughout his life by many examples. The first one I would like to talk about is the time he lost his left eye in a car crash. Even without any peripheral vision whatsoever in his left eye, Chihuly continued to blow glass. Soon after, he dislocated his shoulder in a body surfing accident in 1979. This incident ended Dale’s glass blowing career, but even after the accident, he continues to stand alongside his team and instruct them on what colors and shapes to incorporate in the work. [5 – TEAM] In other words, Chihuly still manages to be fully involved in the process without actually handling the glass itself. With the early losses of his family members and these accidents, Chihuly was still able to pursue his goals even through extremely difficult times. I think I admire this more than anything else about Dale Chihuly.
His compassion is a remarkable aspect of his personality and of the way he responds to things in his life. For example, Chihuly is very forgiving when working with his team to create his glass cylinders. At the same time, he is very controlling, and can be demanding to work with – like most artists. In spite of this, he allows for lots of leeway, within his vision. If a member of his team makes a mistake in terms of color, pattern, or shape, he will very casually tell them to forget it and move on. What is really great about his forgiveness though, is that Chihuly suggests another idea to follow up the correction. This shows his ability to use constructive criticism and flexibility, which are both very important skills to have in life in general.
Chihuly’s creativity is best demonstrated by his work itself. [6 “anubis”] It speaks of his personality and abstract way of thinking with its wavy tubes of glass and beautiful drawings and patterns sprawled on the surface of the piece. The work is unique and special because of its color and shape. [7 – Spiky planet] His sculptures stand out among other works of art in general, let alone in glass blowing. One of his most famous sculptures is a glass tree [8 Seattle tree] that stands at over 20 feet tall at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle. The tree’s crazy color and outstretched tendrils make it all the more appealing to look at. [9 – Tree detail] Chihuly chooses colors that are not generally thought of together and combines them, creating something that people don’t normally expect. Although Chihuly is largely the designer, he still gets advice on color combinations from his team.
He uses shapes that bring out these unusual colors, but he doesn’t really design the shape fully. Chihuly generally starts with a drawing, essentially a rough draft of the basic shape and color of the piece. [10 Dale w/Broom] However, once the time comes for his team to blow and shape the glass, Chihuly enjoys “letting the glass do what it wants to do,” rather than forcing it into a symmetrical shape. [11 Seattle ceiling] This goes against many glass blowers’ styles, which tend to be very symmetrical and even. Along with his fascination for color, Chihuly also has an obsession with water, and with the way that almost everything can be transformed into a liquid state. [12 indoor pond] Even glass, he says, is “a super-cooled liquid.” He loves the way light hits water, and how the light brings out the color in everything. After all, that is where color comes from. So, there is an aspect of science that can be seen within his work in most cases.
Chihuly’s generosity is a really amazing trait, because he is so forgiving and kind, as well as selfless in interacting with the people he works with. This allows for some silliness while in the “shop,” as his team calls it. Although the old team is not with him anymore, Chihuly still works with a team of people in Seattle, and I’m sure they are also grateful for his spirit and attitude towards all of them. These traits are seen in a video of a woman who went to experience glass blowing in his studio. She had never done it before, and Chihuly was very patient and kind with her. He complimented her for doing something well, and gave constructive criticism too. The woman ended up with a beautiful piece of art. This is just one of many examples of how Dale Chihuly’s kindness and generosity can actually help to improve someone’s work.
His generosity also leads to another result [13 Chihuly with team]. He allows, and even enjoys, letting his team experiment with different colors and shapes, as well as new designs and ideas with glass. Chihuly is very excited by these new ideas that have the potential to be created and loves to encourage his team to follow through with their ideas.
I appreciate and look up to all of these qualities of Dale Chihuly [14 me looking up]. His level of creativity is something I strive for all the time, no matter what I am doing. He has compassion for all of his friends and family, which makes him all the more likeable. Chihuly continues to experiment with new ideas and designs to this day [15 neon craze], which shows his determination as well as his creativity. It would be amazing if I were able to meet him someday, and learn even more about him and his life as an artist.