Expressive Art Inspired by Chihuly for hospitalized children

I really was not that excited about the exhibit as I have seen plenty of blown glass in my time. However, one of the great things about being a member of the museum is that exhibits are free. This gives me the opportunity and motivation to expand my mind and a recent exhibit I went did just that.

I walked into the Chihuly exhibit and it took my breath away. The colors, the control, the abandon, the nurturing were all there in his work and the installations showed how he felt about his glass. Each part of the exhibit had a different story or idea around it. One particularly effecting story involved children from a village watching Chihuly throw glass spheres out of his row-boat in to a moving body of water. As the spheres floated by the children picked them out of the water and brought them back to him. This effected the way Chihuly created the installation. Or my personal favorite, Chihuly spoke about waking up one morning and wanting to use every color from the studios in his bowls that day.

My excitement carried with me to work that week and I structured the expressive art groups around Chihuly-inspired activities. Many of the children I see in groups are extremely compromised physically and cognitively. Art is sometimes creating and sometimes just exposure for them. I try to bring in as many tactile experiences as I possibly can to help the vision impaired students as well as those who are tactily defensive.

I could hardly stand it as we all began our projects. We started with creating “bowls” out of coffee filters, markers and spray starch. They turned out beautiful, colors dripping into other colors, blending and swimming to create the Macchia type of bowls Chihuly does. The follow class we constructed “installations” with the children glueing their bowls down and began the next part of our Chihuly-inspired unit.

The part of the project we did next was such a hit that the kids who do communicate wanted to do it three groups in a row. We colored on plastic bottles and cups to fashion more Chihuly-inspired sculptures using Sharpies and a toaster oven.  The participants had little control over their projects initially, as the plastic bottles twisted and turned, melted and morphed into odd shapes. Only after the shapes had cooled could the children gain control over the assemblage of pieces. Then they could design separate sculptures that echoed Chihuly.

For the children with Cystic Fibrosis and Asthma, I incorporated a free Ipad app available through the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (The Chihuly App) that allows the user to “blow” and shape glass into the unit.

We culminated our Chihuly Unit with a field trip to the Chihuly exhibit at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where children could take pictures and explore the glass world of Chihuly. They stared in wonder at the designs and lines in the glass and how it was shaped and put together. One young participant described shock waves and a volcano as he looked at the glass.

This was truly a beautiful exhibit that inspired this art therapist to go into an unexplored yet rewarding experience. I look forward to seeing the exhibit in Seattle as part of the American Art Therapy Association’s annual conference, “Art Therapy: Connecting Visual Expression and Healing” (

I hope I see you there.

By Gretchen Graves



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