One of the artists I admire the most is Dale Chihuly. He is famous for his monumental glass sculptures that have been seen all over the world, from Tacoma to London and from Las Vegas to Jerusalem.
We are lucky enough here, in Vancouver, to have one of his installations, “Persian Wall”: a large bunch of oversized flowers in rich, saturated colours, enclosed in a glass wall outside of a residential building.
Chihuly’s work, whether large-scale or more intimate, such as his bowls and vessels, always makes me truly happy. The forms he creates, largely inspired by nature, feel both familiar and otherworldly. They are comforting, moving, uplifting, and awe-inspiring, all at the same time.
A few weeks ago, just before the start of the school year, I went to Long Beach, in Pacific Rim National Park, on the West coast of Vancouver Island. Wild, isolated, and breathtakingly beautiful (yes, literally, as it is often quite windy), it is my favorite getaway. And as the longest beach on the West Coast of Canada, it always offers plenty of “treasures” for the dedicated beachcomber that I am.
This visit, I saw the strangest and most fascinating of creatures. Was it even a “creature”? I wasn’t sure until my trusty Audubon Society nature guide book*, told me it was indeed one – a sort of jellyfish – poetically named “By-the-Wind-Sailor” (Velella velella).
And as I kept walking, I saw a lot more of them, an entire “flotilla” in fact – their single translucent sail catching glints of sunlight as they floated gently on the surf. Their bodies were electric blue, as if emitting their own light, and also ultramarine, navy and even midnight blue. Some had sailed too close to the beach and, having been left behind by the tide, had run aground. Like tiny ghost ships, they were slowly fading away, the rich hues changing to soft pastels, and eventually to diaphanous whites.
I could not help but think of Chihuly’s magnificent Seaform series. I am sure that these By-the-Wind-Sailors played a part in his inspiration but how he transformed the glass into elegant flowing forms is extraordinary. His masterful technique allowed him to push the material to its limits, and to stretch it to create ever so thin undulating forms that still hint at the wave movement, as if they just came from the sea.
Who knew I would find “Chihulys” on the beach?
For more information about Dale Chihuly and his work, please visit his website.
National Audubon Society’s website
* National Audubon Society Nature Guides, Pacific Coast, Knopf, 1985.