You may not realize it, but Tacoma, Washington is one of the hottest destinations for studio art glass lovers. Many see Tacoma as a port city with the grey Tacoma Dome as its most recognizable landmark. But I now know differently. Tacoma is colorful and vibrant and much of it is due to its dedication to art glass. I was invited by Travel Tacoma spend two days there and explore the art glass scene.
Tacoma is 45 minutes south of Seattle and about three hours north of Portland, Oregon. The city has developed a beautiful waterfront, exciting new hotels and very special places where you can be wowed by art glass. It is also home to the world-renowned glass artist, Dale Chihuly. Here are 5 places where you can experience the beauty of art glass.
1—The Hotel Murano is not in Italy
Check out the boutique Hotel Murano, a beautiful modern hotel featuring curated glass art throughout the hotel. Not only is there a huge Murano glass chandelier in the lobby, there is art on every one of the 25 floors. As I rode the elevator one morning I was surprised when the doors opened and I was faced with a wall of glass art breasts. Each floor is different!
The hotel showcases a unique collection of glass art made in the 21st-century. The art is a blend of specially commissioned works and others acquired from artists’ studios and galleries. 45 artists from 12 countries on five continents (Asia, Australia, Europe, South, and North America) are represented throughout the public and private spaces in the building. The vessels, sculptures, prints, and drawings in the collection are joined by custom-designed functional handmade objects and installations that assemble into a sparkling and stylish modern hotel environment.
Hotel Murano, adjacent to the convention center, provides an ideal location for exploring the art glass of Tacoma. You can walk to four of our glass art sites from the hotel (the hotel is #1). Just ask the staff which way to go or pick up a walking map.
If you can spend the night, I’d recommend you book one of the upper-level, corner rooms so you can feast your eyes on Mt. Rainier and the Tacoma skyline. From your room you may even be able to see the 90-foot cone that makes the Museum of Glass a recognizable landmark. The rooms are more than comfortable and the hotel, quiet. Downtown Tacoma quiets down after work hours.
Hotel Murano has a relaxing happy hour at the lobby bar (look up to see more glass art) and has a very good 4th-floor restaurant, Bite, which features yet more art and the incredible cuisine of Chef Matt Stickle who sources many of his ingredients locally.
2—Tacoma Art Museum
Just a stone’s throw from Hotel Murano, you’ll find the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM). Glass art is just part of the offerings, both permanent and rotating. When we were there, an exhibit of Native American and western art was in the first-floor gallery.
Stop and shake paws with Leroy the huge dog sculpture who will greet you. And then head for the TAM glasswork collections. First you’ll see the work of renowned Pilchuck glass school artists (founded by Dale Chihuly) and then the Dale Chihuly gallery.
The Tacoma Art Museum will be adding much more soon. They recently announced they will be a recipient of a legacy gift comprising 225 works of studio art glass, paintings and sculptures by northwest and international artists. The gift includes funding for a brand new wing.
Rebecca and Jack Benaroya’s gift includes 150 works in glass bringing TAM’s glass holdings to nearly 1,000 pieces. The Benaroya’s gift enhances the Tacoma Museum District as a local and national draw for art glass lovers. A preview is set for October 2016.
3—Chihuly Bridge to the Museum of Glass
You’re in for a real treat as you walk toward the Bridge of Glass to leading to Tacoma’s Museum of Glass (MOG). The Bridge of Glass featuring Chihuly’s work links Pacific Avenue and the Tacoma Art Museum to the Museum of Glass on the waterfront.
If you see nothing else in Tacoma, be sure and experience the amazing Chihuly Bridge of Glass. A partnership between the Museum of Glass, legendary Studio Glass pioneer Dale Chihuly and the city of Tacoma resulted in this 500-foot-long pedestrian overpass that links the Museum to downtown Tacoma. There is no charge.
The architect worked with Chihuly, who directed the artistic concept. The bridge provides a means for the internationally-renowned Chihuly to contribute in a very public way to his hometown.
Three distinct installations comprise the Bridge of Glass. Furthest from MOG is the Seaform Pavilion with a ceiling made of 2,364 objects from Chihuly's Seaform and Persian series. Not only are the glass objects beautiful in sunlight they are amazingly lighted after dark. I can’t think of a more romantic place to walk after dinner.
At the center of the bridge is the Crystal Towers, rising forty feet above the bridge deck to serve as beacons of light for the city. The ice-like forms glow at night.
Closest to the Museum is the Venetian Wall, an eighty-foot installation displaying 109 sculptures from three of Chihuly's series: Venetians, Ikebana, and Putti. The Venetian Wall is a collection of some of the largest blown-glass works executed in the history of the medium.
The bridge needs to be seen at different times of day… in bright sunlight, at sunset (you can watch the sunset reflected on Mt. Rainier), and after dark.
4—Museum of Glass
Next, another treat. The Museum of Glass houses working artists in the spectacular Cone. Viewers sit in stadium-style seating watching glass artists in action at the Hot Shop. Often a narrator will tell visitors about the glass blowing process and what is being done.
The Museum’s galleries are dedicated to both temporary exhibitions and permanent collections that feature 20th and 21st-century glass.
MOG is a fantastic place to go shopping. In the gift shop, you’ll find glass art by local and international artists. Much of what is for sale is made right at the Hot Shop. Popular with collectors are glass birds by artist Oiva Toikka. The birds make thoughtful gifts for friends, bird lovers, and art glass collectors alike. Children will be intrigued by the small blown glass items like snails, cats, and dogs made at the Hot Shop and very reasonably priced.
The museum restaurant features house-made Indonesian-inspired cuisine and gluten-free pizza, soups, and sandwiches.
This may surprise you. Yes, the Union Station has been re-purposed but is only an event venue evenings and weekends. During weekdays it is the reception area to the Federal Court House. Not to worry, the guard is happy to screen you and allow you free access to the real reason for being there… Chihuly glass art.
You’ll most likely see Union Station from the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. Its curved architecture stands out. It was built in 1911 and restored in 2003. While the rotunda is beautiful and sun streams through the windows, it is the five Chihuly installations that will impress you. One of the most dramatic of the installations features fanciful forms gracing the huge window overlooking Tacoma's waterfront.
I was entranced by the Chihuly chandelier hanging from the top of the dome. It is an impressive 20-foot chandelier consisting of colored glass objects… all blown individually. The party atmosphere this installation creates is a draw for those wanting to rent the event area.
Be sure and take the stairs to the second level. You’ll get a closer view of the art glass installations and increase your appreciation for the glass art and artists of Tacoma.
There certainly is more to explore in Tacoma. You can check out the Tacoma Glass Blowing Studio offering hands-on opportunities and teaching glass blowing. Tacoma also boasts a world-class automobile museum, America’s Car Museum.
As is common in the travel industry, the writer was provided with complimentary accommodations and museum entry for the purpose of review. While it has not influenced this review, the writer believes in full disclosure of all potential conflicts of interest.