World-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly will bring his whimsical, colorful works to the Missouri Botanical Garden this spring for the garden’s “most ambitious” exhibit ever, officials announced Wednesday.
Chihuly and his crew created 18 installations that will add more dramatic color throughout the garden’s 79 acres. The exhibit will be larger than the only previous Chihuly exhibit at the garden, in 2006, mostly located inside the Climatron.
“It’s hard to put into words the wow factor,” said garden president Peter Wyse Jackson. “But I want to assure people that they won’t be disappointed to come to the garden and see so many pieces on display, the kind of pieces they’ve never seen before.”
The exhibition, “Chihuly in the Garden 2023”, opens May 2 and runs through October 15.
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Chihuly Nights tickets go on sale March 1 for garden members and March 15 for the general public. Daytime access to the garden will be included.
Artisans and planners for the Chihuly Studio have visited the garden three times to create and finalize plans, and only a small core group of garden staff knew about the exhibit until very recently. Chihuly himself wants to visit, garden officials said, but no date has been set. The garden is at 4344 Shaw Boulevard.
Glass installations will be scattered throughout the garden, including inside the Linnean House, the Japanese Garden, the conservatory and the Climatron, where the massive, 928-part blue chandelier from the 2006 exhibition hangs from the top of the dome. A display of Chihuly drawings will run in the garden’s Stephen and Peter Sachs Museum.
In 2006, the Chihuly “Glass in the Garden” exhibition made a huge impression and changed the range of future garden events. Income from gift shop, rental, ticket and restaurant increased by 30%. The garden extended the exhibit by two months until the end of that year, and even heated a reflecting pool so more people could see the floating glass “Walla Wallas” during freezing weather.
The exhibition attracted thousands of new members and broke attendance records, breaking 1 million visitors that year. The garden has hit the 1 million mark since, but the pandemic has pushed those numbers down.
Garden officials hope Chihuly will once again be the catalyst to attract new visitors and those who haven’t strolled the garden paths in a while.
“Chihuly Nights” in 2006 was the genesis of future crowd favorites such as the holiday Garden Glow and Chinese lantern displays. The staff learned how to handle crowds at night, and the crowds learned that they loved the glowing garden atmosphere.
In 2006, visitors came from all 50 states to see “Glass in the Garden.” Security officers counted license plates in the parking lot. Garden officials hope that the new exhibit will once again attract tourists who will not only spend money in the garden, but elsewhere in St. Louis.
The haven’s Jack C. Taylor Visitor Center opened in August, and the adjacent Bayer Event Center is set to open in May. More than 30,000 plants, flowers and trees will be planted in new garden beds in the coming months.
“This really caps off what will be a wonderful year to develop a new era of the garden and build on what we’ve accomplished here,” Wyse Jackson said.
It is also the celebration of what he hopes is the end of the pandemic. “It’s a way we can give back to the community where we can say we’re here, come back and enjoy the garden.”
The garden did not host a summer exhibition in 2022 due to construction. Garden officials stayed in touch with the Chihuly Studio over the years and in 2019 made a final plan for this exhibit.
Garden officials won’t say how much it will cost — “a lot,” said public relations consultant Peggy Lents — and money is budgeted along with sponsorship help. Lelia and David Farr are the presenting sponsors, and other main sponsors include Edward Jones and Schnuck Markets Inc. with Scott Schnuck.
From the 2006 exhibit, donors purchased several Chihuly works for the garden’s permanent collection: among them the floating bulbs, the blue chandelier that was moved to the Climatron in 2021 because of the new visitor center, and yellow doodles that top trellises in the rose garden.
Although there is no budget or plan to buy new pieces, officials are open to any generous donor who wants to buy one — or more — for the garden.
While the 2006 exhibition changed the garden’s landscape, it also blazed a new trail for Chihuly. It was one of his first exhibitions in a botanical garden; he has held exhibitions in a dozen gardens since.
“The Missouri Botanical Garden is a special place for Chihuly Studios,” said Catherine Martin, garden spokeswoman. “It was so successful that it really gave them a road map for the shows they were doing going forward.”
Wyse Jackson was working in Dublin in 2006, so he did not see the exhibition here, but he has seen Chihuly exhibit in other gardens and knows they are among the most popular. “It’s definitely brought new audiences to a lot of botanic gardens,” he said.
In 2006, Chihuly told the Post-Dispatch that he was particularly excited to put his work in the Climatron, another structure made of glass.
“The Missouri Botanical Garden is one of the greatest historic gardens in the world,” he said, “and it’s an honor to do a project there.”