Chihuly Collection Enriches St. Petersburg’s Rich Cultural Offerings

With new Salvador Dali Museum opening, two giants of modern art bookend Beach Avenue

by Karen Rubin

The opening of the Chihuly Collection further cements St. Petersburg, Florida’s undisputed position as a Top Arts Destination among mid-sized American cities.

Dale Chihuly's Ruby Red icicle Chandelier is the signature piece for the newly opened Chihuly Collection in St Petersburg, Florida © 2010 Karen Rubin/

There are only about 20 museums dedicated to a single artist, and St. Pete already has one of them: the Salvador Dali Museum, which is the city’s biggest attraction. Now, with the opening of the Chihuly Collection, it has the 21st and another blockbuster.

The Collection is housed on the ground floor of a new office/retail building on the north end of Beach Drive. (The Salvador Dali Museum is moving to a new building that is being constructed at the south end of Beach Drive, scheduled to open Jan. 11, 2011, so there will be wonderful end-to-end balance, with the Museum of Fine Arts in between.)

Dale Chihuly – the Louis Comfort Tiffany of our time – is a pioneer, a visionary, and a master of glass-making, the student of the legendary Murano glass works in Venice who returned as a teacher. The variety of techniques, the use of color and texture and shape, are marvelous to behold and are fabulously displayed here. His pieces have the uncanny ability of complimenting – not competing – with nature.

Glass making goes back 5,000 years, and glass-blowing 3,000 years. Chihuly takes the art to new frontiers.

A pioneer of the studio glass movement, Chihuly is credited with transforming the methods of creating glass art and thereby leading the development of complex, multi-part glass sculptures and environmental art. However, his contributions extend well beyond the boundaries of the studio glass movement and even the field of glass: his achievements have influenced contemporary art in general.

My own view is that so much of modern art is harsh, designed to shock, and depends on intellectual gimmickry; Chihuly brings back a reliance on ingenious craftsmanship and emotionally satisfying aesthetics.

The Chihuly Collection (it isn’t technically a museum, but is the first permanent collection of his work) is presented by Morean Arts Center, an arts-education institution, where there is a glass studio and hotshop that can also be visited (separately, as well as with a combination ticket).

Make time to see a DVD about Dale Chihuly which is more about the creative process than a straight-forward biography – and follows the development of several of his major installations around the world, including “Chihuly Over Venice” with the sculptures installed over the canals and piazze; “Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem”, a millennium exhibition at the Tower of David that drew more than one million visitors, and the “Chihuly Bridge of Glass” in Tacoma, Washington.

Chihuly, who is a native of Tacoma, Washington, was one of first American glass blowers welcomed by Venetians and Murano to study. But he evolved different techniques, which he was able to demonstrate to master glass artisans Lino Tagliapietra and Pino Signoretto when he went back to Murano to create the “River of Glass.”

Chihuly got the idea for "Float Boat" - a boat filled with glass-blown balls and objects after his "River of Glass" project, when kids picked the glass objects out of the river and put them into their boat © 2010 Karen Rubin/

The whole film takes about 90 minutes, but you can visit at any point and pick up the story. But here is where you get a much fuller appreciation for how he incorporates the culture and texture of different places in his various works.

The film also shows the collaborative “team” approach – Chihuly, who has lost sight in one eye, has a team of about 20 glass artisans who work with him and contribute to the creative process. At one point in the film, one of his artisans reflects at a massive chandelier that went from conception to assembly in just 24 hours.

Then you walk through some 16 installations – each one made up of as many as hundreds of separate pieces – so there are some 4,000 pieces in all.

The basis of The Collection is $6 million in acquisitions by Beth Ann Morean and includes Chihuly’s spectacular large-scale installations such as Ruby Red icicle Chandelier, created specifically for the Collection, as well as several popular series works including Macchia (not just breathtakingly beautiful, you have the feeling of seeing am absolutely remarkable human creation), ikebana (stunning flowers of glass which reflect his study of master flower arrangers), Niijima Floats, Persians and Tumbleweeds, which have been exhibited around the globe.

Each gallery space has been designed individually to complement the installation – the lighting arranged to produce the most spectacular visual effects emanating from the glass, and best appreciate the artistic elements. There are no ropes to separate you from the works, so it is a very intimate experience.

Dale Chihuly described his technique for the Macchia, saying, "i experimented with putting a layer of 'white clouds' over the color when i was blowing... i could now have one color on the inside and another color on the outside without any blending of the colors." © 2010 Karen Rubin/

Some of these marvelous works, Studio Edition Glass produced at his Portland Press factory, are available for sale in the shop (ranging in price from $4,500-$8,000; seven pieces were sold in the first week the Collection was open), as well as the stunning drawings that reveal Chihuly’s creative process as well as his extraordinary talent in this medium.

i am fortunate to be shown around the exhibit by Jason Bourgholtzer, courtesy guard, who is also a glass blower and has studied Dale’s work for 10 years. He notes that not only is there the stunning realism and emotion in the work, but they are literally alive. “Glass is alive – the molecules move,” he tells me.

Bourgholtzer explains one technique: of using a separate layer of white between the top and the bottom, so that the colors and patterns are different.

There are plans for docent-led tours to be offered every half hour on the quarter hour, beginning at 10:15 a.m.

The Glass Studio & Hot Shop, housed at the Morean Arts Center, provides an opportunity to see working artists in the visually exciting process of creating glass pieces. The artists provide running commentary on the steps they are following, the science behind glass, and the artistic vision guiding the process. You sit in stadium-style seats watching the artist working in front of the furnace (extraordinarily hot, this is not recommended in summer). There are also opportunities to make your own glass piece, working with one of the Morean instructors (Morean Arts Center/Glass Studio & Hotshop, 719 Central Avenue, 727-822-7872,, $8/A, $6/Seniors, $5/students and children over 5).

Morean Arts Center: With roots dating back to 1917, the Morean Arts Center has focused on an innovative community-oriented approach to art and arts education. The Morean is known as one of the most successful visual arts organizations in the region, offering studio classes in virtually every visual medium; mounting 15-20 contemporary arts exhibitions a year in its galleries; creating a robust clay program offered at the Historic Train Station; and providing a wide variety of family and children’s programming, school tours, the highly-praised Word & image program, summer camp, and other special events.

The Chihuly glass sculptures, with their exquisite control of color, textures and shape, compliment nature © 2010 Karen Rubin/

To buy tickets for timed entry to either the Chihuly Collection (open daily) or Hot Shop, or for more information about the Morean Arts Center and the Chihuly Collection, visit,

The Collection is walking distance of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club (the hotel has a Chihuly chandelier of its own), the Museum of Fine Arts, a multitude of galleries, restaurants and shops, and soon, the Salvador Dali Museum.

The Chihuly Collection, 400 Beach Drive, St. Petersburg, Florida, 727-896-4527, ($15/A, $13/Seniors, $12/students & children over 5; combination ticket with the glass studio is $20, $16 and $14).

Cultural Hub

From the Chihuly Collection, it is a short walk to the Museum of Fine Arts. Newly expanded, it features 4,000 objects including works by Cezanne, Monet, Gauguin, Renoir and O’Keeffe (255 Beach Drive NE, St Petersburg FL 33701, 727-896-2667 ext. 224

A short distance away is St. Petersburg Museum of History. The Museum features a permanent interactive exhibition of the chronology of St. Petersburg’s history. What got my attention here was a replica of the plane that had the first commercial air flight – between St. Petersburg and Tampa – carrying the pilot, one passenger (A.C. Pheil, a former St. Petersburg Mayor who had the winning bid of $400 to be the first commercial air passenger in history) and a sack of mail, with a timeline and biographical details about the venture. The museum’s collection of artifacts, documents and photographs also includes a canoe of the Tocobaga indians from the 1500s, and a 3,500 year old mummy (335 Second Avenue, NE, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, 727-894-1052;

Dale Chihuly's Studio Edition Glass is available for sale at the Chihuly Collection shop © 2010 Karen Rubin/

i head next to the landmark St. Pete Pier – which is a great place for respite and some lunch. The heart of St. Pete’s downtown, The Pier is a unique piece of Florida architecture that offers a chance to experience the waterfront along Tampa Bay (there is even a public beach along side, plus dolphin tours and a host of ways to get on the water). The distinct five-story inverted pyramid is located at the end of a mile-long. inside, there are touristic shops, restaurants, an outdoor sitting area, live music and even boat docks. A special feature is The Aquarium with touch-tanks. The Pier is open 365 days a year, rain or shine. Most shops open 10 a.m. until 9 p.m. i strolled the length of the pier, but there is a convenient trolley that takes you there (free from the parking lots; there is also valet parking, $4). (St. Pete Pier, 800 Second Avenue NE, St. Petersburg, Florida 33701, 727-821-6164;

Salvador Dali Museum

i hop on the Downtown Looper trolley to get to the Salvador Dali Museum, where since 1982, this extraordinary museum has stood at the outer boundary of the cultural district. i am surprised that this is a narrated sightseeing tour (just 25c a ride). The driver points out the St. Petersburg Times (which made its famous guarantee, “if the sun doesn’t shine, the next day’s paper is free”), the US Post Office (one of only two that are open-air)

The Salvador Dalí Museum houses more of Salvador Dalí’s famed masterworks than any other museum in the world, and the collection – really the collection of A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse – is the largest in the world outside of the artist’s museum in Spain.

The exhibit underway is the last that will be held in the current building, which has stood since 1982. A new building, built in appropriate futuristic style, is being constructed at the south end of Beach Drive, and will open on Jan. 11, 2011.

This exhibit pays special tribute to A. Reynolds and Eleanor Morse who were early and avid collectors of Dali and established the museum in 1982, and is all the more poignant because Eleanor Morse had just passed away, on July 1, at the age of 97.

The landmark St. Pete Pier is a five-story inverted pyramid. inside are delightful shops and eateries, and stunning views of Tampa Bay © 2010 Karen Rubin/

The Morses became enamored with Dali after seeing his work at the Cleveland Museum of Art in 1942, and in 1943, by chance, met Dali and his wife Gala, which started a life-long friendship. Over the next 40 years, the Morses assembled the preeminent collection of Dali outside of Spain, and she used her linguistic skills to translate books by and about Dali, and Reynolds authored books and was considered one of the foremost scholars on Dali.

What was most impressive in the documentary of the couple that is on view, is how when they visited Dali at his home in Spain, they realized that the landscapes were not pure imagination, but were representational of his homeland.

The notes that accompany the final exhibit in this building speak to the provenance of each of the works, and how they came to the museum. The notes put the works into context of Dali’s life and creative process – how he became familiar with Freud in the 1920s – and help explain some of the symbols.

in December 2008, Salvador Dalí Museum officials broke ground on a new $35 million facility, which will be situated along the Tampa Bay waterfront in beautiful downtown St. Petersburg, Florida. The new 66,450 square foot facility was designed by world-renowned architect, Yann Weymouth, who assisted with the renovation of the Louvre in Paris.

Much like Dalí’s work, the building itself will be visually iconic, with a geodesic glass structure enclosing the foyer, a grand double-helix staircase in the building’s center and an outlook to the east with magnificent, palm-flanked views of yachts moored in Florida’s largest municipal marina with Tampa Bay in the distance. A giant boulder from Dalí’s native Spain will appear to support the corner of the museum at its entry, and a versatile theater and separate classrooms will allow for expanded educational sessions. The new Dalí will further enrich the visitor’s experience by more than doubling the size of the current museum and adding 50 percent more gallery space, both for visiting exhibitions and for the permanent Dalí collection, which is comprised of more than 2,100 pieces, including 96 oil paintings.

Children will love the touch tanks at The Aquarium, inside the St. Pete Pier © 2010 Karen Rubin/

“The museum will be a distinguished architectural achievement with innovative design and technology, a combination, as in Dalí’s art, of the classical and the fantastic. it will be like no other building you have seen.” Salvador Dalí Museum Director Hank Hine

“This extraordinary new museum will be a crown jewel to St. Petersburg’s growing cultural renaissance,” said St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker. “The building design is an unforgettable work of art.”

With 66,450 square feet, the new building will provide space for education of school groups, visitor orientation and classrooms, temporary exhibitions to complement the Dali collection, an indoor/outdoor café, and a rentable community room.

The new museum also will provide much-needed safety and security for the Dalí collection. The current facility is vulnerable to storm surge and wind damage in the event of a hurricane, and artwork must be relocated when storms threaten. The new museum will be built to withstand a Category 5 hurricane, and will protect artwork in its third floor galleries well above the 100-year floodplain.

The Dalí is rated by the Michelin Guide as the highest ranked museum in the American South. The museum originally opened in 1982 in a one-story warehouse along the St. Petersburg waterfront. Today, a majority of the museum’s 200,000 annual visitors come to the Tampa Bay area expressly to see the Dalí.

The current facility is remaining open until the new museum is completed in early 2011.

The Downtown Looper trolley bus is more than convenient transportation that links St. Petersburg's cultural attractions, it is also a delightful narrated tour, at just 25c a ride © 2010 Karen Rubin/

Salvador Dali Museum, 1000 Third Street S, St. Petersburg, FL 33701, 727-823-3767;

For a previous trip, we made cultural St. Petersburg our focus and enjoyed staying in the downtown district at the luxurious and sophisticated Renaissance Vinoy Resort & Golf Club, right on Tampa Bay. A stunning historic grand hotel which was originally built in 1923, it stood vacant for more than 20 years and at the last moment, was saved from the wrecking ball and restored to its stunning new self, and is now a member of Historic Hotels of America (501 fifth Avenue NE, St. Petersburg, 727-894-1000, 888-303-4430,

This time, we wanted a casual beach vacation on St. Pete Beach, with access to the cultural downtown, and found perfection at the Postcard inn (6300 Gulf Blvd, St. Pete Beach, FL 33706, 727-367-2711, 800-237-8918,

Just outside the Postcard inn, a trolley bus goes along Gulf Boulevard and connects to the #35 that travels into downtown St. Petersburg to experience its astonishingly rich cultural offerings (at this writing, $1.75 per ride or $4 for unlimited travel for the day’ air-conditioned, with bike racks).

To plan a trip, contact St. Petersburg/Clearwater Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, 13805 58th Street North, Suite 2-200, Clearwater, Fl 33760, 727-464-7200, 877-352-3224,

See also: Postcard inn on St. Pete Beach is picture postcard perfect getaway

Friday, 6 August, 2010

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About Travel Features Syndicate

Karen Rubin is an eclectic travel writer who has been spanning the globe for more than 30 years reporting on interesting, intriguing people and places to explore for magazines, newspapers and online. She publishes Travel Features Syndicate in newspapers and online including, Huffington Post and and blogs at "Travel is a life-changing and an interactive experience that mutually benefits travelers and community." Contact Karen at 'Like' us at

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