ST. PETERSBURG — The Chihuly Collection opened for special events this weekend, but Monday was the first day for the public, who oohed, ahhed and ogled each of the 16 pieces with increasing delight.
"I am just in awe," said Isabel Misner, a 75-year-old Sun City Center resident who came to the exhibit with her husband, Jack. "It just blows my mind."
The Misners were interested in Chihuly after watching a TV documentary on the artist. The couple has visited Murano, the Italian island known for its glass-blown works, but it was "nothing compared with this," she said.
The museum sold out Monday, with more than 600 people flocking to Beach Drive to see Chihuly's new permanent collection.
The visitors came with questions, like, "Just how do you keep all that glass clean?"
The same dusting cloths and wands found in most homes, museum docents explained.
That said, keeping the thousands of glass pieces clean is no small undertaking. The staff has been cleaning two to three times a day to get rid of dust from the building's construction.
"If anyone would like to come and volunteer to dust the glass, you're welcome here," director of operations Chris Silva joked to visitors.
Silva said it was great to see visitors in the museum after so many weeks of preparation. It took two days to unload all of the glass pieces, which were wrapped in five parking spaces worth of packing material.
Each piece was created in Chihuly's Seattle studio, then they were assembled, photographed and taken apart to be shipped. Team members helped put the pieces back together once they arrived here.
The collection sits in 7,600 square feet of adjoining rooms. Visitors can walk right up to many of the pieces and stand under the chandeliers, prompting mothers to clutch their children's hands and docents to remind women to keep their purses close to their bodies.
Because of the intricacies in the art, people can walk through the exhibit multiple times and still see new things, Silva said.
"People just keep circling through the exhibits just to keep looking," said Misner, who walked through the Persian ceiling piece herself multiple times.
Stevie Tanner and Ryan Craycraft, art students from Ohio who were visiting Tanner's grandmother, were equally captivated.
The pair had already visited the Dali museum, but both said the Chihuly exhibit was even more surreal.
"It's like it's all coming alive," Craycraft said. "It's like a dream."
Sara Gregory can be reached at (727) 893-8785 or firstname.lastname@example.org.