If you’re on the lookout for a lovely December outing with friends or family — or in need of a break at this hectic time of year — head for the Franklin Park Conservatory and Botanical Gardens in Columbus. Always festive at holiday time, there’s an added attraction this year — a stunning exhibit by renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly, famous for his colorful and bold glass sculptures.
If you’ve never been to the conservatory and gardens you’re in for a treat. Situated on 40 acres on the eastern side of Franklin Park, the facility aims at entertaining and educating folks of all ages. Because most of the glass artwork currently on display is exhibited within the Conservatory’s botanical gardens and courtyards, you’ll be surrounded by lush green plants.
“Chihuly: Celebrating Nature” is on display through March 29, but if you visit during nighttime hours this month you can also enjoy “Conservatory Aglow.” The special event not only includes some of the illuminated Chihuly artwork, but the traditional attractions: poinsettia trees, a rainbow tunnel, gingerbread creations and more. There is entertainment and there are special activities for the kids, as well.
The Chihuly collection
Did you know that Chihuly has played a significant role in the Conservatory’s history?
“In 2003, the Conservatory’s future was uncertain before it became the second botanical garden to ever host a Chihuly exhibition,” explains Jenn Wilson, director of marketing and communications. ‘Chihuly at the Conservatory’ resulted in record-shattering attendance and helped to position the institution as “a gem of central Ohio.”
Because Chihuly artwork is often inspired by nature, botanical gardens are ideal locations to show off his art.
Following that successful show, a private nonprofit group — the Friends of the Conservatory — was able to purchase a number of Chihuly pieces for the Conservatory’s permanent collection. As a result, the Conservatory now owns the largest private collection of Chihuly artwork of any botanical garden! For the first time in nearly a decade, that entire collection is on display. In addition, other Chihuly artwork is on loan for this show.
More about Chihuly
You may remember the Dayton Art Institute’s Chihuly exhibit, “Form From Fire” in 2001. In 2014, the museum hosted “Dayton Celebrates Glass: Chihuly, Littleton, Labino and Beyond.” When you visit the DAI’s permanent glass gallery, you’ll see four colorful and representative works by Chihuly and the DAI ‘s Museum Store carries Chihuly Studio Editions.
Before walking through the Columbus exhibit, pick up the brochure and map at the front desk. It describes all of the pieces on view and will tell you exactly where they’re located. Begin your tour with the gallery entitled “Chihuly the Artist,” where you’ll learn more about the man who has been pushing the boundaries of contemporary glass art for more than five decades.
Chihuly established the glass program at Rhode Island School of Design and co-founded the Pilchuck Glass School in Washington state. Among his massive site-specific installations have been “Chihuly over Venice” and “Chihuly in the Light of Jerusalem” where his contemporary artwork was nestled into ancient archaeological pottery.
It was after a grant study at the Venini glass factory in Italy that Chihuly adopted the practice of working with teams of other glassblowers. When personal injuries after a car crash left him unable to be physically involved in glassblowing, he assumed the role of director, leading teams as large as 18 in creating glass designs.
Chihuly divides his work into different series. “Ikebanas” — another name for Japanese flower arranging — are colorful long-stemmed pieces made with the help of Chihuly’s longtime friend Lino Tagliapietra after a trip to Japan in 1998. His “baskets” are lopsided bowls inspired by the sight of an old Indian basket. The “Anemones” are long, slender finger-like stems that look as though they are floating underwater.
Attempting to use as many color combinations in one series as possible, Chihuly created the “Macchia” (Italian for “spotted”) in 1981. Chihuly “Chandeliers” weigh hundreds of pounds and are not actually chandeliers, but are glass sculptures. His “Persian Ceiling” is composed of hundreds of blown glass forms layered together on plate glass panels. Ask your children if they can find the hidden translucent and gold “putti,” or cherub.
“I want my work to appear like it came from nature, so that if someone found it on a beach or in the forest, they might think it belonged there,” Chihuly has stated.
The holiday exhibit includes an interactive light sculpture by New York-based artist Jen Lewin entitled “The Pool.” The large-scale sculpture is comprised of 100 glowing computerized discs that light up when visitors jump on them. Users play on concentric rings of circular pads that communicate with each other. As they shift their weight or move from one pad to another, their motions are reflected on pads with color and movement. As multiple users play in the pool, their interactions are transformed into patterns of shifting and fading colors.
You’ll find other light displays in the Children’s Garden. The Grand Mallway is a path of glowing trees and James Turrell’s “Light Raiment II” illuminates the historic 1895 John F. Wolfe Palm House.
The 13th Annual Gingerbread Competition display features youth and group categories through Dec. 8 and adult and professional categories from Dec. 9-Jan. 5. Judges select first-, second- and third-place winners for all categories, and Conservatory Aglow visitors vote for who should receive the $500 prize for Best in Show.
A variety of live musical performances are also part of the fun and include The Columbus Chorus, Cardinal Health Chamber Orchestra, The Rice Brothers, Bryden String Quartet and more. The Paul Busse Train returns with a botanically inspired carousel featuring seasonal plantings, and there are also family-friendly performances and holiday activities including Cookies with Santa.
Gift shop and cafe
You’ll find a wide range of gift possibilities at the conservatory gift shop: ornaments, jewelry, stocking stuffers, kitchen decor, home accessories. There’s also a Chihuly-specific gift store with everything from lithographs and glass to umbrellas, puzzles, coffee table books, calendars, postcards.
The Cafe serves flatbreads, salads, soups and sandwiches. It’s open for lunch, then reopens for dinner during “Conservatory Aglow.”
All-in-all, you’ll find the Franklin Conservatory a lovely place for a winter getaway.