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What Comes Down Must Go Back Up: Reinstalling RISD's Chihuly Chandelier

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Dale Chihuly
American, b. 1941
Gilded Frost and Jet Chandelier, 2008
Glass with metal armature
121.9 x 274.3 x 228.6 cm (48 x 108 x 90 inches)
Helen M. Danforth Acquisition Fund and gift of Chihuly Studio 2011.60

All 196 pieces of RISD’s Gilded Frost and Jet Chandelier by Dale Chihuly were laid out in the sixth-floor hallway, each carefully tagged with a numbered piece of blue tape that corresponded to a spoke on the metal armature, but John Landon (below) contended that reassembling was not a simple “paint by numbers” job. And he should know. Landon has been working with Chihuly since they met around 1969 at RISD, where Landon earned an MFA from the Sculpture Department. Chihuly earned an MFA from the Ceramics Department and helped found RISD’s Glass Department, where he taught until 1983.

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John Landon with Chihuly 's Gilded Frost and Jet Chandelier

Landon explained that artistic judgment, experience, instinct, and knowledge of Chihuly’s work are integral to the installation process, which took two days and the assistance of Landon’s wife, Eileen, and Regan O’Reilly of Denny Parks Fine Arts, the only company authorized by the Chihuly Studio to handle the maintenance and cleaning of Chihuly’s artwork. Watching them expertly select, place, and secure elements ranging from elongated spiraling tendrils and tentacles to small puffed leaf forms and great spheres of faceted glass had more than one member of RISD’s staff enthralled.

chihuly (11)

The Chandelier was deinstalled last year as the sixth floor was being transformed into revitalized galleries for ancient Egyptian art, Asian art, and costume and textiles, the completion of the seven-year Radeke restoration project that opened to the public June 13th.

As Chihuly’s project manager and designer, Landon has logged more than 1.5 million miles on one airline alone, installing projects in Venice, Jerusalem, and Hong Kong as well as numerous cities across the United States. Now semi-retired, he describes the last 45 years as part of Team Chihuly as “an exciting time to discover new ways to propel the glass from the pedestal to the walls, ceilings, deserts, waterways, tropical gardens, outdoor exhibitions… . This was the ‘Golden Age’ and I was proud of my part to make it happen.”

chihuly (4)

At RISD, we are happy to have our Chihuly chandelier resplendently reassembled above the East Stair with what Landon calls “more vigor and a visual ‘roll up’ at the top” for extra impact.

Elizabeth A. Williams
Curator of Decorative Arts and Design