Tacoma Washington has been working its way back from a deep decline that hit the city hard during the mid-20th century. In 1995, a retired university professor, Dr. Phillip Phibbs, met with Tacoma native and renowned glass sculptor Dale Chihuly to discuss the creation of a museum that would recognize the contribution of artists from the Pacific Northwest to the studio glass movement and help revitalize the city. Seven years later, The Glass Museum opened on the Foss Waterway spurring the redevelopment of the waterfront area and forming the cornerstone for the creation of a museum district in downtown Tacoma. During our first visit to this now rapidly changing midsized city, the art of glassmaking was at the center of our exploration and “Heart of Glass” became our earworm.
Blondie’s Deborah Harry was a waitress and Playboy Bunny before she became a punk icon of the 1970’s and ‘80’s. Australia and England embraced Harry and her band before Blondie broke out in the U.S. with “Heart of Glass,” a single from their 1978 Parallel Lines album. Whether you call it rock, disco, new wave, or punk “Heart of Glass” — like new-found love — is a gas.
Zippertravel header image: glass art by Richard Whiteley at the Hotel Murano
A midsized city of roughly 200,000, Tacoma Washington has long been in the shadow of Seattle, and most of the Tacomans we spoke to said they’d like to keep it that way. “Sure,” one waitress and lifelong resident said, “You can say nice things about us, but don’t lay it on too thick, we don’t want to get crazy like Seattle.” While restoring its downtown core and waterfront and attracting new businesses, the city has seen a significant reduction in crime. It is the epicenter of the American glass art studio culture, influencing and celebrating glassblowers and sculptors around the world. In 1990, Washington University at Tacoma was established and since that time five museums and four legitimate theaters have been built or renovated in the downtown area. (It’s good to see arts and education leading the change.) Old mill and manufacturing buildings are being converted into condominium lofts and on a clear day the views of Mt. Rainier are spectacular. The city is chipping away at its old image and a colorful kaleidoscope is being revealed. Tacoma is definitely a city to visit now and one to keep a watch on – just don’t tell them we sent you.
A recent report to the Trump Administration recommended the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as a privatization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. As witnessed in Tacoma, the arts are an important catalyst to economic change and for so many reasons are vital to American life. If you agree, please contact your Congressional representatives and voice your support for these important funding agencies.
While in Tacoma Washington we stayed at the Hotel Murano, a fantastic accommodation from the Provenance Hotel group. Within easy walking distance to everything downtown, the hotel is a celebration of glass artists. Hallway displays on the hotel’s 25 floors are beautifully executed. On each floor a feature wall is dedicated to an individual artist along with a piece of their work. Photographs of the artist working in their studio are also displayed throughout the corridors. Bite Restaurant is considered one of the best restaurants in Tacoma Washington and it was just our luck that the restaurant is located inside the Hotel Murano. The food and atmosphere (more glass and other art!) were excellent.
The museum district starts on the Foss Waterway at the Museum of Glass (including its working hot shop), continues across the Bridge of Glass to the Tacoma Art Museum (TAM), the Children’s Museum of Tacoma, the Washington State History Museum (adjacent to Union Station) and ends a little further afield at the LeMay – America’s Car Museum. It will take at least 2 days to visit all of them, an immersive experience that only begins to show you what Tacoma Washington has to offer.
We headed over to the 6th Avenue neighborhood in search of Legendary Doughnuts. The doughnuts are enormous, and quite popular, especially Conan the Bavarian. 6th Avenue also has a mix of shopping and services, including Emerald Leaves, a 5,500-square foot recreational marijuana store with several hundred strains of cannabis for sale.
For the love of textiles, I’m always on the lookout for advancements in the science of fashion, that nexus where fashion and technology meet to create something truly groundbreaking. As a designer in the late ‘70’s (with “Heart of Glass” playing on the radio in my studio ) I was approached by 3M to experiment with the capabilities of a new product called thinsulate®. At the time, fashion was enamored with the Puffy Coat — with its thick down stuffing that made everyone look like Bibendum — so reducing a coat’s volume using a thin protective warming layer was swimming against the tide. I experimented with thinsulate® for a season, until the owner of my company pulled the designs, deciding the extra expense of the product would never be warranted. Turned out he was wrong and short-sighted: thinsulate® revolutionized the outerwear market. A few years later, a conservative menswear manufacturer, Maine Guide, from Bath, Maine hired me to create their first running wear line (a clothing category that Macy’s Herald Square was pioneering under the name “activewear”). The Malden Mills company asked me to try out their novel product, Polarfleece, in the creation of the line. Lightweight, durable, and breathable with excellent wicking properties, this first-generation textile led to the development of Polar-tec, a staple fabric widely used in the making of coats and athletic wear today.
In 2005, we attended an exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt Museum entitled “Extreme Textiles: Designing for High Performance.” Showcasing fabrics used for textile-based robots designed to explore the Martian surface; garments that could monitor your vital signs; and, uniforms that were capable of providing live communication with soldiers on battlefields, the exhibit provided exciting examples of how textile technology has the ability to transform our lives. But bringing new technology to market remains a challenge.
So what’s trending in textile technology today? The answer is glass, especially with regard to LEDs and fiber optics. Claire Danes wore a spectacular Zac Posen gown fused with LEDs that literally lit up the room at the 2016 Met Gala. The H9 luminescent glove from Italy provides task lighting for night sports and anyone working in the dark and is cool enough to replace MJ’s sequined glove as a fashion trend. Fiber optic filaments and LED strips are being woven into couture and high-end athletic garments, but they have also entered the mass market in items such as shoe laces and crystal light-up earrings. It won’t be long now before they are easily and affordably incorporated into our everyday wardrobe.
As 21st century textiles move from prototype to daily life, I know we’ll see advancements that go beyond glamour or “the cool factor.” New textiles have the ability to make our lives safer and more comfortable and they will be environmentally sustainable and take us to new frontiers. As we consider trips to Mars, we’ll need clothing that will suit the “climate” and be durable for missions lasting more than three years. Fabrics will need to be even more “easy care” than the polyesters of the ‘70’s. Who needs pockets? Let’s ditch our i-phones and wear i-jackets and i-pants that recharge in the sun. I’d love to post to Instagram on my sleeve. Why not fuse nanofibers with other materials to make all textiles water and stain proof? And how will technology advance forever-young denim? E-textiles are far more than a trend, they are the future: to infinity and beyond!
Check out our newest Pinterest board, “Glass Artists” for more images of glass art and its creators. Be sure to browse through our other 211 zippertravel boards on design and travel, all at pinterest.com.
Follow @zippertravel in real time on Instagram!