Sun Valley, ID: Home away from home for Dale Chihuly and Leslie Jackson Chihuly
By Chadd Scott
Guy Oliver, Final Star Trail. Courtesy of the artist and Visit Sun Valley
Like millions of others, Leslie Jackson Chihuly fell in love with one of the West’s mountain resort towns. Sun Valley, Idaho.
Occasional visits became more frequent. Winter ski vacations were added to summer business trips. Family holidays migrated there.
Unlike millions of others, Leslie is married to one of America’s most famous artists, glass artist Dale Chihuly. Also unlike most, Leslie Jackson Chihuly has evolved her love for visiting Sun Valley into an active role there helping bring more art and culture to the rural town of 1500 residents in the middle of the state.
This past summer, Jackson Chihuly’s Warm Springs Productions, which she started along with two partners, held its inaugural music festival in Sun Valley July 12 and 13.
“It was this idea of combining great music – musicians from the Northwest – with hospitality and nature activities, a mini festival where you're celebrating mountain life and mountain cultures,” Jackson Chihuly said.
The couple began visiting Sun Valley in the late 90s for gallery openings showing Dale’s work.
“Year 2000 is when I first started going over in the winter and started skiing there and just fell in love with it as it became my dedicated ski mountain,” Jackson Chihuly recalls.
More frequent visits sparked friendships. Friendships led to a deeper connection within the community. A deeper connection within the community inspired the Chihuly Inc. CEO to become more personally involved.
“We did a lot of dream-building on chairlifts about doing more activities down in Warm Springs,” Jackson Chihuly explained of the festival’s inspiration which she hatched along with her long-time ski coach and now-partner in the production company, Hank Minor.
Warm Springs is a community adjacent to Sun Valley where the Chihuly’s have a home. While it remains the heart of the action for skiers, over the years, bars and restaurants have migrated away from the area. Locating the festival there is an effort to help rejuvenate the area during the non-winter months.
Jackson Chihuly and Minor’s other partner, Skyler Locatelli, grew up in Idaho. As producer of the Seattle music festival, Freakout, and national marketing and sales rep for an independent Seattle-based radio station, Locatelli provided the industry expertise.
Building the festival on regional roots was important to all three.
“I love this Northwest region, the incredible depth of talent that we have here and the idea being that maybe over time as this thing grows, we give an opportunity for musicians from this area to do sort of their mini-Northwest tour – something in Seattle, something in Boise, something in Sun Valley, and somewhere else after that,” Jackson Chihuly said.
Tory Taglio, Sun Valley landscape. Courtesy of the artist and Visit Sun Valley
Visiting Sun Valley
For anyone who’s never been, Jackson Chihuly makes a great spokesperson for Sun Valley.
“Sun Valley is this year-round playground,” Jackson Chihuly said. “If you love skiing, you have some of the longest vertical groomed runs that you can get anywhere in the country. You've got miles and miles of cross-country skiing that goes out into the national forest that's undisturbed and incredible. You've got all the fishing. If you're into golf and tennis, you can do that too.”
Her attraction to the area, however, goes much deeper than activities. It goes into her soul and connects her to others who are similarly drawn to such places.
“For me it is all about being out in nature. I love to hike and I love the way that you develop relationships differently in a place like (Sun Valley) because of the time that you spend with people out on the hiking trails or the time you spend with them on a chairlift where you can't be doing other things,” Jackson Chihuly said. “People who go there are going there because they share a value around that nature, and that experience and the depth of relationships is profound because of that shared passion.”
One drawback: Sun Valley is undeniably hard to get to. Jackson Chihuly puts an interesting philosophical spin on that obstacle.
“You fly into Hailey, but in the winter, with bad weather, you don't know how long it might take you to get there and you still have this drive (to Sun Valley),” she explains. “So, you have this breath that you take from landing in Hailey to driving into Ketchum and beyond that’s a revelation.”
Like all of the Western mountain resort towns, Sun Valley has been steadily growing over the years, a growth rate accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The town itself, because it's a little harder to get to, it's never felt as congested as places like Jackson Hole or Aspen – I'm not dissing any of those places, I love them all for their own reasons – but Sun Valley – at least for a period of time, I think it's changed now with the pandemic so many people have moved over there and live there full time, it's definitely gotten a lot more busy and congested – but it still feels very manageable as a as a town and a community,” Jackson Chihuly said.
Galena Snow Day. Courtesy Visit Sun Valley
Chihuly Glass Art Exhibition in Ketchum, ID
Along with Leslie Jackson Chihuly’s philanthropy and new music festival, the Chihuly’s continue supporting arts and culture in Sun Valley through Dale’s artwork. Presently, he has a showing of his Diné (Navajo) inspired Blanket Cylinders on view in the Community Library in Ketchum neighboring the ski resort. Not a bad “get” for the tiny town’s library lobby considering the exhibit would feel at home in any art museum around the West.
The series is based on Chihuly’s research into blankets made by members of the Diné. He was exposed to rugs and blankets hand loomed by Diné artists while spending time in New Mexico in 1974, but his inspiration from Native artwork goes back even further than that.
“Dale always had an interest in Native American baskets and woodwork and canoes and I think growing up in the Northwest as he did, it was always around him,” Jackson Chihuly explains of her husband’s attraction to Indigenous material culture. “He really sought it out. He would go visit historic museums and he was really taken with what he found there. Also, living around Pilchuck when they started the school, you're on Native land, you're surrounded by the tribes of the Great Northwest and so I think he was just always aware of the artisanship and the craft and the culture that is really part of what it is to live in the Northwest.”
Dale Chihuly founded the Pilchuck Glass School in 1971 in Philchuck, WA 35 miles northeast of Seattle with a mission of fostering a worldwide community to explore the creative use of glass in art and design.
With this work, a series he has continued for decades, Chihuly aims to convey his appreciation and respect for the histories, cultures and arts of the Indigenous tribes of North America, and to recognize the influence of Native cultures on contemporary arts.
“Dale Chihuly: Blanket Cylinders 1975 – 2016” will be on display at the Community Library though January 2023 and plans are already in the works for a second music festival next summer.
Dale Chihuly, Early Peach Cylinder with Blanket Drawing, 9 x 6 x 6 Photographer: Scott Mitchell Leen. © 2022 Chihuly Studio. All rights reserved.