The seven or so gilded glass sculptures of sea creatures mingling with cherubs sit atop large colorful vessels, creating a three-dimensional dreamlike seascape.
The pieces are part of "Sea Life Stoppers," a new exhibit from renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly that opened Friday at the Chihuly Collection gallery on Beach Drive.
The works included in the exhibit have never been publically displayed together, said Britt Cornett, head of exhibitions for Chihuly Studio, which is in Seattle.
"And certainly not anywhere in a beautiful setting like this, where the architecture so highly complements the artwork," she said.
With his exhibit opening, Chihuly will make a rare appearance in St. Petersburg today for a lecture and book-signing at the Vinoy Renaissance St. Petersburg Resort & Golf Club.
The gallery in downtown St. Petersburg is one of two places permanently housing a Chihuly collection. Today is the first time the artist, easily identified by his black eye-patch and salt-and-pepper curls, has come to town since the collection opened two years ago.
Organizers say the timing of the visit — right in the middle of high season — could draw as many as 500 people looking to meet Chihuly and view the new sea-themed installment.
The pieces are a collaboration with Italian artists Pino Signoretto and Lino Tagliapietra, who worked with Chihuly on the design. A team of glass blowers and sculptors in Seattle, where Chihuly is based, assembled the pieces.
The new additions are less abstract than the permanent pieces in Chihuly's St. Petersburg gallery. Instead of bold shapes that are open to interpretation, the octopuses, jellyfish and putti — mythical creatures similar to cherubs — in the "Sea Life Stoppers" exhibit are easy to identify.
"Working in collaboration with the Italian masters — they're more figural than a lot of Dale's work," Cornett said.
The sculpted marine life-inspired pieces somewhat resemble giant wine stoppers. They sit atop enormous globular blown-glass bottles. The stoppers appear to glow gold in the exhibit's lighting, but the vessels actually are characterized by bold contrasting colors — violet, olive green, orange. Each piece, whether blown or sculpted, was made by hand.
The first of the pieces was conceptualized in the late-1980s but wasn't created until a decade later, Cornett said. The collection wasn't completed until 2006.
Like many of Chihuly's ideas, the concepts behind these pieces have been evolving.
"He goes back and revisits earlier ideas and will again push the boundaries, go larger, try a different color palette, a different technique," Cornett said.
Organizers see the new display, and the artist's visit, as a way to demonstrate the diverse nature of Chihuly's techniques and an opportunity to get more people hooked on art.
"Education has always been very important to Dale," said Wayne Atherholt, interim director of the Morean Arts Center, which runs the Chihuly Collection. "He's very generous with his knowledge."
Chihuly will speak at 1 p.m. today at the Vinoy hotel's Palm Court Ballroom. A book-signing will begin at 2 p.m. in the Plaza Ballroom. "Sea Life Stoppers" will be on display at the Chihuly Collection, which is at 400 Beach Drive, until June 30.