Seattle: Glass Gardens and the Space Needle

Seattle with Mount Rainier in the distance (right).

I flew out of Boston before the sun was up. Hours later, there I looked out the airplane window to stare at volcanoes and amazing mountain vistas. Then I was in Seattle.

I took a shuttle to my hotel. I was packed in like a sardine with folks on their way to an Alaskan cruise. The driver immediately pegged me as not one about to depart upon a giant floating hotel to Alaska and gave me great advice about all kinds of amazing places to do street photography in Seattle. I wrote it all down and on some other trip I'll do it. I didn't end up doing any of it because I only had a day and a half and he gave me enough info for a week's trip.  I was dog tired before I even began the trip and decided to just give in to being a tourist instead of a traveler.

The Space Needle

The travel gods were with me because my hotel, in Seattle Center, ended up being right next to the Space Needle and they gave me a room with a window filled with the view of the it and the Dale Chihuly Museum. I spent my first hour in Seattle proper laying on the couch watching the elevators go up and down the Needle as I tried to summon the energy to actually do something (people don't realize that for someone who travels all the time, and is out hiking and photographing things all the time, I actually suffer from chronic fatigue). The sun emerged from clouds. I pulled myself off the couch and walked across the street and entered a dream land of glass work.

Dale Chihuly is one of my favorite artists. I am in awe of his skill with glass. He is a master of glasswork and using it to tell fanciful tales in color and light. Chihuly Garden and Glass is wonderland of masterworks. I think I walked around with my a jaw on the ground most of the time.

Dale Chihuly's baskets

First you encounter his baskets. These are early works based on the shapes and colors of Northwest Coast Indian basketry. They are subtle and beautiful. Then the next room you drop into the sea. His octopuses are delightful, playful, and a bit Cthulu-esque. Then you walk under the glass ceiling, every inch of which is a new discovery and a mind-bending riot of color like swimming along a coral reef upside down. The next room, the flower garden gallery, must be walked in circles and explored from every perspective. Then there are the hanging sculptures. My favorite is the red one. It is made of tubes of glass resembling red devil's tongues, winding snakes, or the licks of flame. You plunge from there to the white work, so delicate, then into his bowls that play with amazing color changing transparencies. Walk on. Walk into the Glass House and its glass flowers. Look up. Look around. Let awe fill you. And then wander into the garden with a million little wonders hiding among flowers and trees. This is environmental art done right. It all works. It looks as if the Earth is sprouted blown glass grass and blooming blown glass flowers. It is alien and familiar. As all art should be.

Dale Chihuly's Sea Life

A glass octopus. 

A garden of glass.

Dale Chihuly designed the glass house these glass flowers inhabit.

Detail of the glass flowers

The outdoor garden. I could have wandered here for days.

I didn't want to leave but eventually hunger sent me in search of a very late lunch. I had mediocre Mexican food. Then I walked next door and stood in the very long line to go to the observation tower of the Space Needle. The Space Needle was built for the 1962 World's Fair. It is 605 feet tall. It was built just as the space race set us on the path to landing on the moon. It was a look toward the future. Today, it gives you a look at the views of Seattle and the mountains around it. The best part of the view is seeing Mount Rainier looming just over Seattle's shoulder to the southeast.

The end of my day.

Not everything is perfect in this American city, like most cities. This was the view that greeted me below where the Space Needle looms. If I had a week in Seattle I would have explored its contradictions more.