One of my favorite works here at the Museum of Art & Archaeology is Vermillion Lip Wrap # 2 by the famous glass artist Dale Chihuly, located in the Robert and Maria Barton Gallery of Modern Art on the second floor. Students seem to love this fascinating work as well, so I therefore tend to reflect upon it even more deeply than many of the others. The luminous and numinous object seems to grow out of nature itself…
Like Chihuly, I have been concerned about environmental issues and design since the Sixties, or “back in the day” as students like to say. I used to live within six blocks of the Missouri Botanical Garden in southwest Saint Louis, and became familiar with Chihuly’s work through some of his remarkable exhibitions at the Botanical Garden. In his highly inventive work with the incredibly challenging medium of glass, Chihuly engages in a wonderfully creative dialogue with nature that shows us some possible answers to our increasingly pressing environmental problems.
This very hip, modern and commercially successful artist studied the classic traditions of his craft in Italy. He delights in the timeless processes of this ancient art form while drawing upon natural forms and materials like seashells, as well as from the talented team of artisans he has assembled, for the infinitely renewable resource of human creativity.
Every culture has ultimately been forced to wrestle with the issue of its proper place in the natural world. The art (or is it craft?) of Dale Chihuly demonstrates that art which grows out of a creative dialogue with nature and the past can help us become co-creators rather than destroyers of nature. As psychologist Thomas Moore writes:
“If we realized the absolute importance of honoring the mysteries that shape our lives, and then recognized that nothing presents those mysteries to us as powerfully as the arts do, then we might accomplish a miracle…”