As the birthplace of Dale Chihuly, it comes as no surprise that Tacoma is ground zero for the studio glass movement. From massive public installations and large museums, to intimate studios and even a few coveted private collections, there’s no shortage of glass art in this hip Washington state metropolis. Couple that with a nicely accessible downtown area, free accessible public transportation, and a very cool accessible hotel within rolling distance of it all, and you can see why Tacoma is the perfect cultural pick for wheelchair-users and slow walkers.
Getting around downtown Tacoma is easy, thanks to the free Link (888-889-6368, www.soundtransit.org) light rail system that traverses the downtown corridor. The line runs from the Tacoma Dome to 9th Street in the theater district, with a total of six stops along the route. All trains have an accessible car. Just push the blue button to deploy the ramp, and you can roll aboard.
If you’re not staying in the downtown area, you can park behind the Tacoma Art Museum, which is within walking distance of most of the downtown attractions, and next door to the Union Station Link station.
Pacific Avenue — the main drag, which runs parallel to the light rail tracks — has wide level sidewalks with curb-cuts at every corner. Unfortunately, as you travel west (towards Commerce Street) it gets a little hilly. Still, the main attractions are located along a fairly level stretch of road, and it’s pretty easy to access them in a wheelchair or scooter.
The best place to start your Tacoma glass tour is at the Tacoma Art Museum (253-272-4258, www.tacomaartmuseum.org), as it boasts an impressive Chihuly collection, and includes over 400 pieces of glass artwork from the Paul Marioni collection.
Access is good throughout the museum, with level access to the Pacific Avenue entrance. Accessible parking is available in the back parking lot, with elevator access up to the back entrance.
The Chihuly collection features approximately 40 retrospective works donated by the artist, in honor of his parents. Chihuly also donated a collection of 39 works from the Niijima Floats series in honor of his mother. The floats are removed during the winter, as they sit in a glass enclosed area that is exposed to the weather; however his other works are available year round in a gallery dedicated to the artist.
The Paul Marioni glass collection traces the evolution of the studio glass movement, and includes over 70 pieces that document Marioni’s evolution as an important glass artist. Paul’s collection also includes works by Sonja Blomdahl, Richard Marquis, Lino Tagliapietra, Cappy Thompson and Dale Chihuly. Additionally, the collection boasts over 90 glass goblets and eight large scale forms by Dante Marioni, tracing his development as a glass artist.
In short, the Tacoma Art Museum features a wide variety of glass works and offers a good primer on the studio glass movement, as well as some personal insight on the individual artists.
Chihuly Walking Tour
Because of Dale Chihuly’s close ties to Tacoma, there’s no shortage of public installations of his work. Best of all, many of them are just a short walk from the Tacoma Art Museum. Make sure and pick up an Ear for Art, brochure at the museum, which maps out a cell phone walking tour of the area. Just call (888) 411-4220 at the designated locations for detailed information about the sites, and comments from Dale Chihuly about his work and the creative process.
Union Station, which is right next door to the art museum, is the best place to begin your Chihuly walking tour. There’s no admission charge, but since it’s now a courthouse you do have to produce a valid photo ID. Access is good at Union Station, with a level threshold, good pathway access inside and elevator access to the upper floors. The rotunda features a trademark Chihuly chandelier, while the windows are adorned with orange floats and reeds. One of the more unique pieces, Lokawana Ikebana, features a collection of swirls and squiggles on a large round frame. Make sure to take the elevator up to the balcony for a closer look at this piece.
From Union Station, head up Jefferson Street to the Swiss Pub (253-572-2821, www.theswisspub.com), for a look at another off-the-beaten-path Chihuly collection. This route is doable for scooter- and power wheelchair-users, but because of the incline, manual wheelchair-users might need some assistance. There is a step down at the pub entrance, but there’s also a wheelchair ramp to the left. This was one of Chihuly’s favorite watering holes during the Union Station installation, so as a token of his appreciation he left eight Venetians there. Today they sit in specially constructed cubicles over the bar.
From the Swiss Pub, head across the street to the University of Washington library. There’s level access to the building with elevator access to all levels and good pathway access in the public areas. Walk across the skybridge and take the elevator to the second floor. From there, turn right and head to the tutoring center, where you’ll find the Chihuly room. If you get lost, don’t be shy about asking for directions, as all the students know where it is; in fact, they’re quite proud of it. The room is designated as a quiet room, so be mindful of that when you enter. All in all, it’s worth the search as the massive Chinook Red Chandelier is magnificent.
After you’ve taken it all in, head back to Union Station and take the ramp up to one of Chihuly’s largest pubic installations, the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. Constructed as the result of a partnership between the artist, the Museum of Glass and the city of Tacoma, this 500-foot long pedestrian bridge connects Union Station with the Museum of Glass. The bridge begins with on overhead collection of shapes and forms, then transitions to two large columns of blue-green glass and concludes with a showcase of individual Chihuly pieces. And for a totally different perspective on it all, be sure and check out the bridge at night.
Just across the bridge, you’ll find one of Tacoma’s best known glass attractions, the Museum of Glass (866-468-7386, MuseumofGlass.org). There’s ramp access to the front entrance from the glass bridge, and level access to the front lobby. Take a few minutes to enjoy the glass installation in the front fountain, which features a collection of floats and other objects. Inside, there’s barrier-free access to all areas of the museum, which showcases the works of 20th and 21st century glass artists.
Docent led tours are available, and the museum has just about every type of glass imaginable. From murals and large vessels, to molded glass, fused glass, and all sorts of unusual shapes, the museum presents an excellent overview of the studio glass movement. Northwest artists represented included Martin Black, Joseph Gregory Rossano, Richard Rogal, Preston Singleterry, Cappy Thompson and Dick Weiss. Add in a nice mix of rotating exhibitions and you have quite a comprehensive collection.
Save some time for a stop at the Hot Shop, where visiting artists demonstrate their glass blowing skills . There’s wheelchair access to the theater, with wheelchair and companion seating inside. There’s really not a bad seat in the house, as all the action is projected to a large monitor in front. And when the artists take a break, they are happy to chat with folks about their work. It’s a wonderful opportunity to interact with the artists, and see how some of these complex pieces are constructed.
Blow Your Own
No visit to Tacoma would be complete without a hands-on glass blowing experience; and to that end, a stop at Tacoma Glass Blowing Studio (253-383-3499, www.tacomaglassblowing.com) is a must. There is level access to the studio, which is just down the street from the 25th Street and Pacific Avenue Link station.
Believe it or not, you can create a beautiful glass object with absolutely no previous experience, as the folks at the studio will patiently guide you through the whole process. Say owner Jeannine Sigafoos, “You don’t need full use of your hands, as our instructors will be a second set of hands for you. So we welcome students of all abilities.”
The whole process takes a few hours, depending on how busy the studio is, and protective goggles and gloves are provided. First you choose your project, then you choose your colors and finally you hit the studio. The instructors are real pros at guiding students through the process, from heating the glass, to rolling it in colored glass chips, adding a few swirls and finally blowing out the shape. And if you really don’t feel comfortable with the whole process, there’s plenty of seating to observe all the action.
Skeptical at first, I was happy I gave it a whirl, as I walked away with a beautiful bowl that I proudly display in my living room. Truly it’s the best $65 I ever spent.
Spend the Night
Although there’s certainly no shortage of accessible hotels in Tacoma, in keeping with the glass theme, the Hotel Murano (253-238-8000, www.hotelmuranotacoma.com) is a hard one to pass up. After all, it’s named after that famous Venetian glass. Located just a few blocks from the Tacoma Art Museum, this boutique property is decorated with the works of prominent artists. Each floor is dedicated to a specific artist, and their work is displayed in the rooms as well as the public areas. It’s the furthest thing from institutional that you could ever imagine.
There is level access to the ground floor lobby with elevator access to the upper floors. Room 1900 is a very spacious accessible suite, with wide doorways and good pathway access throughout it. The living area is furnished with a dining table and chairs, two easy chairs and a sofa that opens out into a king-sized bed.
The bedroom has a 27-inch high king-sized bed with wheelchair access on one side. There is level access to the large bathroom that is equipped with a roll-in shower with grab bars, a fold-down shower bench and a hand-held showerhead. Other access features include a roll-under sink, a toilet with grab bars on the left and back walls (as seated), and a lowered mirror.
A second bathroom, located just off the living area, features a standard tub/shower combination, a toilet, and a pedestal sink. It’s all very nicely done, and you can close off the front part of the suite for more privacy if you are traveling with an attendant. Best of all, you can even spot the Chihuly Bridge of Glass from this spacious corner room.
There is also level access to the Bite Restaurant down on the fourth floor, which features Pacific Northwest dishes prepared with fresh local ingredients. The food is excellent, the presentation is creative and the Mt. Rainer view just can’t be beat. And of course the service is second-to-none, but that seems to be the norm throughout the hotel.
Although the property is located within easy rolling distance of all the downtown attractions, it is located up a slight hill. Still, there is an accessible route down to Pacific Avenue. Just take a right on Broadway in front of the hotel, head down to 15th Street, cross the street and enter the Convention Center. Take the elevator down to Commerce Street and catch the Link train from there.
All in all, the Hotel Murano boasts a great location, a very attentive staff and excellent access, which is reason enough to make it your home-away-from-home in Tacoma.
If You Go