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Walking around Tacoma to see glass artist Dale Chihuly’s handiwork
By Tom Adkinson

(Editor’s note: This is one in a series of travel stories spotlighting destinations logical to visit as Americans venture out in a time of coronavirus and perhaps to inspire safe outings elsewhere.)

tacoma venetian wall
The Venetian Wall along the Bridge of Glass contains 109 pieces of Chihuly glass sculpture. Image by Tom Adkinson.

TACOMA, Washington – Of the numerous famous people born in Tacoma – crooner Bing Crosby, NBA star Isaiah Thomas, “Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson and actress Dyan Cannon among them – only one greets people every day as they stream through this Puget Sound city on I-705.

That famous person is internationally known glass artist Dale Chihuly. He accomplishes his artful greeting with the Bridge of Glass, a three-part project he called “the gateway that welcomes people to Tacoma.”

Of course, the bridge itself isn’t made of glass, but it’s quite real and is a showcase for literally thousands of Chihuly’s creations. In a time when being in enclosed spaces is a luxury, the Bridge of Glass is a welcome opportunity to enjoy art in the outdoors.

The bridge is a 500-foot-long pedestrian overpass that connects the Museum of Glass on one side of the interstate with the city’s cultural corridor that includes the Tacoma Art Museum, the Washington State History Museum and Union Station, originally a railroad terminal and now a federal courthouse and de facto art gallery.

There are three major installations of Chihuly art on the Bridge of Glass, each different from its neighbors. You can learn about them – and numerous other Chihuly works within walking distance – through an audio tour created by the Tacoma Art Museum. Hearing Chihuly and others talk about the various pieces adds context to any visit.

tacoma crystal towers
The Crystal Towers rise 40 feet over the pedestrian level of the Bridge of Glass; Image by Tom Adkinson.
tecoma seafoam pavilian
You have to look overhead to scan the immensity of the Seafoam Pavilion’s 2,364 pieces; image by Tom Adkinson.

The part of the Bridge of Glass most easily seen when zipping by on the interstate is Crystal Towers, two 40-foot-tall columns, each a jumble of 63 large crystals that resemble turquoise rock candy. While Chihuly mainly works in glass, the Crystal Towers are made of Polyvitro, the name Chihuly gave a polymer he created that transmits light and color the way glass does but weighs considerably less.

At the other end of the bridge is the Seafoam Pavilion, a peculiar installation you view from underneath. As you walk into the space, you look overhead to view 2,364 colorful glass objects, a random assortment resembling seashells. However, you seem to be in an ocean looking up instead of walking on a beach looking down.

In between the Crystal Towers and the Seafoam Pavilion is the Venetian Wall, a collection of 109 glass pieces of many shapes, colors and sizes that otherwise could fill a major gallery in a formal art museum. These pieces, although protected from the elements, are effectively outdoors. They change as sunlight plays with them through the day, and at night, an LED system creates different looks.

The Tacoma Art Museum’s audio program segment about Chihuly’s Venetian creations is especially informative. In it, Chihuly explains his relationship with a noted glassmaker from Venice that launched as a very short-term project and lasted more than a decade.

When pandemic restrictions are eased enough, it’s easy to extend your quest for Chihuly art. The big dose is at the Tacoma Art Museum with an extensive collection on permanent display, and five major pieces await you in Union Station.

tacoma monarch window
The elements of the Monarch Window inside Union Station are called Persian spinners; Image by Tom Adkinson.

You must pass through security at Union Station because it’s now a federal courthouse, but it’s worth the minor inconvenience, especially to see the Monarch Window. This work consists of flat glass pieces called Persian spinners that resemble flower blossoms. Sunlight casts orange reflections on the floor, and vibrations from passing freight trains make them flutter . . . like monarch butterflies.

Two other sites, if open, are worth the walk up one of Tacoma’s very steep hills. First is a University of Washington library conference room, where a dangling chandelier resembles a huge string of red New Mexico chili peppers, and second is the Swiss Pub.

tacoma chihuly piece
Among the many Chihuly pieces on permanent display is this orange Ikebana vase; Image by Tom Adkinson.

Yep, a neighborhood pub houses nine Chihuly Venetian sculptures on display high over the bar. Co-owner Jack McQuade explains that Chihuly and his crew often retreated to the Swiss Pub while making the intricate installations at Union Station. Chihuly eventually loaned the Swiss Pub the sculptures.

Isn’t it nice when an internationally known native son moonlights as an interior decorator for a neighborhood bar?

(Lodging tip: Within walking distance of all this Chihuly art is the Hotel Murano, itself a veritable museum of glass art. Beautiful pieces adorn the lobby, and each guest floor features glass art from a different artist.)

Trip Planning Resources:, and

(Travel writer Tom Adkinson’s new book, 100 Things To Do in Nashville Before You Die, is available at

Published July 3, 2020

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