COURTESY MONICA QUOCK CHAN
The brilliantly colored shapes of the Seaform Pavilion are the work of Dale Chihuly.
Get glassy-eyed at Tacoma museums
Tacoma's art scene
With its unmistakable conical vent piercing the Tacoma skyline, the Museum of Glass lives up to the quote from the renowned French novelist emblazoned on its walls. Next to the spacious Grand Hall, the compact West, South, and North Galleries feature rotating exhibitions. A translucent wall constructed from dozens of wine bottles catches my eye, while a mural composed of glossy tiles contrasts with a sculpture that floats like glass gossamer.
"If you ask me what I came to do in this world, I, an artist, will answer you: 'I am here to live out loud.''' -- Emile Zola
The multifarious forms of glass are impressive, from diaphanous goblets to bejeweled strands to thick frosted blocks. Although the museum emphasizes contemporary art in a variety of media, classic works such as the stained glass of Louis Comfort Tiffany and Frank Lloyd Wright are also on exhibit.
Literally feeling the heat from the furnace, we enter the area below the funnel-shaped vent known as Jane's Hot Shop. The highlight of the museum, the Hot Shop is where glass demonstrations are accompanied by live running commentary. The site attracts celebrated artists such as Maya Lin, architect of the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial in Washington, D.C. From the amphitheater seats, we watch as a fiery globule is skillfully molded into a sleek pilsner glass. Adjacent is a studio for resident artists. A theater, café, and museum store stocked with unique works from the Hot Shop round out the institution's indoor offerings.
If You Go...
Costs are approximate and subject to change:
Northwest, Continental and Hawaiian airlines fly nonstop from Honolulu to Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) International Airport. A round-trip economy ticket is about $400. Downtown Tacoma is a 30-minute drive southwest of the airport.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
Museum of Glass: www.museumofglass.org
Point Defiance Park: www.metroparkstacoma.org
Tacoma Art Museum:www.tacomaartmuseum.org
Tacoma Artwalk: www.artwalktacoma.com
Washington State History Museum: www.washingtonhistory.org
WHERE TO STAY
» Holiday Inn Express Hotel and Suites: 8601 S. Hosmer St. Call (253)-539-2020; www.holidayinn.com. Doubles start at $109.
» Sheraton Tacoma Hotel: 1320 Broadway Plaza. Call (253)-572-3200; www.starwoodhotels.com. Doubles start at $118.
WHERE TO EAT
» Anthony's at Point Defiance: 5910 N. Waterfront Drive. Call (253)-752-9700; www.anthonys.com. Dinner entrée range: $9 to $24.
» Harbor Monsoon: 4628 oint Fosdick Drive, Gig Harbor. Call (253)-858-9838; www.harbormonsoon.com. Dinner entrée range: $9 to $17.
» Lobster Shop: 4015 Ruston Way. Call (253)-759-2165; www.lobstershop.com. Dinner entrée range: $15 to $33.
Directly outside are several impressive installations: "Breathe" (Warren Langley) resembles swaying birthday candles suspended in water; "Tidewater" (Mark Bennion) consists of empty rectangles that frame the Tacoma environs; and the transparent points of "Incidence" (Buster Simpson) align with the museum's adjacent pyramidal vent, the pool waves below, and Mount Rainier in the distance.
The brief walk to the Tacoma Art Museum is punctuated by the creations of world-famous glass artist, Dale Chihuly. Chihuly's signature style of curving, often large-scale glass pieces that reflect the natural world adorn such places as the Bellagio in Las Vegas, London's Victoria and Albert Museum, and the New York Botanical Garden. His works have been installed from Japan to France, and have even been featured at the Olympics. Although a car accident in 1976 left Chihuly without sight in one eye, he and his staff nevertheless continue to produce a prolific number of pieces, many of which can be viewed right here in his hometown.
The Chihuly Bridge of Glass contains the Venetian Wall and its array of sinuous vessels. The Seaform Pavilion, my personal favorite, is like gazing through a kaleidoscope backlit by the sky above. The turquoise Crystal Towers highlight the end of the bridge, but more Chihuly is yet to come. Nearby Union Station Federal Courthouse contains several of his works, including an undulating chandelier and the graceful Monarch Window.
Enter the Tacoma Art Museum, where smaller yet no less sublime Chihuly pieces are a part of the permanent collection. The museum also owns a number of treasures such as works by French Impressionist Pierre-Auguste Renoir and American sculptor Frederic Remington. Temporary exhibits highlight contemporary art such as Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson's Symphonic Poem, composed in a range of materials from clay to fabric, and Trimpin's Conloninpurple, an interactive room-sized sound sculpture.
Visitors of all ages enjoy The Art of Eric Carle, whose children's book, "The Very Hungry Caterpillar," is a beloved classic. Carle's "10 Little Rubber Ducks" was influenced by a 1992 true incident of 29,000 rubber bath toys that fell overboard into the ocean near Alaska. (Did any float as far as Hawaii?) Upstairs, a classroom, open studio, and resource center support Tacoma's growing art community.
Along the lines of Honolulu's First Fridays is Tacoma's Third Thursday Artwalks. Admission to all three of Tacoma's major museums mentioned here is free that evening, and at least a dozen galleries and art-related venues are open to the public.
COURTESY MONICA QUOCK CHAN
Visitors examine the reconstructed laborers dwelling at Fort Nisqually in Point Defiance Park, left.
COURTESY MONICA QUOCK CHAN
Incidence by Buster Simpson in front of the Museum of Glass' distinctive Hot Shop vent.
Washington State's past
Between the Tacoma Art Museum and the Museum of Glass is the comprehensive Washington State History Museum, whose motto is "These walls can talk." In the Great Hall of Washington History, permanent exhibits outline the story of the 42nd state. An intriguing geographic model is followed by interactive exhibits covering the local Native American tribes. Dioramas of the Lewis and Clark Expedition are next. Fast forward several decades to frontier life depictions, then the Depression Era's reconstructed Hooverville shack, followed by displays covering World War II and the Japanese-American internment. The major industries of Washington are also highlighted, from early railroading and lumber to today's apples and airplanes. A B-17 looms overhead while an actual 42-foot transmission tower sits near the Columbia River Theater.
Upstairs is an extensive model railroad exhibit, a prelude to the museum's annual Model Train Festival. Adjacent are temporary exhibits such as "381 Days: The Montgomery Bus Boycott Story." Perhaps the most fun is the interactive History Lab Learning Center, where children can develop critical thinking skills by solving a "History Mystery," or test their knowledge by guessing which sets of toys belong to which era (Atari, anyone?).
COURTESY MONICA QUOCK CHAN
Dozens of multihued flowing vessels by Dale Chihuly are displayed along the Bridge of Glassí Venetian Wall. Chihuly holds the honor of being appointed the United States' first National Living Treasure.
Point Defiance Park
Tacoma receives nearly 40 inches of rain a year, but the splendid wilderness of southern Puget Sound is not to be missed. So despite a recent windstorm we head out to Point Defiance Park which, contrary to its name, never actually housed military operations.
As we meander through the park, spindly pines reach for the sky and dense undergrowth surrounds us with a swath of chartreuse. Rugged Owen Beach with its washed ashore logs and rocky perimeter sports the classic look of a Northwestern beach.
Stopping to enjoy the vantage points, we espy the Narrows Bridge connecting Tacoma to Gig Harbor. In 1940, the bridge's predecessor, nicknamed "Galloping Gertie" due to its tendency to oscillate as cars were driven across it, was built. This suspension bridge stunned the engineering world by collapsing just four months after it opened, spurring mandatory wind tunnel testing. Today's bridge was completed in 1950, and a parallel bridge is currently under construction.
Elsewhere in the park, irises, miniature and regular roses, rhododendrons, fuchsias, dahlias, herbs, Japanese and native plants all luxuriate in their own gardens. Camp 6 Logging Museum has exhibits and train rides, while Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, with its costumed docents and preserved buildings, recreates the 19th-century fur trade. Native Hawaiians were once a part of the multiethnic workforce at this former Hudson's Bay Company outpost.
On another day around sunset, I spot pristine Mount Rainier once more. I almost reach for my camera, then pause. Perhaps, like the art and nature of Tacoma, such splendor is better to be savored than captured, better to be etched indelibly in my travel memories than stored as yet another file on my hard drive. So I simply sit and gaze as the rose-colored light graces the majestic yet evanescent peak, remembering that experiencing moments like these is the reason why all of us travel.
Monica Quock Chan is a Honolulu-based freelance writer and former marketing executive. She has lived in Europe and Asia, and traveled to 50 countries.