Norfolk’s Glass Light Hotel & Gallery, and other nearby activities

Contemporary pieces, including this sculpture from Therman Statom are part of the Barry Art Museum’s collection of glass art. Barry Art Museum

Norfolk, Virginia is possibly the most popular place in America. best known as a nautical hub, boasting the world’s largest naval base and the Nauticus science and maritime museum, where you can tour the USS Wisconsin battleship. Not as well known is that the city is home to one of the world’s largest collections of glass art.

“You’re going to see a bunch of bowls?” a friend quipped when I mentioned my upcoming weekend of immersion in the city’s glass art. When you walk into the Glass Light Hotel & Gallery, you will be able to see the 1,100-pound opalescent glazed rabbit sitting near the front desk. Your vision of what glass can do expands. “Bunny,”The sculpture, as it is affectionately known by staff, is one among two rabbits created for the hotel by Peter Bremers, a renowned Dutch artist. The other, dubbed “Pops,”Reclining on a large pedestal that overlooks the bar.

Hundreds of works of glass can be found throughout the hotel and gallery—courtesy of arts patrons Doug and Pat Perry, whose son Chris Perry is the hotel’s developer and CEO. The gallery, which opened in October and is accessible to the public, provides comfortable seating where you can relax and ponder the evocative art, from a vase of glass flowers in a riot of colors to an ethereal dusk-colored dress from Karen LaMonte’s “Nocturnes” series. There’s also a stringed musical instrument in glass by artist Davide Salvadore, the “strings”Created by stretching compact masses hot glass.

The Glass Light Hotel & Gallery showcases hundreds of works in glass. Glass Light Hotel

Cameron, my 25 year-old son, joined me on the weekend to explore. “It’s hard to believe some of these are made from glass,” he said as we finished checking out the gallery’s second floor. Our tour guide shared backstories of the art, including details about Amber Cowan’s “Bridesmaid’s Search for the Desert Rose,”It was created using vintage scrap and found glass. The scene is three-dimensional and you will find more: sun, desert roses and a giraffe.

Later that night in our guest room, I thumbed through the coffee-table book Bunny—the title is a nod to Pat Perry’s nickname, which was inspired by the Pat the Bunny book she read to her children and now grandchildren. In the book, she offers details on the couple’s collection and addresses “Why Glass?,” writing: “For us, witnessing the simple act of firing-up a handful of sand and ash, then blowing it, molding it, pulling it, twisting it, and shaping it into exquisite objects felt intrinsically satisfying. It became the whispering trumpet, luring us into its mystery and the magical song of its nature. This is the reason we began our pursuit of glass.”

Louis Comfort Tiffany’s early 1900s stained-glass lamp at the Chrysler Museum of Art. Courtesy Chrysler Museum

This pursuit led to funding for the Perry Glass Studio, which is located less than one mile from Glass Light. The studio was opened in partnership with the Chrysler Museum of Art in 2011. Every Tuesday through Sunday, a staff member will demonstrate hot glass and explain the process.

We watched as a few instructors wore T-shirts with the following text. “Get Fired Up,”A hot blob made of glass was transformed into a ball and then a vase. We worked together to place the piece in the oven and shape it with various tools. We returned later in the day for a workshop and felt the intensity of the oven’s heat as we learned how to safely navigate the process of making glass ornaments with swirls of color.

We saw more works at Chrysler Museum of Art between those experiences. Its glass collection contains more than 10,000 pieces, spanning more than 3,000 years. The museum originally was opened in 1933 as the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Sciences; in 1971, automotive heir Walter P. Chrysler Jr. gifted much of his collection of 20th-century art—which included paintings, sculpture and glass—to the institution and it was renamed in his honor. The venue features a cafe and gardens, a gift store, a theater, as well as galleries organized by medium or era.

The Chrysler Museum of Art presents a chess set featuring glass figures by Gianni Toso, an Italian artist. Photo courtesy Chrysler Museum

Inside the first-floor glass art galleries you’ll find masterworks from artists around the globe, including Dale Chihuly (perhaps the United States’ best known glass artist), several glass pieces by Tiffany, and a chess set with lampworked glass figures—each with its own fun and sometimes cheeky expression—created by Italian artist Gianni Toso.

You can view additional works—several by artists whose pieces are also at Glass Light and Chrysler—at the Barry Art Museum. Opened in 2018 in Old Dominion University’s arts district, Richard and Carolyn Barry’s extensive collection contributed to the region’s reputation as a glass art center. You’ll find contemporary glass sculptures, one of Chihuly’s chandeliers, and, in the center of the sculpture court, a massive bronze and cast-glass “Fountain of Knowledge”It is a fountain of literary quotations. Watch letters projected on the water’s surface swirl in the fountain and form into words, then sentences as they appear on the nearby wall. “There are over 800 quotes,”The woman at the front desk stated. “I don’t think I’ve seen the same one twice, and I’ve worked here for a year.”

In our short visit to Norfolk, we saw glass in hundreds of fascinating forms, including beautiful bowls, some of which were artistic and functional, such as the lovely spun-glass bowl sinks in Glass Light’s guest rooms. One of my favorite works was Lucy Lyon’s “Duel,” located in the hotel’s lobby. The sculpture consists of two identical men, one cast in bronze and one made from glass. I wondered if the one in bronze was the ghost of the other or a duel between mediums for the artist. Or, to me, a novice observer, maybe their juxtaposition—and the way light and color play on and in the glass figure—is a way to capture how a person is lit from within, and the power glass has to illuminate.

Barry Art Museum’s “Fountain of Knowledge” features letters on the water’s surface that form into literary quotes, which are projected on a nearby wall. Photo courtesy Barry Art Museum

Where to explore

View glass artwork
These Norfolk spots have amazing collections of glass art. Admission is free

Take a class
Perry Glass Studio offers classes that teach you how to make everything from mosaics, jewelry, colorful botanicals, and an air terrarium. Some classes are open to children as young at five, but most are for adults 12 years and older. Tip: Sign up for the Chrysler Museum to receive 20% off classes and 10% off shops (memberships start at $40). 745 Duke St., 757-333-6299 chrysler.org

Use a guide
The Glass Light Gallery offers a free guided tour that can be arranged by email with a note to [email protected] The Chrysler MuseumEvery day, at 2:45 p.m., you can take a free docent-led tour through the highlights.

Artists at work
Located in Norfolk’s NEON (New Energy of Norfolk) District, d’Art is a good place to see and meet artists at work in more than 20 studios, take an art class, and purchase the artists’ works. Note: Some works are available through Etsy shops. 740 Boush St. 757-625-4211 d-artcenter.org

Take a stained-glass driving tour
Many of Norfolk’s historic churches are graced with stained glass masterworks. The Virginia Arts Festival program’s stained glass window driving tour of Norfolk—found at visitnorfolk.com/articles/post/stained-glass-window-driving-tour-of-norfolk-va—offers more than addresses. This self-guided tour explains the meaning behind each window and highlights them.

“Duel”Lucy Lyon, Glass Light Hotel & Gallery. Photo by Christine Koubek Flynn

Where to eat & Drink

Cafe Stella
A local coffeehouse favorite, Cafe Stella features plentiful seating areas—some sofa arrangements, many tables—and an array of vintage bric-a-brac. Warm beverages, many sourced from their own coffee roaster, breakfast and lunch sandwiches are all available. 1907 Colonial Ave., 757-625-0461 cafestellaroasters.com

Grain
This rooftop beer garden is located just a short walk from the Glass Light Hotel and Gallery. It offers a wide range of craft beers and stunning views of Norfolk and Elizabeth River. 100 E. Main St. 757-763-6279 grainnorfolk.com

La Brioche Bakery & Coffee
Yvan and Jacqueline Pavilla started La Brioche to offer the type of made-from-scratch artisan baguettes, croissants, sandwiches and quiche that you’d find in a Parisian cafe. Take the staircase that leads to the loft seating area, and watch the bakers at their work behind the glass windows. 765 Granby St. 757-226-9745, labriochenorfolk.com

Luce
Antonio Caruana, the owner and chef of Luce, is the restaurant’s head chef. Luce offers a relaxed wine bar and a cozy restaurant, with a menu that focuses on traditional Italian dishes, including wild boar ragu and lobster, prosecco gnocchi, as well as a delicious mushroom toast with truffle olive oil. To reserve a weekend table, make sure you book in advance. 245 Granby Street, 757-502-7260 lucenorfolk.com

Omar’s Carriage House
This former tearoom and long-ago carriage house for horses serves American-Mediterranean fare, including Moroccan chicken tagine, kebabs, and a lamb burger served with the restaurant’s popular garlic ginger fries. Outside dining is possible on a heated patio. There are blankets available. 313 W. Bute St. 757-622-4990 omarscarriagehouse.com

Where to stay

Four Eleven York Street
This boutique inn/restaurant is nestled among the cobblestone streets in the Freemason neighborhood, less than a mile from the Chrysler Museum. Each suite has a gas fireplace and a bar cart that offers complimentary snacks. Rates start at $267 and include breakfast (blue-crab Benedict and rye Avocado BLT are two options), which can be enjoyed in the dining area or brought up to your bed for breakfast in. 411 W. York St. (757-963-7000). fourelevenyork.com

Glass Light Hotel & Gallery
A member of Marriott’s Autograph Collection, the hotel features a top-floor fitness center with great views, a restaurant with a chef’s counter, and 113 guest rooms and suites, each with unique art, a vintage Frigidaire mini refrigerator and an Illy espresso maker. Rates start from $189 per night 201 Granby St. 757-222-3033 glasslighthotel.com

Christine Koubek Flynn, the magazine’s Get Away columnist, loves discovering what is new and notable in mid-Atlantic travel.

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