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Massive glass sculpture at the Central Library gets top-to-bottom cleaning

Chihuly Sculpture from below
San Antonio Public Library
Chihuly Sculpture from below

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Visitors to the city’s huge Central Library downtown have probably seen the colorful, 26-foot high Dale Chihuly glass sculpture.

The library’s Scott Williams said that after recent renovations that colorful sculpture needed a cleaning.

“As you may know, we renovated our first and third floors and that created some dust and we were very mindful of the artwork at the time,” Williams said. “But of course some of that dust settled on the Chihuly, so we decided it was time and we got we got with our partners in the foundation, and they got the folks down here and now it's going to get nice and spiffy again.”

A specialized team of cleaners flew in and began on Monday to properly and safely clean the piece. The process requires a lot of work up on a scissors lift. Each piece is removed, cleaned and then replaced.

“It's 917 pieces of individually blown and shaped glass. The total weight is immense. It's 4,500 pounds and 3,500 of that is just the glass itself,” Williams explained.

“We work with our friends at the San Antonio Public Library Foundation, who originally commissioned the sculpture for the Public Library system to commemorate our centennial year in 2003,” Williams said. “And they coordinate with the folks at the Chihuly studios in Washington to bring in a trained and sanctioned group of art maintenance people. And they come in and clean every individual piece of glass one at a time, all the way around the sculpture up and down on a scissor lift. It's very, very interesting.”

The cleaning will continue for the next few days, and the public can come in and watch them work.

The Library Foundation decided it was time was right to clean the piece.

The sculpture was created in Chihuly’s Washington studios.

“And then each individual piece had to be packaged and crated and shipped to San Antonio to be reassembled — one piece at a time on rods that are inserted into the support structure inside," he explained. "So it was an incredibly intricate process when it took place in 2003,” he said.

Fiesta Tower by Dale Chihuly
San Antonio Central Library
Fiesta Tower by Dale Chihuly

Chihuly said when the huge piece was installed, that San Antonio was his muse, and that the glass was a metaphor.

“He remarked at the time that the piece was reflective of the diversity of people and culture in our city. And so I think it's beautiful that it's right here in the in the heart of the central library, which in and of itself is in the heart of San Antonio.”

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Jack Morgan can be reached at jack@tpr.org and on Twitter at @JackMorganii