When granddaughter Annie, a budding artist, said she’d like to spend part of her spring break with us, we had the excuse we’d been waiting for to visit Tacoma’s Museum of Glass. It is located in the Tacoma Museum District, one of the Northwest’s most fascinating destinations.
Besides the glass museum, three other attractions stand in a row between an arm of Commencement Bay and the brick buildings of old Tacoma. The Washington State History Museum brackets the glass museum on one side; on the other stands the beautiful old Union Station which is now a courthouse. Beyond the former rail station is the Tacoma Art Museum.
In 1968, when many of Tacoma’s anchor retail stores abandoned the downtown to relocate to a big new mall, the area went into an economic tailspin. The city began revitalization in 1990 by renovating Union Station. Then it offered tax exemptions for new residential units in multifamily dwellings and added the three museums already mentioned. Now the once-shabby surroundings provide a feast for the senses and an educational smorgasbord to thousands of visitors, including busloads of school children.
Since we’d visited the History Museum a couple of years previously, we started with the Museum of Glass. We entered by way of the Dale Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a pedestrian overpass designed in collaboration with the world-renowned artist.
The exterior of the museum is a work of art in itself, with plazas featuring glass installations in reflecting ponds. A conical structure of glass looms over the museum. It houses the hot shop where visitors can watch teams of artists at work shaping blobs of molten glass into beautiful sculptured forms.
Annie admiring one of the outdoor installations;
a newly renovated apartment complex in back.
Within the museum we marveled at the variety of imaginative works possible in this media. We especially enjoyed the interpretations of Tlingit themes in an exhibit by Native American artist Preston Singletary.
(See http://www.museumofglass.org/ for more information.)
Annie and I wandered through the door of Union Station, expecting to see the usual offices and business-suited professionals one might find in a court house. Instead, we saw the high, arched rotunda and massive lobby of the original railway depot. The breathtaking architecture formed the setting for massive, jewel-like glass designs by Dale Chihuly. A lone guard sitting at the entrance asked for ID and told us that we could come into the lobby and take photos. I was glad we did, because no picture-taking was allowed in the Tacoma Art Museum next door. But we enjoyed the exhibit on the development of Northwest art, as well as the other displays. And this museum had its own Dale Chihuly glass pieces.
Tacoma’s Museum District is a secret no more to us. We’ll be back, and we’re happy to share this cultural resource with anyone who’ll listen.