.All Trips / North America / Pacific Northwest / Washington

Tacoma — Water, Glass, more Glass, with a little history thrown in…


Tacoma is a city I’ve driven through numerous times but never thought much about.  I was aware it was a port city situated on Puget Sound, and that it had a huge dome (Tacoma Dome) just off the I-5 freeway. I knew Tacoma is Washington state’s third largest city (Seattle and Spokane are more populous) and a gateway to Mt. Rainer National Park.  But this time we weren’t going to Mt. Rainer, rather to Tacoma’s Museum of Glass, which Sylvia and I’d heard good things about.  We had few preconceived expectations for our visit and as it turned out we were to be pleasantly surprised.

The Museum of Glass is an interesting hybrid of the beautiful and the practical.  The practical is a working glass production facility with teaching auditorium around it.  This large state of the art glass factory was built to attract master craftsmen from around the world to teach and experiment in front of an audience of other artisans.  This facility is also used every day for glass blowing by local artists (whose work you can purchase in the Museum’s gift-shop).  The glass making process is narrated and up close live video displays are available so that you can clearly see what’s going on no matter where in the auditorium you’re situated..  Even if you’ve watched glass blowing before, as we had many times, this was still fun and educational.  The Museum has an additional hall that features several short films highlighting some of the history of the place and biographies on the artists whose work is on special exhibit.  And then you get a chance to explore the beautiful….

Museum of Glass, Tacoma

There were three special exhibits at the Museum during our visit (sorry but no photos allowed), two of which we enjoyed so much it took us a few hours to study and admire the highly creative pieces on display.  One exhibit was entitled,  “Gathering: John Miller and Friends“, and featured gigantic and fantastic goblets (my favorite of these was a 1940s style spaceship goblet).  But by far the highlight of the museum and the most creative glass exhibit I’ve ever see was “Beauty beyond Nature. The Glass Art of Paul Stankard“.  Mr Stankard, a dyslectic man, has pushed glass art into a new dimension.  His works of flowers and insects and plants, with intricate roots and hidden small humanoid figures, are so life like you’ll be thinking you’re looking at displays of real objects encased in glass.  All of his work was fascinating and incredibly intricate, with minute life-like detail down to the delicate ridges in the bees’ wings.  It’s a miracle how such subtle delicate art can be crafted from a molten medium!  This exhibit alone was well worth the trip.  To learn more about Mr. Stankard and his work, visit his website; go see some of what he has crafted and you’ll be as amazed as I was.

Tacoma Union Station, courthouse

A visit to the Museum of Glass requires a small admission charge, well worth while, but there’s also a lot of art you can see for free outside.  Immediately behind the building, facing the harbor area, is a large pool with a beautiful series of glass sculpting known as “Fluent Steps”  Also worth visiting is the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, featuring the work of noted Northwest glass artist, Dale Chihuly.  Constructed into a pedestrian overpass, the Bridge of Glass features three distinct areas including the “Venetian Wall” (dozens of sculpted vases and goblets), two bluish “Crystal Towers” and the “Seaform Pavilion”, a ceiling containing thousands of pieces of art. It’s truly a spectacular display!!

After we’d spent about a half day at the Museum of Glass, we wandered into old Tacoma, the portion of the city adjoining the harbor.  There’s more glass displayed around the city but beyond that it’s a very picturesque historic area that includes a grand old train station (now part of the court house), a branch of the University of Washington (Tacoma) and an assortment of small shops and places to eat or get a drink. In addition to the Glass Museum, Tacoma is also home to the Washington State History Museum, Tacoma Art Museum and a Children’s Museum.

Tacoma is a great destination for a weekend getaway.  We’ll be back again — soon.

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