Get ready for major visual stimulation: The Chihuly Collection opens Sunday in downtown St. Petersburg, the only permanent, museum-quality collection in the world of Dale Chihuly's beloved glass sculptures.
For those itching to be among the first to see the collection, know that the premier tour Sunday will cost $125. The artist will not be present but you will receive a Chihuly-themed book or DVD, your choice.
For most, Monday will be the real opening day, when general admission prices kick in. One thing we can't say enough: Unlike other area museums, visitors must buy a ticket for a specific entry time. You likely will not be able to walk up, buy a ticket and walk right in.
Gallery of glass
It looks to be a really interesting experience.
Architect Albert Alfonso has crafted a series of jewel-box rooms that enhance each type of sculpture or installation.
The multipiece chandeliers, for example, will hang in a room with curves inspired by those of the iconic vase designed in the 1930s by Alvar Aalto.
Other details reference Chihuly's love of the Northwest, where he lives near Seattle. So some walls are paneled in cypress, which imparts a distinctive, woodsy fragrance.
Venice has been another touchstone for the artist. During a Fulbright Fellowship there, he learned about the team approach to glassblowing and was allowed to observe closely guarded techniques for making Venetian glass. Both experiences changed his approach to creating glass works and led to his international fame. Alfonso's nod to the Italian city is a vibrant wall of blue Venetian plaster, a very old, time-consuming technique, to showcase Chihuly's smaller Venetian series of sculptures.
You can wander independently or join a docent tour offered every half-hour on the quarter-hour.
A short film will introduce visitors to Chihuly's life and career before entering the galleries.
The Chihuly Collection space is good-sized — 7,600 square feet — but the individual galleries are intimate and crowd control is needed so everyone can enjoy the experience up close. That's why visitors must choose a specific time, in 15-minute intervals, when buying tickets. The best way to do that is in advance at moreanartscenter.org/chihuly/ or by calling (727) 896-4527. Once inside, there is no time limit, but the exhibit is designed to keep you moving along in one direction. Tickets are $15 for adults, $12 for children.
Beginning Monday, the collection will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday, with extended hours to 8 p.m. Thursday, and from noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
An adjacent gift shop will sell Chihuly glass. If you can't spare several thousand dollars, you can instead purchase note cards, T-shirts and other Chihuly-themed mementos at far lower prices.
Morean Arts Center and hot shop
A combination ticket includes a stop at the Morean Arts Center, 719 Central Ave.
The arts center, which offers rotating art exhibitions and classes for adults and children, owns and operates the Chihuly Collection. As part of its educational mission, it has built a hot shop where visitors can watch glass vessels being blown and formed. The demonstrations will be continuous daily (with a one-hour break between 1 and 2 p.m.) and are meant to be a drop-in experience. A gift shop will sell the glass objects the blowers create each day. In the near future, the arts center will offer glassmaking classes.
Hot shop tickets
$8 adults, $5 children (includes Morean Arts Center gallery exhibitions). Combination tickets to both venues are $20 for adults and $14 for children (which saves $3 off individually purchased tickets). When ordering combo tickets online, note that only Chihuly Collection tickets are timed; those for the hot shop are not. Arts center and hot shop hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday.
The downtown trolley system easily shuttles you between the two places; it requires changing from the Looper, which takes you along the waterfront, to the Central Avenue Shuttle, which takes you on Central Avenue. The trolleys stop every 15 to 20 minutes at clearly marked spots with red and yellow signs — the nearest ones to the Chihuly Collection are in front of the Renaissance Vinoy Resort a few steps northeast, and the Museum of Fine Arts across Beach Drive and a bit south. The Central Avenue Shuttle makes east- and west-going stops near the arts center. Drivers can advise you on the best connecting stops. The trolleys also stop at many other downtown attractions and destinations. Bring quarters: Each ride is 25 cents, exact change. Seniors are 10 cents and children under 5 are free.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8293.
Who is Dale Chihuly?
Dale Chihuly, 68, is one of the world's most famous living artists, known for his dramatic, colorful glass sculptures often made from hundreds of individually blown glass pieces. Based in Seattle, he pioneered the collaborative approach to glassblowing in the United States. That in turn led to a revolution in how studio glass is made and helped elevate it to a fine art. Many assume that the artist wears the iconic eye patch over his left eye because he was blinded in a glassblowing accident, but actually it is the result of a 1976 car crash.