In addition to ceramics by
, an enormous
drawing, and more paintings and sculpture, Mr. Chihuly has amassed Navajo blankets; ’s
early 20th-century photographs of Native Americans in the West; string dispensers; cars; accordions; toy vehicles; antique cameras, radios, and clocks; art books; masks; bottle openers; makeup brushes; matchbooks; and records. Quantity trumps quality. The collections impress with their sheer volume, rather than the objects’ individual merits.
These collections feature prominently at Chihuly Garden and Glass, the museum devoted exclusively to Mr. Chihuly’s artwork. Opened in 2012, the institution ensures that Mr. Chihuly’s output will have a permanent, public, physical space in Seattle. As with all his spaces, Mr. Chihuly directed the interior design and lighting (he doesn’t consider an artwork complete until it’s adequately lit and photographed). “He’s really a frustrated architect,” Mrs. Chihuly said.
Chihuly Garden and Glass sits on public land adjacent to Seattle’s most iconic landmark, the Space Needle. The prime location positions Mr. Chihuly as a local icon, as well. The artist’s Curtis photographs and Navajo blankets adorn one gallery, bolstering the idea that the history and hues of West Coast history have informed Mr. Chihuly’s artwork. In the museum’s Collections Café, objects from Mr. Chihuly’s collections rest beneath glass panes on the restaurant tables.
Across town, at the Boathouse behind Mr. Chihuly’s hotshop, the artist’s collections adorn a meeting area, the bathrooms, and nearly every room of the house. Mrs. Chihuly attributes her husband’s extensive collecting to his desire to return to a simpler time. Before he turned 20 years old, Mr. Chihuly lost his brother to a military training accident and his father to a fatal heart attack. “When I see the innocence of Dale and the collections and things, I think it was life before he lost his brother,” Mrs. Chihuly surmised. She recalled, “I never knew why Dale collected accordions. Then one time when I was at his mother’s house, we saw a photograph of his father and brother holding accordions. They played the music.”
The collections are, in Mrs. Chihuly’s estimation, a Rosebud-like key to understanding the artist. Yet instead of one sled, Mr. Chihuly has acquired thousands of objects. Mrs. Chihuly’s own work in building up her husband’s brand through canny efforts that extend to publications, institutions, films, philanthropy, limited editions, new shows, objects, and collection displays—all of which ultimately amount to significant mythmaking—can start to feel like its very own guard against loss.