Visitors to the Denver Botanic Gardens’ York Street location are likely familiar with the enormous glass sculpture that commands its Mosaic Garden. The piece, titled “Colorado,” is made up of spiky glass components, rising in a dense burst reminiscent of a yucca plant.
Self-described “plant-lover” Meredith Slater is a frequent visitor to both Denver Botanic Gardens locations — and a fan of Chihuly’s work there. When she visited shortly after “one of our famous hailstorms,” she admired how untouched the glass sculpture appeared to be, despite its pelting by golf ball-sized balls of ice.
That experience prompted Slater to wonder, “How do all the beautiful-but-fragile glass Chihuly pieces on display at the Denver Botanic Gardens stay safe during hailstorms?”
Colorado is one of the most hail-prone states in the U.S. with a hail season from April to September and hail stones that can reach epic proportions.
Associate Director of Exhibitions and Art Collections at Denver Botanic Gardens, Jen Tobias, explained though the Chihuly sculpture looks delicate, it's actually incredibly tough. The glass on each spike is up to an inch and a half thick.
“We actually don't do anything to prep it for weather,” said Tobias. “We've had it for nearly 10 years, and in that time it has been through truly every kind of weather condition that Colorado could throw at it. It's been through hail, it's been through crazy blizzards, through microbursts and windstorms, and it has come through without a scratch.”
Even the record-breaking hail storm that pounded the metro area in 2017 left the sculpture looking “pristine and happy and healthy.”
“Colorado” also benefits from very durable internal construction.
“Underneath all of that glass is what's called an armature — that's the part of the sculpture that is structural,” Tobias said. “And that armature is this huge steel structure with spikes on it and the glass pieces are inserted on top of those spikes and then wired together.”
Tobias noted that all of the sculptures displayed outside at the Gardens were selected with an eye to durability and strength.
"Colorado, of course, is tough on things. It's hot and it's cold and it's hail and it's snow,” Tobias said. “And over time things need waxing and various sorts of love, but the things out in the Gardens are quite a bit tougher than they look.”
While people often ask Garden staff and volunteers about how the artwork fares with hail, Tobias pointed out that they’re often the least vulnerable things out there. “The gardens sometimes are a little bit less happy after the hailstorms than the sculptures.”
So there’s your answer: when the hail falls at the Botanic Gardens, you can mourn the flowers, but don’t worry too much about the art.
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