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Chihuly Desert Glass Sculptures at the Phoenix Botanical Gardens

Updated on January 14, 2018
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Arizona has its own beauty. With local cacti, a wonderful geography of desert, high desert, pine forest and mountains, it's truly splendid.

A Glassy Adventure

It was one of those adventures that turned out well worth the money and time. The Phoenix botanical garden was host to the famous glass sculptor, Dale Chihuly, and featured his works from November 10, 2013 to May 18, 2014. We had been truly hard at work trying to think of a day trip that would be of interest to guests from California. The exhibit had come just in time.

Shapes of All Sizes

Capitalizing on the many shapes of desert cacti, Dale Chihuly chose the gardens as one of his many exhibits. His work is featured periodically throughout the United States. One of his pieces is a beautiful sculpture of an agave with beautiful green hues. Other shapes blend beautifully in the desert garden exhibits.

Chihuly balls not far from the Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens entrance
Chihuly balls not far from the Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens entrance | Source

Follow the Paths

There are two paths at the entrance (Ottosen Entry Garden, Cohn Tour Gathering Area garden), each featuring a different emphasis of desert life. At the approximate meeting point of the paths was the Chihuly Glass Balls sculpture. Constructed of colorful balls strung together like a huge grape cluster, it rose seemingly to 20 feet. The different striped orbs were so interesting, while the colors reminded one of Christmas, appropriately enough.

Dale Chihuly

Chihuly, one of America's premier sculptors, first became interested in glassblowing as an art form in the 1960s. His studio is referred to as the boathouse hot shop. He works in Seattle Washington, and has an exhibit of his work not far from the Space Needle . Well-respected internationally, Dale Chihuly displays outside the United States and is frequently commissioned to do pieces abroad. Much of his knowledge of glassblowing came while working on the island of Murano at the Venini glass factory. He enjoys working with a team of skilled glassblowers watching a creation develop. As an artist, Chihuly uses a team approach to building his spectacular forms.

Desert Ecosystems

Strategically placed throughout the desert gardens were wonderfully colored glass swirls and curls of drawn glass. Each shaped piece seemed to be possessed of great forethought placed with the cactus, trees, flowers, or bushes of the Arizona desert and some plants from other world deserts. Collections vary from Australia and Baja California, including specimens from South America. A mesquite bosque, upland chaparral scrub, and semidesert grassland are just a taste of the ecosystems.

Your View of the Phoenix Botanical Gardens

What do you think of the Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens?

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A beautiful sculpture resembling an exploding blue star
A beautiful sculpture resembling an exploding blue star | Source

Beautiful Landscapes

As we walked the paths, the covered ground to the side was either a crushed sandstone, crushed granite, or the natural desert dirt and rocks of central Arizona. At times the glass sculptures had stones piled beneath them, as if drainage from the summer rain storms mandated an inclined pathway away from the glass plant sculptures. They did actually appear to be living objects. Inanimate they may have been, but these glass blown forms exuded a living beauty. Notice my favorite sculpture in shape and color, not unlike Medusa's head, but not of snakes, just lovely curls of woven glass intersecting a mythological traffic jam of energy. Its name is the "flowering tree sculpture".

Entitled, flowering tree sculpture
Entitled, flowering tree sculpture | Source

Basic Facts About the Phoenix Botanical Gardens

1. Garden covers 50 acres
2. All trails are one quarter to one third mile long
3. Garden was founded in 1939
4. 400,000 visitors per year
5. There are three eateries
6. 2011, 2012, 2013 "Knot Best of Wedding" winner
7. Garden admission is free the second Tuesday of every month. Time: 8 a.m. - 8 p.m.

Snake-like green glass winding through the garden
Snake-like green glass winding through the garden | Source

Events and Activities

For years the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden has featured activities and events at the
gardens at all times of the day. For example, for October of 2014, 13 events are
scheduled. Here is just a taste of what entertainment can be found at the desert garden:

1. The art of Flamenco dancing.
2. A preview of the fall plant sale with reception.
3. Bad Cactus Brass Band New Orleans Jazz with a flair.
4. A discussion of gyotaku, Japanese art form using inked fish impressions.
5. A reception with artist Jo0e McAuliffe
6. Music featuring Turning Point
7. Central Arizona Cactus and Succulent meetings
8. Traditional Mexican Halloween "Ofrenda", a place in the home where the dead are
remembered, typically very colorful
9. The Sugar Thieves, more band music
10. Cuisine and Culture of Dia de Los Muertos
11. Dominican music, Tro De Mambo
12. The Great Pumpkin Festival:
Children’s crafts & activities
Pumpkin (for children 12 and under)
Hayride pumpkin patch excursion
Country & western entertainment

This is just a sample of the monthly offerings at the botanical. In addition, special
exhibits are featured, like the Chihuly display, on a frequent basis. Currently, a
display that is partially not planned is the return of the Mariposa Monarcha Butterfly
in late September.

If you are a local, you know that gardening in the desert Southwest can be a challenge.
Not only do you contend with heat requiring a knowledge of plants of the arid desert and
special requirements to successfully raise non-native plants, but one needs a knowledge
of the soil, plant diseases, and pests. The Phoenix Botanical Garden has educators who inform the community on such things as conserving plant life, following good gardening
practices, and helping folks with landscaping issues. Since water conservation is
extremely important in this region, the garden is a precious asset to the community.

Purple sprouts among the organ pipe
Purple sprouts among the organ pipe | Source

Don't Miss the Phoenix Desert Botanical Gardens

This is a place that is kid friendly. Between the colorful displays and those displays and activities designed for children in mind, this is a family adventure all will enjoy. I love to go to scenic places in Arizona with my camera. The light is magnificent, its intensity changing colors in the desert as the day goes on. The shapes of the cactus and plant life, and in this case, the wonder of Chihuly glass, make this a favorite. Between clicking the camera, walking the paths, smelling the smells, and listening to an occasional bee or other insect make its melodic sounds, the Phoenix Desert Botanical Garden is a must see when in the valley of the sun.

Floating Glass Chihuly Sculptures

Saguaros, Chihuly glass, and gazing people
Saguaros, Chihuly glass, and gazing people | Source

© 2014 John R Wilsdon


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    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 2 years ago from England

      How lovely! these glass sculptures are amazing! we don't have anything like this where I live, so I would love to go and see them, great hub! thanks

    • john000 profile image

      John R Wilsdon 3 years ago from Superior, Arizona

      I imagine they will be coming back rather soon. Chihuly glass was at the gardens in 2010 and 2013. Thanks for the comment.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      The glass sculptures are wonderful! I'd love to see them in real life. Thanks so much for sharing the beautiful photos.

    • john000 profile image

      John R Wilsdon 3 years ago from Superior, Arizona

      So nice of you to stop by. Yes, if you have the opportunity, do see a Chihuly exhibit. Glass is such a cheery medium. Thanks for the comment.

    • ChitrangadaSharan profile image

      Chitrangada Sharan 3 years ago from New Delhi, India

      Wow! These Chihuly desert glass structures are amazing.

      Indeed they are so beautiful and worth seeing. I would definitely like to see them some day. I was not aware of this place at all.

      Thanks for sharing the information!