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Design Notes

Putting Glass on Pedestal in New Museum


The Pacific Northwest has long been the country's hotbed of glass artistry, mostly due to the Pratt Fine Arts Center in Seattle and the Pilchuck Glass School, just north of that city, founded by glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. In July, the newly founded Museum of Glass: International Center for Contemporary Art will open in nearby Tacoma in a 75,000-square-foot space devoted exclusively to the fragile-yet-elegant medium.

The $63-million glass and steel building designed by Canadian architect Arthur Erickson is expected to become a landmark for the Washington state seaport, both as a tourist attraction and a coming-of-age for artists working in the medium, since glass artists have long struggled for credibility in the art world, looking for recognition as fine artists and not just as craftspeople.

With its ground level of glass and steel, topped by a tilted glass cone encased in a stainless-steel mesh, the museum will be a celebration of the medium. The cone, dubbed the Hot Shop Amphitheater, will allow visitors to watch artists-in-residence from all over the world at work.

Museum director Josi Callan, formerly director of the San Jose Museum of Art, said the new glass museum will present rotating exhibitions of glass as well as other media. "This institution," she explained, "will focus on glass in the context of other work. We are bringing all the media together--glass, works on paper and painting. We are putting glasswork in the context of contemporary art rather than as a separate art."

Callan said she expects that it will be at least a year after the museum's opening before the museum decides whether to build a permanent collection.

In addition to display galleries, the museum, to be in downtown Tacoma, will include a grand hall for special events, an education center, a theater, store, cafe and a rooftop park with views of the waterfront, the Thea Foss Waterway and Mt. Ranier. The rooftop will also provide access to the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, linking the museum and waterway to downtown.

Tacoma native Chihuly, who pioneered the Studio Glass Movement, created the $6.3-million bridge in collaboration with architect Arthur Andersson as a pedestrian overpass spanning 500 feet.

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