Dale Chihuly is an art rock star. If you know only one world famous contemporary glass artist, it’s a good bet it’s him.
There are reasons we remember the artists that we do: They have a signature style, an intriguing backstory, and we like (or greatly dislike) what we see. Chihuly has all in spades. We’re lucky that the family of Maker’s Mark appreciate his work, because Chihuly’s glass has been spread throughout the grounds of the distillery in Loretto.
We have Rob Samuels, family member and chief operating officer of Maker’s Mark, to thank for that. After seeing Chihuly’s work, he asked him to create an installation for the distillery campus. In turn, Chihuly wondered if he could have an exhibition on the Maker’s Mark grounds. “Hell yes,” said Samuels.
Chihuly, 75, works out of his glass hot shop in Seattle. He’s been involved in glassblowing since the mid-1960s and cofounded the Pilchuck Glass School in 1971. He was in a car accident that left him blind in one eye in 1976; because glass blowing is a team effort, he has been able to continue to be creative with the aid of a specialized team. “Most of the glass is blown in Seattle,” said Chihuly Project Manager Tom Lind. “There are usually seven to 15 glassblowers working in the hotshop.”
His various series titles include Baskets, Seaforms and Persians. Today Chihuly is internationally known for his large sculptures, chandeliers and installations full of bulbous drops, orbs and spirals.
My visit to the distillery was for the art, not the bourbon. I confess I’m a sorry drinker and was not converted by the tour. But it doesn’t matter, because a visit to Maker’s Mark is informative about both bourbon and the Chihuly glass.
Six of the works on display are temporary. Some were created for the exhibition, while others were selected from Chihuly and his team’s vast output. The seventh is a permanent installation in the Visitor Warehouse, a glass ceiling composed of 1,280 Persian pieces called “The Spirit of the Maker.” Constructed in 2014, it is the result of Samuels’ initial contact to Chihuly.
There are two indoor displays. “Amber and New Oak Chandelier,” in the Visitor’s Center, was created specifically for this show with over 600 handblown pieces. Five “Red Baskets” are in the Cellar Building; one is 42 inches in diameter, the largest the Chihuly team has made, according to Lind.
The outdoor campus is highlighted by “Red Reeds,” 175 tubes as large as 10 feet tall; over 160 glass pieces arranged in a wooden boat called “Crimson and Chestnut Fiori Boat” (another work created for the exhibition); “Summer Sun,” composed of more than 1,600 forms; and “Sapphire and Platinum Waterdrop Tower,” a 12 feet tall blown glass and steel piece designed specifically for its location in front of the distillery’s Cellar and water source.
There are over 100 works by other artists on the campus, many from Louisville, including David Schuster, Claudia Hammer and Mary Dennis Kannapell. Let’s not forget the witty posters created for over 40 years by advertising agency Doe-Anderson that are in the Bottling Room.
An option to the day tour is “Chihuly Nights” on Saturdays through Oct. 7. Dinner is also available at Star Hill Provisions, the new restaurant at Maker’s Mark, during the “Chihuly Nights” tours.