Chihuly at Biltmore Fact Sheet

Exhibition Details

Installation Details


Chihuly began the Basket series in 1977. Experimenting with the use of fire, gravity, and centrifugal force, he found new ways to create asymmetrical vessels with thin, undulating walls. He often groups them in sets, with several small pieces nested within larger, wide-mouthed forms. Originally, Baskets were created in subdued earth-tones; the artist has revisited the series throughout his career experimenting with increased scale and exuberant colors.

“I saw beautiful Indian baskets at the Washington State Historical Society, and was struck by the grace of their slumped, sagging forms. I wanted to capture this in glass. The breakthrough for me was recognizing that heat and gravity were the tools to be used to make these forms.” —Chihuly


Chihuly began his Chandelier installationsin 1992 for an exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum. These sculptures are assembled with multiple hand-blown glass forms mounted to a steel armature. Chandeliers (and Towers) demonstrate Chihuly’s desire to mass and control color on a grand scale. Over the years, he has explored both multicolored compositions and variations on a single color. Unlike traditional chandeliers, they reflect light instead of emitting it, as they are lit externally.


Chihuly began his first series, Cylinders, in 1975 and has since created an ever-evolving range of Cylinders with glass thread drawings fused onto molten vessels. This revolutionary “pick-up drawing” technique has allowed Chihuly to integrate a wide range of motifs into his work, particularly patterns inspired by Native American textiles.


Chihuly’s Fiori demonstrate the artist’s penchant for organic, free-flowing forms that evoke the natural world. With the variety of forms in this series, Chihuly creates compositions that range from a few standalone forms to multiple elements brought together in installations he calls Mille Fiori (Italian for “a thousand flowers”).


Ikebana began in 1989 as an offshoot of the Venetians and was inspired by “ikebana,” the art of Japanese flower arrangement. The series, like others initiated by Chihuly during this period, demonstrates the artist’s aspiration to move glass from the pedestal into the realm of large-scale sculpture. His approach to Ikebana focuses on assemblage, a concept used in earlier series such as Seaforms.

Light Drawings

While traveling through Europe as a young man, Chihuly marveled at the beauty of stained-glass windows and the power that glass and light give to each other. Composed of vibrant colors painted on clear acrylic panels and intensified by interior illumination, Light Drawings are an expression of Chihuly’s interest in the transmission of light through transparent media.


Chihuly began using neon for art installations during his studies at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1960s. He and fellow artist James Carpenter continued to explore the medium into the early 1970s. 

In 1993, Chihuly began massing neon tubes together to form Tumbleweeds. These sculptures are composed from bundles of linear, factory-made tubes, bent by heat into curvilinear forms. They are sometimes more than two meters wide. Chihuly incorporates them into numerous settings, infusing the space with a sense of vibrant light and energy.


First exhibited in 1986 as part of his exhibition at the Musée des Arts Decoratifs, Palais du Louvre in Paris, Chihuly’s Persian series is a celebration of form, scale, and color. Originally presented on pedestals, the series’ dramatic compositions have evolved to include installations mounted on walls, overhead on ceilings, and assembled in the form of chandeliers and towers.

The use of ribbed optic molds is essential to the aesthetic of Persians. Molten glass, ringed by linear wraps, is plunged into these molds to create repetitive patterns. When blown out, the bubbles are transformed into swirling, irregularly shaped rondels with fascinating detail.


Originating during his experimentation in Nuutajärvi, Finland, and later revisited by Chihuly, Reeds are among the most dramatic blown glass forms. To create the long, tubular shape, one glassblower is elevated in a mechanical lift while blowing through the pipe to encourage the form to stretch, while another pulls the glass toward the ground.

“In Finland we started making these long, cylindrical pieces that looked like Spears. This was an exciting new form. It was the first time we ever made anything like that…They are very dramatic.” —Chihuly

Soft Cylinders

Chihuly began the Soft Cylinders series in 1984, combining the “pick-up drawing” technique used in earlier Cylinders with the softer, sagging forms of Baskets and Seaforms, and the bright contrasting colors of Macchia.

“Halfway into the blowing process, right after the last gather of glass has been dipped from the furnace, the gaffer comes down on the drawing with the molten glass and fuses it to the surface. This is the most exciting moment of making a Soft Cylinder.” —Chihuly


Chihuly’s initial phase of extensive experimentation with Chandeliers culminated in the Chihuly Over Venice project (1995-96). Subsequent projects continued to challenge the artist to create large sculptures for spaces without ceilings or where the ceilings could not bear the weight of Chandeliers, giving life to the development of the Tower series.

Works on Paper (Drawings)

What began for Chihuly as a means of expressing his ideas to the glassblowing team evolved into a unique body of work that references the development of his glass series. Works on Paper vary from light and airy to bold and colorful. Chihuly works with a variety of media including acrylic, watercolor, charcoal, graphite – even fire – to create his expressive two-dimensional artworks. For exhibitions, Chihuly often installs Works on Paper side-by-side in large grids so the colors, forms, and textures in the individual artworks are composed in concert with each other.