Yesterday my free art event involved more public art, and something Tacoma’s famous for: blown glass and Dale Chihuly. We all might be used to glass art by now, but it’s worth remembering that we’re incredibly lucky to have several glassblowing studios in town, not to mention one of only a couple of glass museums in the country. And a lot of it is free. I’m talking about the Chihuly art in the museum district: in Union Station, the Bridge of Glass, the University of Washington Tacoma library, and the Swiss Pub, all of which can be seen in a half-hour walk and all of which can be discovered through the Tacoma Art Museum’s cell phone tour.
The tour officially begins in TAM, where there’s a whole gallery devoted to the Tacoma-born, internationally-famous glass artist, but since it’s not free on Saturdays I began instead at the Union Station courthouse. First mistake: As this is a federal building, it’s only open weekdays. But you can still see three Chihuly works from the street, so I called 888-411-4220 and typed in the codes (104-108) to find out about the swirly lime chandelier, the spiky red and the floating orange Persian spinners on the light-drenched east wall. (Inside there’s also a drawing mural.) The tour includes Chihuly himself talking about his work, which can be interesting, as well as fun facts, and tops out at 90 seconds per stop.
Next it was the Bridge of Glass, with the Seaform and Venetian pavilions, so familiar to most of us that I won’t go into it except to say that the giant aqua rock candy sculptures do grow on you after a while. At this point you could actually keep going down the curvy Museum of Glass stairs and over to Traver Gallery in the Albers Mill building, where there’s more Chihuly in the back room and usually one or two cutting edge contemporary glass artists in the main gallery. Right now it’s Jiro Yonezawa, whose bamboo sculptures are both abstract and completely organic. (There’s also the best of new artists, such as the students at the HART program at Jason Lee, for sale in adjoining Vetri.)
Back across the bridge and up the stairs to turn left for the UWT library, where Chihuly’s “Chinook Red Chandelier” can be seen from outside – according to the cell audio tour, like a beacon shining over Tacoma. From inside, though, it’s much more aggressive, hanging over the tower’s reading table like a bloody, flaming dagger poised to strike at unsuspecting students.
Then up the stairs again to the Swiss Pub, where everyone except kids can check out the eight Venetians standing behind the pub like tall vases with flowers on the outside. At this point the cell tour was completely freaking out on me, and I had to hang up and redial several times – hopefully your luck will be better.
The Chihuly cell tour can be accessed at 888-411-4220. Union Station is open to the public with ID 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday at 1717 Pacific Avenue, Tacoma. Traver Gallery is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, noon-5 p.m. Sunday at 1821 Dock St., Tacoma. 253-383-3685, www.travergallery.com. The UWT library is open 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday at 1902 Commerce St., Tacoma. The Swiss Pub is open daily 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at 1904 S. Jefferson Ave., Tacoma. The Bridge of Glass connects Pacific Avenue with Dock Street and is open 24/7.