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Glass by Dale Chihuly at Vassar

The exhibition of “Ulysses Cylinders” at Vassar’s Thompson Memorial Library is comprised of 45 of Dale Chihuly’s magnificent golden glass cylinders embellished with drawings by the artist Seaver Leslie. 

The cylinders, created in 1975 between St. Patrick’s Day and Thanksgiving, were among the first works Chihuly made. Most are spangled with gold leaf achieved by infusing crushed glass powder into the surface of the hot glass. Many are as tall as fifteen or sixteen inches. 

In 2013 Chihuly and his friend, the artist Seaver Leslie decided to re-examine the cylinders focusing those based on James Joyce’s “Ulysses” inspired by Chihuly’s love of Ireland. Seaver’s pen and ink drawings portraying 18 of the episodes described in Joyce’s book were fused directly into the glass during the blowing process to give the effect of drawing on the curved surfaces of the vessels. In some of the cylinders geometric designs in red or green have been infused along with the drawings.

I have never read James Joyce’s version of Ulysses and I doubt I ever shall.  When it comes to these cylinders this is probably my loss for I am not familiar with the escapades of Joyce’s Leopold and Molly Bloom, and Stephen Daedalus. No doubt I ascribed quite the wrong meaning to some of the drawings. Nonetheless I enjoyed them simply as works of art, especially those depicting wildlife – a flight of birds, tabby cats, a pair of oxen, as well as galloping horses. I especially liked Leslie’s portrait of Aeolus with a bird’s head – the Egyptian God Ibis perhaps -- on the body of a man drawn in the ancient Egyptian manner.  

Not surprisingly it is the jewel-like glass itself that is most striking. Transparent and translucent at the same time, each golden cylinder seems to emanate light from within that brightens the dark halls of the library.

Ulysses Cylinders premiered at Dublin Castle in Ireland during the summer of 2014. They can be seen at Vassar until November 22.