The powerful combination of glass and gardens probably became most evident to locals when Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens teamed with famed glass artist Dale Chihuly in 2007.
Since then Phipps has flirted with glass at other shows, but the Summer Flower Show, "Glass in the Gardens," is a full- blown artistic statement in the medium. Although the show has interesting plants, the glass sculptures steal the spotlight. That might be ironic in a place like Phipps, but it's an interesting result of the combination show, which continues through Oct. 6.
We'll start in the Fern Room, an unlikely place as it's toward the back of the conservatory and does not change during most shows. It's also the place where the glass sculptures could most be overlooked. There are amazingly lifelike glass snails climbing over and around a black obsidian rock outcropping also made of glass. They are tucked into the deep green plants used as permanent display in the room. It's so detailed, so realistic, that there's even a silvery trail where the snail supposedly slid across the glass. On close examination, one wonders how the artist mimicked nature so perfectly. It's a prelude of what's to come.
The snails' creator Nikolaj Christensen, was one of 11 artists from the Pittsburgh area chosen to create works for the show. He also made stunning vases displayed on pedestals in the Sunken Garden. Some are decorated with the kind of beautiful surrealistic patterns only molten glass can create.
Exhibit coordinator Jordyn Melino worked a year to put the show together. She first sent out a request for proposals to the art community and narrowed the responses to these artists. Standing in the East Room in front of a sparkling giant purple and yellow glass flower, Ms. Melino is pleased to see the show become a reality.
"The combination of plants with glass is just a really striking pairing," she said.
The theme of the East Room is wonderland, she says. It's the work of artist Gary Guydosh and includes orange, blue and pink birds, a huge white and pink glass sunflower and a shiny, small tangerine frog sitting on a rock. The creatures looked so real that they momentarily fooled Ms. Melino.
"Those glass fish, there were a few seconds when I thought they were real," she said, laughing.
What makes the show fun is that some of the plants can be mistaken for glass, too. The glass showcased in the East Room is supported by shrimp plants, unusual palms and pink and red cordyline.
Just outside the door in the Victoria Room, translucent glass Chinese lantern flowers seemingly float on water surrounding the center fountain. Jason Forck from The Pittsburgh Glass Center created them after seeing the actual flowers at a friend's house.
"I had a chance to look at the pods, pull them apart and kind of look how they were put together. I thought it was a beautiful form (and) could be something which would translate to glass pretty well," he said.
Unlike the flowers in nature, a green seed can be seen in the center of the pod. "I like the mystery of the Chinese lantern plant, he said. "You know, it's the main life form inside of that shell."
The Broderie Room is filled with delicate Queen Anne's lace flowers created by Diane Taninecz using a technique called pate de verre, which makes a paste out of glass that is then applied to a mold. The white glass blooms are set off by the deep red foliage of 'Little Ruby' alternanthera.
The first thing visitors see when they enter the Palm Court are two giant glass passion flower vines growing toward an orange metal trellis. Jenn Figg and Matt McCormack from the Pittsburgh Glass Center worked as a team to build the impressive artwork. This piece can be viewed up close, revealing the details of each leaf, flower and vine. The room is set off with white caladiums and spikes of reddish Guzmania bromeliad.
In the South Conservatory are the "remains" of a woolly mammoth made by Travis Rohrbaugh and Christopher Hofmann, also from the Pittsburgh Glass Center. It's surrounded by prehistoric-looking plants including cool palms, ferns and cycads. Next to the display is a time lapse video that captures the installation of the glass and plants.
The Serpentine Room is filled with tall, slowly spinning glass towers that highlight East End places such as Nine Mile Run and Ellis School. They're the creation of Daviea Davis, who teaches at Phipps. The beds beneath the towers are filled with golden weeping willows along with pink, purple and orange annuals.
The other artists who contributed were Steven Sadvary and Lisa Platt.
As Ms. Melino looks over some of the colorful glass sculpture, she explains what she wants visitors to get out of the show:
"I hope they get a different experience in each room and appreciate these artists bringing their work to life."