Norfolk is known for many greats—history, seafood and vibrant culture among them. One attraction that makes our city so special is its expansive collection of free, public glass art. Here you’ll find everything from museums and galleries to glass-blowing demonstrations and even a glass-themed hotel. After your glass art exploration, you’ll leave with a deeper appreciation of the art medium that captures the dance of light and color seamlessly. Here are some ways to explore Norfolk’s glass art.
Located Downtown, the Glass Light Hotel is arguably the most unique, historic hotel in our city. This hotel boasts a European-style atmosphere whose whole concept was built around the art of glass blowing. There are about 60 pieces of glass art on display in the hotel, glass touches throughout and many design features that pay tribute to the glass-making process. For example, tall, wooden, elongated slats are the backdrop to the welcome desk, representing the wooden tools used during the sculpting process. Next, notice the hotel attendee name tag when they check you in; it’s also made of glass. In each of the hotel rooms, you will see that the designs were inspired by a glass artists’ studio with different wood planking and art behind the mirrors meant to signify an artist’s sketch.
Something else to note is that you will find glass carrots in each hotel room, which go hand in hand with the massive pink bunnies found inside the lobby and on-site restaurant. Why bunnies and carrots, you ask? Well, Pat Perry, who co-created the hotel with her husband Doug, is nicknamed “Bunny.” These bunnies were created in the Czech Republic and transferred to Norfolk in pieces to be assembled in the hotel.
Glass Light Gallery
Attached to the Glass Light Hotel is the Glass Light Gallery or the Perry Glass Art Collection. Meander through the two-story gallery, which is made up of 65 small and life-sized pieces of glass art. The gallery has free admission and is open to the public. While this art is the private collection of the Perry family, they will be rotating the artwork to showcase the brilliant work of other artists.
The Chrysler Museum of Art is a museum of 30,000 objects spanning over 5,000 years! One of the most notable collections is of their glass art exhibit, which kickstarted Norfolk’s glass culture. This exhibit consists of 10,000 pieces that are undoubtedly extraordinary and range from small, single-colored vases and intricate wine goblets dating back to the 1800s to flasks, ribbed bowls and mosaic cups circa the 1st century B.C! It’s fascinating to see how different cultures, continents and religions incorporated glass into their daily lives. The Chrysler Museum showcases these artifacts majestically, and we hope you get lost in the beauty of this art.
Norfolk’s very own glass blowing studio, Perry Glass Studio, is where you can witness professional glassblowers creating masterpieces through free demonstrations or create a work of art yourself by taking a class. For those who are new to glass art, we highly recommend attending one of their free demonstrations offered every Tuesday through Sunday at noon. During the demo, you will watch glassblowers gather, sculpt, design and blow molten glass (lava-hot glass). This experience will shed light on the difficult nature of glass art and give you a newfound appreciation for all those handmade glass pieces you see on display.
Located adjacent to Old Dominion University, Barry Art Museum is free and open to the public. This state-of-the-art museum is home to paintings, dolls and, of course, glass art. While wandering through their glass art collection, you will come across pieces composed by world-renowned glassblowers, like Karen La Monte and Lino Tagliapietra, but you will also find pieces of glass on display from local artists like Emily Bartelt-Juel, who attended a local Norfolk college and is now a staff instructor at the Chrysler Museum of Art. The Barry Art Museum takes great pride in showcasing multiple pieces of glass art designed by women since this industry has long been dominated by male glass artists. The Museum has free guided tours every Saturday at 1 p.m., and parking is also free.