Chihuly Returns to the Desert—and for the First Time at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Iconic Taliesin Home in Arizona

“Chihuly in the Desert” pairs the work of two American masters, Dale Chihuly and Frank Lloyd Wright, for the first time in a historic exhibit in two iconic locations in the Sonoran Desert.

Chihuly Returns to the Desert—and for the First Time at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Iconic Taliesin Home in Arizona

Taliesin West was Frank Lloyd Wright’s winter home from 1937 until his death in 1959. (© 2021 Chihuly Studio. All rights reserved.)

Photo by Nathaniel Wilson

The Sonoran Desert has long lured artists with its light and its natural masterpieces—the signature saguaros, towering cacti found exclusively here, are sculptures in themselves. Two of the most iconic artists in American history felt that pull as well.

In a historic first, master of glass Dale Chihuly and master of architecture Frank Lloyd Wright will be in conversation together as their work is paired publicly for the first time in two locations in Arizona: Wright’s famed winter home and laboratory Taliesin West in Scottsdale and the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix.

“Chihuly has long been a fan of Wright’s work, so this is a significant moment for him—and for Wright fans worldwide,” says Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation VP, chief learning and engagement officer, Niki Ciccotelli Stewart.

Chihuly in the Desert showcases six art installations that were specifically chosen to be in dialogue with the architecture and grounds of Taliesin West: Fire Amber Herons (2021) evokes the colors of a fiery desert sunset, and Red Reeds (2021) and Niijima Floats (2021) are inspired by Japanese fishing floats in Niijima, Japan, and glass pieces along the shore in Puget Sound in Chihuly’s home state of Washington. Black Saguaros (2021) on the lawn are a nod to the iconic cactus around Taliesin West, mimicking their sturdy columns with a dark glass that appears more durable than it really is.

For both American artists, the desert presents an environment that’s the polar opposite to where they were raised. Wright grew up with cold, white winters in the upper Midwest of Wisconsin, and Chihuly makes his home amid the evergreen forests of the Pacific Northwest; the arid desert presents a unique backdrop for both artists, whose work is similarly heavily influenced by the natural environment.

Chihuly in the Desert

“When Wright discovered the desert in the 1920s, he was fascinated by the landscape, the dry air, and the abundant color that could thrive in such a place,” says Stewart. In 1937, Taliesin West was founded and became Wright’s winter retreat and desert lab, a place where his apprentices lived and experimented alongside him. The only cultural UNESCO World Heritage site in Arizona, Taliesin West is considered one of the great examples of American architecture.

As Wright redefined American architecture, Chihuly, a prolific glass artist still creating new works in his 80s, revolutionized glassblowing in American art with his contemporary large-form glass sculptures. Chihuly also has been creating exhibitions in the desert for 40 years—first at Phoenix Art Museum and the Tucson Museum of Art in 1982, then the Desert Botanical Garden both in 2008 and 2013—captivated by the climate and lit up by its unusual landscapes.

“Wright and Chihuly both find inspiration in the natural world: the bloom of an ocotillo plant, the peak of a mountain, the curve of a bird’s neck, or the spikes of a cactus,” says Stewart. Both artists were inspired by the red buttes and blooms of the desert, and you’ll see rich reds echoing both in Chihuly’s glass reeds and the various red shades of Taliesin West.

The best time to see Chihuly in the Desert at Taliesin? A few times, at least. First, take the guided 90-minute tour “In the New Light to see the six installations in the home and across the grounds, and then return at night for the self-guided “Chihuly Nights,” Stewart says. “In the bright Arizona sunshine the glass sparkles and by night, when lit-up by exterior lighting, it’s a completely different experience.”

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The Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix celebrates the wide diversity of desert plants over 140 acres. (© 2021 Chihuly Studio. All rights reserved.)

Photo by Nathaniel Willson

Glass Masterpieces Amid the Saguaros

For the full Sonoran Desert experience, catch Chihuly in the Desert three times: during daylight, sunset, and dusk, which I was able to do in one serendipitously timed visit at the Desert Botanical Garden. Not to be dimmed by the famed Taliesin, the Desert Botanical Garden’s 50,000 desert plants across 140 acres and the red rocks of the Papago Buttes is a striking and unexpected backdrop for Chihuly’s abstract and delicate glass sculptures that were first displayed here back in 2008.

A week before the exhibit officially opened, lured by the desert light myself, I arrived at the Desert Botanical Garden before the sun set and was treated to seeing the Chihuly sculptures already installed. Before daylight faded I could see the intricate detail in the sculptures and their play with the surrounding cactus change illuminated by the rays of sunset. But the glassworks take center stage and reach their full dramatic effect at night, illuminated in the dark desert sky.

Among the peculiar outstretched armed saguaros, the giant cardon “elephant” cactus, and rows of spiky agaves, I was awed by Chihuly’s pieces that mimicked the surrounding nature while presenting a more dreamlike version of it.

If you need a dose of sun or inspiration this winter, surround yourself with true American originals set aglow by the great desert light.

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Dale Chihuly’s art seeks to push beyond conventional ideas of function and beauty. (© 2021 Chihuly Studio. All rights reserved.)

Photo by Nathaniel Willson

Where to Stay: A Midcentury Turned Modern Masterpiece

Book Now: Mountain Shadows Resort, from $279 per night, expedia.com; hotels.com

Soak up more sun, art, and midcentury modern design in Scottsdale with a stay at Mountain Shadows Resort. The original resort was built 1959, but the one that is currently operating is a fresh build that was constructed in 2017. You’ll find echoes of its heyday past alongside its corner in today’s art scene as you stroll through halls lined with photos of its ’60s era celebrity guests, Hollywood stars such as Lucille Ball and Elizabeth Taylor, and modern art in its in-house gallery with new works rotating every two months.

How to Get Tickets

Both locations require advance reservations and tickets.

Book Now: Chihuly in the Desert at the Desert Botanical Garden. Adult tickets starting $30. Youth tickets starting at $15.

Book Now: Chihuly in the Desert at Taliesin West. Adult tickets starting at $49. Youth tickets starting at $18.

>>Next: See 9 Stunning Frank Lloyd Wright Works on the New Great Wright Road Trip

Kathleen Rellihan is a travel journalist and editor covering adventure, culture, climate, and sustainability. Formerly Newsweek‘s travel editor, she contributes to outlets such as AFAR, Outside, TIME, CNN Travel, and more.
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