Chihuly Sculpture Debuts at MHC

Dale Chihuly (American, b. 1941); Clear and Gold Tower (detail); Blown glass and steel, 2013; Mount Holyoke College Art Museum; Gift of the Centennial Class of 1937; © Chihuly Studio, 2013, all rights reserved

By Emily Harrison Weir

Glass. We see the world through it; we drink from it; we usually ignore it. But Dale Chihuly, one of the world’s leading artists, has transformed this humble substance into a sublime new sculpture for Mount Holyoke College. As the light changes, Clear and Gold Tower resembles tongues of pale fire, shimmering plant tendrils, or wisps of mist, all spiraling improbably upward as if embodying the aspirations of the Mount Holyoke community.

As the College launches its next 175 years, Clear and Gold Tower will be unveiled on Tuesday, September 3, at 4:15 pm in the atrium of Mount Holyoke’s Williston Library.

Chihuly’s elegant and energetic sculpture soars some 12 feet in the skylit courtyard and comprises more than 450 handblown glass elements. Each section is highlighted by fragments of 24-carat gold foil, creating a shining sculpture that seems to move organically. Sophisticated theatrical lighting will vary with the ebb and flow of natural light, ensuring that the sculpture sparkles day and night.

“I think it’s among his best works,” said John Stomberg, director of the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum. To President Lynn Pasquerella, the work “symbolizes the intellectual aspirations of our students, the inspiration offered by our extraordinary faculty and staff, and the creative and artistic vibrancy of our entire community.”

In collaboration with Mount Holyoke’s class of 1937, the museum commissioned the piece from Chihuly. 

“I am deeply grateful to our alumnae donors, who understand the significance of the arts and the interrelationship between the curricular and cocurricular in promoting liberal education,” said Pasquerella.

Chihuly designed the sculpture with the library’s courtyard setting in mind. A sixteenth-century wellhead in the middle of the space serves as the sculpture’s base. Serendipitously, both have connections to Venice, long a center of glassmaking. The marble well was once the source of drinking water on the Venetian island of Murano when glass art was at its height there.

“Chihuly has been inspired by the Venetian glassmaking tradition and has worked there on and off for decades,” Stomberg said. “One of his first ‘tower’ sculptures was installed in the Doge’s palace, and our tower relates directly to that. And the colors are very much in keeping with the feeling of sixteenth-century Venice.”

For decades, Chihuly has pushed the boundaries of what can be done with glass. He has created large-scale works such as Clear and Gold Tower since the 1990s, and his artworks are in more than 200 museums worldwide.

How in the world was this huge sculpture installed?  Take a look.

View photo gallery of the sculpture's unveiling.