Of Daffodils And Glass

The connection between artists and nature is found both in the work they produce and in the place they create. The connection between Bonhoeffer Gardens and Pilchuck Glass School goes beyond their proximity to each other and deeper into their love of creation. It lies in their shared history and affinity for the earth and the arts.


Pilchuck Glass School was founded in 1971 on a serene 60 acres, surrounded by the Pilchuck Tree Farm. (Pilchuck is on the east side of I-5 between Stanwood and Mount Vernon off Exit 215.) The school was founded by legendary glass artist Dale Chihuly and patrons John and Ann Hauberg. The site was first a camp for Chihuly and fellow artists who landed there as free-spirited artists looking for space to create. Each year, from April through September, Pilchuck offers over 35 intensive residential sessions. The school opens the campus to public tours and demonstrations twice per year. (Check their website for dates—www.pilchuck.org—where you can also pre-register for tours.) The spring tours are staffed by artists invited for a five-day residency. They each bring a team who puts on a display of glassblowing, shows examples of their latest creations and welcomes the public to watch. With little knowledge or equipment, the Pilchuck founders began what has endured today as a spirit of experimentation and exploration. In time, European master glass artists and designers visited the campus and introduced traditional materials and techniques, combining Old World craftsmanship with New World individual artistic expression. The effect on the world of art glass continues to reverberate across the globe. “We enjoy an international reputation,” said Jim Baker, executive director of Pilchuck Glass School. “Dale Chihuly got it started. There are many other artists who have become well known.” Baker proudly notes the Emmy Award-winning documentary recently produced: Pilchuck, A Dance with Fire. In the documentary, narrated by Jeff Bridges, Pilchuck’s founders were described as “hippies with chainsaws.” The school’s timing and artistic energy led to Pilchuck attracting glass artists to the Seattle area until “there were more glassblowers here than there are in Venice,” said Chihuly. “Seattle is actually more alive than Venice,” said another artist in the film. The glass art taught and demonstrated at Pilchuck Glass School isn’t limited to blown glass, though witnessing an art form born through fire is dramatic. Less drama but as much creativity go into the neon, scientific glass, kiln casting, architectural glass and the carved and etched glass of cold working. Pilchuck students and teachers are masters of many forms of glasswork. All this and the picturesque campus are on display during the Open House, an annual event filled with hot glass demonstrations, docent led tours of the campus, a hike off the beaten path to the Chihuly Cabin and the historic “Buster Simpson Treehouse,” and ends at Inspiration Point for the breathtaking, 1,500-feet above sea level view of Port Susan. There are also hand-on activities and art for sale. This is one of the few times when art created at the campus is available for sale. The school’s founding is based on artists teaching artists, not on creating art to be sold. The school doesn’t boast a gift shop full of campus-created art for sale. Commercial pieces are ultimately created by each of the school’s students as they work within their own studios and communities. Over the past 45 years, thousands of artists from across the nation and around the world (49 states and 72 countries) have come to learn and grow in their skills. Pilchuck Glass School is a world player in the art scene, as well as a treasured part of Stanwood’s history and its future. Spring is a fabulous time to visit, as your timing might be right to both catch the spring tour at Pilchuck, and witness the explosion of 400,000 daffodils at the Bonhoeffer Botanical Gardens nearby. The gardens are, coincidentally, the only place you will find a complete collection of the glass vessels created over 26 years at the campus and sold at the Pilchuck Glass School’s annual fundraising auction.


Bonhoeffer Botanical Gardens is one element of the eclectic campus of the Freeborn Reserve. The reserve hosts the historic, 115-year-old Freeborn Lutheran Church, a fully restored chapel with original fir floors and pews. The church and cemetery are sited by Bonhoeffer Hall, which hosts the Centerpiece Collection, vessels made at the Pilchuck Glass School for its annual auction. At Pilchuck Glass School’s annual fundraising auction beginning in 1988, the centerpieces were mainly glass vessels, that were produced on campus. The vessel and accompanying arrangement were auctioned off every year. Bonhoeffer Gardens has collected at least one vessel from every year and displays them in Bonhoeffer Hall. The remaining pieces collected are scattered at kiosks throughout Bonhoeffer Botanical Gardens and showcased along with interpretive signs that relay the native vegetation to be found there alongside Lutheran history. Bonhoeffer Botanical Gardens hosts the Northwest’s only completely native botanical garden. The gardens include all of Western Washington’s indigenous trees, shrubs, vines and ferns along with grass, moss, mushroom, pond, flower and ground cover species within three types of wetlands. The garden is a labor of love to preserve native plants, while serving as an outdoor educational and recreational resource for coming generations. It includes nearly a mile of wheelchair path access. The 16 kiosks along the path offer shelter from rain, but they offer something so much more valuable — a home for butterflies. Each kiosk has a roof covered in vegetation that attracts a unique butterfly. The first kiosk is meant to attract Monarchs and has Milkweed on its roof so the butterfly can plant its larva. The Two Banded Checkered-Skipper is attracted to the dwarf bilberry and Douglas’s knotweed at Kiosk 11. The same forethought is displayed in the plantings around the kiosks, where specific birds are meant to be attracted. While the diversity of plantings is spectacular, the showiest of the seasons is in the spring, when 400,000 narcissus bulbs bloom a carpet of yellow around the feet of the historic church and Bonhoeffer Hall. You’ll even find Pilchuck Glass School work amongst the native plants and butterflies. One year of the glass school’s auction the centerpieces were not a vessel. The 2013 design was a cluster of colored crystals. Sixty of these crystals are now found beneath the large trees directly across from the church.


Pilchuck Glass School and Bonhoeffer Gardens are just a few miles apart and both on the east side of Interstate 5, just off exit 215. Both are available either during specific tour periods or by appointment. Please call or visit their websites for details.

Pilchuck Glass School 1201 316th St NW Stanwood, WA 98292 (360) 445-3111

Bonhoeffer Gardens 2420 300th St NW Stanwood, WA 98292  (877) 875-0215

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