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Sea Forms

Who Am I? Exhibition

Published onAug 24, 2020
Sea Forms

Sea Forms, 1985
Dale Chihuly (American, b. 1941)
Blown glass
Gift of an anonymous donor and the Friends of University Museums. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa.

 Interpretation 1

“Since some of the earliest Seaforms were opaque, Chihuly was struck by their resemblance to seashells, which coincidentally appealed to his love of the sea… Equating the liquidity and transparency of glass with water, the artist has stated ‘as soon as I saw the Baskets begin to look like shells and things from the sea, then I pushed the idea of the transparency of the glass and the sea and the water and the ice, and it all fit together in the forms.’ This led to the Seaforms.”

“Color is critical to the Seaforms. Striving to achieve the effect of “something that came from the sea,” Chihuly established color selection as the first step in his creative process. In order to give his “creatures” a sense of fragility, he has consistently utilized a soft and subtle palette, composed primarily of pale pinks, greens, blues, and whites that are often highlighted by strong, contrasting lip wraps. Some compositions executed only in shades of white with white wraps are especially haunting, with a quiet, very ephemeral quality.”

Excerpt from Davira S. Taragin, Chihuly Seaforms, 2010.

Interpretation 2


In how many ways can we look at art?  Do we make quick judgments about “liking” or “getting” what we see? Are we attracted by an artist’s medium? A subject? A color? Perhaps we are pulled in by the period in which the art was created or the environment in which it is presented. Each perspective offers a different possibility; each is another way to engage.

My professional training is in dance, specifically in 20th-century dance history. Studying the development of modern dance – one of a handful of uniquely American art forms – choreographers are classified as belonging to specific generations: the “Four Pioneers” of the 1930s; their students, the 2nd Generation abstractionists of the 1950s; the avant-garde 3rd Generation of the 1970s, and so on. Viewing a choreographer’s career within that person’s “family” – their teachers, colleagues and students – offers another context in which to consider their contribution to dance.  From whom did they learn? What aspects of the teacher’s techniques were continued? Which were re-imagined and transformed? Is the choreography of their peers similar or different? Are there “genetic traits” observed from one generation to the next?

To me, Dale Chihuly’s Sea Forms offers hints of his artistic family tree. His use of curving color and form is also seen in the works his teacher, Harvey Littleton, whose 180 Degree Rotation, Red is included in this exhibition. I see his striations of color echoed in the glass threads of Toots Zynsky’s Bowl, and see his color palette in Flora Mace and Joey Kirkpatrick’s Pear – all of whom worked or studied with Chihuly.  

Glass has been a part of the University Museum’s collections since the original donation of Ann Brunnier’s art glass formed the foundation for what experts have called an “encyclopedic” collection. The leading artists of the American contemporary glass movement are well-represented at Iowa State, allowing one to trace the artists’ aesthetic lineage.

University Museums’ glass collection has a connection to my family tree, as well.  My late husband was a theatrical technician and lighting designer whose favorite volunteer gig was to design lighting for the Brunnier’s glass exhibitions. He loved every one of them, but Chihuly was a favorite.

Dana Schumacher
University Museums donor, retired from Iowa State University


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