On a trip last week I managed to see the New York Botanical Garden both by day and at night. This garden is special to me since I took a course on tropical ecology there between college and graduate school, taught by Ghillean Prance who became the director of Kew Gardens. I try when possible to visit when I am in NY, a magical green oasis that seems impossibly wild surrounded by the city.
I was enchanted by the Chihuly exhibit there. His first show in the city was in 2006, attracting what was then a record number of visitors. For this return engagement, Chihuly was captivated by the 3 1Ž2 acre Native Plant Garden opened in 2013, and selected the ponds there to create totally new interactions between the garden and his glass sculptures. One of these installations, Float Boat, was especially entrancing at night with a stark minimalist beauty of the wooden fishing boat, filled with his artistic version of Niijima glass floats used by Japanese fishermen.
Chihuly speaks often of the origins of his interest in glass. He describes how it may have begun with childhood walks along beaches near Seattle, where he collected broken fragments of these Japanese floats washed ashore from a world away. I remember also being intrigued when I lived in Washington exploring the beaches and wondering about the origin of the polished bits of glass washed in by the tide. He has also said his love of glass goes back to a childhood collection of marbles. This installation for me seemed a visualization of what triggered his love of working with glass. Walking at night and watching this emerge from the dark like a distant memory, it could be a surreal marble collection, or wildly decorative glass floats, revealed so that we might share his inspiration.