Opening soon: Museum of Glass a work of art itself

Editor’s note: This is the second part of a two-part story on the new Museum of Glass, opening to the public on July 6.

A work of art itself, Tacoma’s new 75,000-square-foot Museum of Glass cuts a distinctive silhouette against the city skyline.

From the museum’s signature steel cone to the expansive rooftop terraces offering panoramic views of the revitalized Thea Foss Waterway to the many works of art inside and outside, the Museum of Glass is unlike any other building in Tacoma.

“This museum is a bit different, as you’re about to see,” said Josi Callan, director of the Museum of Glass, during Tuesday’s media preview of the $63 million project.

Tacoma Mayor Bill Baarsma agreed: “The Museum of Glass is an engineering marvel.”

Designed by Canadian architect Arthur Erickson, the building features 13,000 square feet of gallery space, an Education Studio, a 180-seat multi-media center and a museum store and cafe.

The building, sheathed in concrete and translucent glass, abuts the tilted 90-foot cone wrapped in stainless steel.

The cone contains a working hot shop with facilities for advanced glass making.

Visitors can watch the glassmakers at work in the 140-seat Hot Shop Amphitheater. Cameras in fixed locations transmit live video footage of the artists at work to large video screens in the amphitheater just outside the hot glass studio.

Outside, a series of horizontal terraces ascend from an open stretch of pavement along the Thea Foss Waterway, providing an outdoor exhibition area and visitors with a spectacular view of the city.

Rimless reflecting pools on three terrace levels create the illusion of flowing water disappearing over the edge.

In total, the reflecting pools hold more than 79,000 gallons of water.

A series of stairs spiral around the base of the giant cone and lead to the entrance of the Museum of Glass.

“I think that’s the essence of this project,” said Erickson, referring to the stairs and ramps inviting visitors to explore the museum.

And there is plenty more to explore at the Museum of Glass, including the Chihuly Bridge of Glass and a pubic art project called “Water Forest.”

Named after Tacoma native and internationally known glass artist Dale Chihuly, the Chihuly Bridge of Glass spans the museum on Tacoma’s waterfront to the the corridor along Pacific Ave.

The bridge is 500-feet long, 20-feet tall at its peek and soars 80 feet above Interstate 705 and several rail lines.

Chihuly designed three permanent art installations for the bridge: the Seaform Pavilion, Venetian Wall and Crystal Towers.

Resembling a kaleidoscope, the Seaform Pavilion is a 48-foot long ceiling of multicolored glass forms from Chihuly’s “Seaform” and “Persian” series.

The Venetian Wall displays over 100 vessels from Chihuly’s “Venetian” and “Ikebana” series.

Perhaps the bridge’s most striking feature are the two glacial blue Crystal Towers that rise more than 30 feet above the bridge deck at the span’s center.

Positioned 50 feet apart from one another on the north and south sides of the bridge, each exhibit is made up of approximately 60 hollow polyvitro – a term coined by Chihuly – crystals.

Chihuly collaborated on the bridge project with architect Arthur Andersson of Austin, Texas, the chief architect of Tacoma’s Washington State History Museum.

Anderson Bjorn Kane Jacobs (ABKJ) of Seattle engineered the bridge.

“It’s not just a bridge – it’s an art installation,” Erickson said. “This is a gift to the City of Tacoma by a true artist.”

“I decided after this experience, I don’t want to be an architect,” Chihuly joked.

Standing tall along the Foss Waterway’s new esplanade near the Museum of Glass is “Water Forest,” made up of 20 bronze and glass towers standing in concrete rings around a circular granite bench, creating a space like that of a grove of trees.

Each tower is a receptacle that fills with water and overflows before filling up again, reflecting the ebb and flow of the tide of Puget Sound.

Fiber optics illuminate the towers at night.

“It’s always exciting to open a new project,” said “Water Forest” creator Howard Ben Tre, an internationally recognized artist known for his sculptures and large-scale work for public and private spaces.

The artist’s work can be found in more than 85 museum’s and public collections worldwide.

Visitors are invited to walk through the interactive art installation and touch the towers or sit on the bench inside the display.

“Participants can share a collective experience,” Tre said. “It takes the water from the waterway and brings it to you.”

With the public opening of the Museum of Glass not far off, museum officials are excited.

“This has been an outstanding year,” said Neil Watson, chief curator, adding the Museum of Glass will transform the way people experience the waterfront.

“The opening of this museum is not an ending,” Callan said. “It’s a beginning.”

Who’s Who at the Museum of Glass

Dale Chihuly: Born in Tacoma, Chihuly is an internationally known glass artist celebrated for his large architectural installations. His work is included in over 200 museum collections worldwide. Chihuly is a graduate of the University of Washington.

Arthur Erickson: A Vancouver, B.C. native, Erickson’s architectural trademark is his use of concrete in large-scale buildings while being sensitive to setting. He has studied at the University of British Columbia and Montreal’s McGill University. The Museum of Glass is the architect’s first major art museum in the United States.

Josi Callan: Prior to her current position, Callan served as director of the San Jose Museum of Art for nine years. She has held senior management positions is non-profit and educational institutions. Callan has a bachelor of arts degree in art history and a master’s degree in behavioral sciences from California State University.

Neil Watson: Before joining the Museum of Glass, Watson served as curator of contemporary art for the Norton Museum of Art in West Palm Beach, Fla. Watson earned a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Rhode Island School of Design.

Museum of Glass Visitor Information

The Museum of Glass, which opens to the public on July 6, is located at 1801 E. Dock St in downtown Tacoma.

The museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.; and Sunday, from noon to 5 p.m. It’s closed on Mondays, Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

General admission is $8; $6 for seniors (62+), military personnel and students; and $3 for children age 6 to 12. Admission is free for museum members and children under 6. Admission is free to all on the third Thursday of each month, from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m.

For more information, call 1-886-4MUSEUM, or visit the museum’s Web site at