Garden Plus Glass Equals Magic: Chihuly at the Denver Botanic Gardens

Back in August, I took my parents to the Denver Botanic Gardens to see the Dale Chihuly exhibit. The garden itself is a spectacular place, full of flowers even at the end of the summer, but the giant glass sculptures scattered throughout the grounds took the experience to a new level.

The lily pond has multiple Chihuly pieces in it (you can see three of them here).
The lily pond has multiple Chihuly pieces in it.

As soon as we walked through the gate, I knew we were in for a day full of breath-taking moments. Each time we turned a corner and got our first glimpse of what was coming next, my heart raced. I took a bunch of pictures, trying desperately to capture what I was feeling as I admired the sculpture-filled gardens. Looking at them now, I don’t feel any of my photos do those moments justice.

Fairies were here!
Fairies were here!

The dazzle of the glass sculptures coupled with their gigantic size make them seem like something left by a bling-loving Merlin. They glitter and shine and demand to be noticed. They stand out from the plantings surrounding them. Thanks to their organic shapes, they harmonize with them, too. A sense of magic is palpable as you look at them. It’s hard to believe humans had anything to do with them.

One of my personal favorites.
One of my personal favorites.

And yet, human hands and minds were involved. Dale Chihuly has a huge team of artists who work with him to create his magnificent sculptures. Nearly twenty people were required just to install the show in Denver. And the work doesn’t stop there.

The second time we passed the lily pond, we saw a man standing in the water, bent over one of the twisted glass reeds poking up out of the cattails. When I asked him what he was doing, he held up the spear he had just pulled out to show me. The hollow tube had several inches of water in it.

The man in the cattails is making sure the sculpture survives when cold weather hits.
The man in the cattails is making sure the sculpture survives when cold weather hits.

The water had slowly leaked into the piece over the three months it had been sitting in the water. His job was to take each piece out of the pond, drain the water out, and then return it. Water left to accumulate can freeze and crack the glass, so this sort of maintenance is standard for the installations that are in the water. The show runs until the end of November, and our first frost warnings are already a week behind us, so their preparations were timely.

Despite seeing the maintenance crew at work and hearing about the installation team from a garden staff member, I still came away feeling like I had seen objects created by magic. Great art is magical. Strangers communicate an idea to us by making something with their hands and leaving it behind. We may not hear words, but we react to what we see. We feel emotions and walk away thinking new thoughts and remembering that the world is wonderful and wonder-full. We are grateful to be alive and to have seen what we have seen.

Chihuly is an inspiring artist to watch at work. If you’d like to see more of his art and find out how he makes it, check out the many videos on his web site. They are at the bottom of this page.

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Kit Dunsmore

Kit Dunsmore has believed in the magic underlying the muggle world since she was a child searching for the Shetland pony pooka she was sure was hiding in her back yard. She learned early on that books were magic doors into other worlds, and that she could revisit a beloved character or place by opening the right book. As she grew, she decided she wanted to make magic with words, too. Today Kit writes about things she loves: poodles and dragons, witches and artists, quirky underdogs and loyal friends. Whether her setting is 6th-century England, the imaginary Twelve Kingdoms, or an art-obsessed version of modern America, magic always finds its way into her story. She enjoys turning fairy tales inside out and watching characters sacrifice everything to reach their goal, but she also believes in happy endings. When she isn't writing, Kit experiences magic by making things with her hands. Over the years, she's made quilts, fabric sculptures, collages, sweaters, and blank books. Her newest interest is learning how to spin her own yarn, a skill guaranteed to strengthen one of her many delusions: that she is a self-sufficient pioneer woman. She also thinks she is a hobbit, a witch, an artist, and a good cook. Living in the foothills of Colorado, Kit enjoys the giant skies and prairie landscapes which suit her need for wide open spaces. In addition to hiking through glorious scenery with her husband or imagining herself living in the Middle Ages, Kit works as a pillow for her miniature poodle and polishes the next small piece of her handmade life.

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