ST. PETERSBURG — Dale Chihuly is coming to St. Petersburg on Saturday for the first time in almost two years and he won't be empty-handed.
The internationally famous glass artist has sent a small trove of vessels for a temporary exhibition at the Chihuly Collection, a museumlike facility on downtown's Beach Drive with permanent displays of the artist's dramatic objects and installations. The new pieces will be on display starting Friday.
"We wanted to change out one of the rooms," he said in a recent telephone interview from his home near Seattle. "I thought it was a good time to come out." These are the first new pieces at the Chihuly since it opened in July 2010.
The seven works are from the Sealife Stoppers series, which combine blown-glass bases with sculpted tops. They resemble exquisite, giant perfume bottles and are the result of a collaboration between Chihuly, 71, and Pino Signoretto, a Venetian glass artist with whom he has worked before.
"We developed about a dozen different forms," he said, all based on the sea, for which Chihuly has a life-long love and which has been a source of inspiration throughout his career.
The blown bases are translucent and textured, some with gold leafing. The tops, or "stoppers," are sculpted from a solid mass of hot glass into delicate sea creatures and plants such as fish, sea anemones, conch shells and stingrays. Some also have small cherubs, called putti. On one of the vessels, for example, an octopus seems to embrace the cherub. They are between 3- and 4-feet high and weigh about 40 pounds said Britt Cornett, director of exhibitions for Chihuly Studio who came to St. Petersburg for the installation. Though the vessels in this show are part of the Chihuly archives and not for sale, she said others would sell for between $50,000 and $60,000.
The Chihuly Collection posted attendance of 250,000 in its first five months. Since then, said Wayne Atherholt, interim director of the Morean Arts Center which owns the collection, it has leveled to about 90,000 annually.
"We started thinking about things that would refresh the collection," he said. "Certainly doing a temporary exhibition was one of them. It makes sense as we get older and we'll definitely consider doing more."
Morean and Chihuly representatives talked about options and decided the Sealife Stoppers would best fit into the gallery that usually houses the Macchia, a series of undulating bowls in vivid colors. Some of them have been moved to the lobby until the Stoppers leave after June 30.
The other galleries contain the permanent collection that represents the range of Chihuly's famous works, from sculptural vessels to elaborate, multipiece installations.
During his visit to St. Petersburg, he will give a free talk at the Renaissance Vinoy Resort at 1 p.m. Saturday. No tickets or reservations are required but space in the Palm Court Ballroom is limited to the first 500 people. At 2 p.m., the artist will sign copies of his latest book, Chihuly Silvered ($60), in which he discusses his fascination with the process of silvering glass and the works that have resulted from it.
Many assume that Chihuly wears his famous patch over his left eye as the result of a glass-blowing accident. But he lost his sight in that eye after a car crash in 1976. In 1979 he did stop blowing glass after he dislocated a shoulder while body surfing. Since then, he designs and oversees the creation of works from his studio with a team of glass artists and artisans, much like the famous workshops have operated for centuries in Murano, a series of islands in the Venetian lagoon in Italy.
Lennie Bennett can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8293.