Refract—the Seattle Glass Experience, and Other Delights of the Emerald City

By Emma Krasov. Photography by Yuri Krasov

Swept with refreshing sea breeze from Puget Sound, architecturally pleasing, and genuinely hospitable, Seattle, Washington, is a lot like San Francisco before the hi-tech boom. Devoid of incessant crowds, its beautiful downtown is welcoming to pedestrians, not to mention the many city parks and tree-lined residential streets. All the city sites and attractions are accessible without maddeningly long lines, and the culinary scene is rich and diverse, offering treats for every taste and every budget, plus a warm shelter from the oft-happening rain. Some say, the city that produced and/or is currently housing quite a few industrial giants akin to Microsoft, Boing, Amazon, Nordstrom, Starbucks, Expedia, Zillow, etc. hasn’t turned into an overpopulated, traffic-ridden San Francisco only because of the rain.  

It drizzles, drips, pours, gushes, or just threatens to start falling almost every day, which to us, Californians, exhausted by the relentless 9-months-a-year sunshine, felt like a blessing, and never prevented us from enjoying a glorious weekend in the city. We’ve learned to unmistakably recognize a local driver by the sunroofed car—people here are trying to catch every little ray of light from behind the clouds… On the bright side, the Emerald City was thusly nicknamed for its lush greenery and abundance of parks and gardens never in need of irrigation.

We came to town in October for the first annual Refract, the art glass festival, organized by a number of art institutions led by Chihuly Garden and Glass, and hosted by Visit Seattle, various art glass schools and galleries, and the many members of the thriving glassblowing community. Being an artist in Seattle almost inevitably means working in glass due to Chihuly’s tradition and powerful influence.

Dale Chihuly, whose fantastically bright, unforgettable, often enormously oversized glass sculptures adorn museums, city squares and hotels from London to Monte-Carlo and from Las Vegas to Jerusalem, was born in nearby Tacoma, and set up his shop here, in Seattle-Tacoma area. But first, he was studying glass making at the University of Washington, interior design and sculpting at the University of Wisconsin, and art in Florence, Italy. In the 1960s he worked in a kibbutz in the Negev Desert, Israel, and in Alaska as a commercial fisherman; traveled to Leningrad in the former USSR, to Ireland, Germany, and then Czechoslovakia. For his outstanding achievements, among his multiple other honors, Chihuly was awarded a Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation grant, a Fulbright Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts grant, and became the first American glassblower to work in the Venini factory on the island in Murano, Italy, famous for its superb centuries-old glassmaking techniques.

Fittingly, the festival opening, Gather, was scheduled at the Chihuly’s Glasshouse under a soaring dome enlivened by the great master’s creation and one of his largest suspended works —a 100-foot long sculpture comprised of red, orange, yellow, and amber glass flowers. Shiny light-reflective glass under the moody cloudy sky substitutes sunlight during the day and illuminates at night in the brilliant range of color.

4. Refract Festival

The Refract events were held at various venues and locations presenting talks, seminars, tours and demonstrations alongside exhibitions, collector gatherings and art parties. During the festival weekend, the doors to the glass workshops and galleries remained open to the public, so we could observe many creative artists at work in their studios at the Pratt Fine Arts Center, Western Neon School of Art, and Blowing Sands Glass Studio.

In-between the art glass extravaganzas, we undertook short tours to the city’s most famous sites—the Space Needle, Seattle Aquarium, and Pike Place Market, where we were taken along with a group of visiting foodies from all over the world on a comprehensive food tour with Savor Seattle.

The enormous and incredibly rich in everything from fresh fish on ice to bacon doughnuts baked on the premises, the Pike Place Market can easily sustain a hungry tourist for a week with never-repeating meals, but there’s no shortage of good and great restaurants in the city of Seattle.

At the new, modern, beautifully designed Aerlume, Chef Maggie Trujillo puts together the freshest ingredients of the farm-to-table movement in her creative starters, like chicken liver mousse with candid pecans, mulled apples, and pickled berries, or wild mushroom and goat cheese dumplings served with peppers, pickles, and corn butter. Large plates offer the best of season—porcini-crusted black cod with bok-choy, brassica, and barley in the light wagyu beef dashi, or buttermilk fried chicken with kale-fennel slaw and ancient grain risotto in persimmon-quince gastrique.

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At the RockCreek Seafood & Spirits we mingled with the locals who come here for long leisurely brunches to enjoy Big Sky Bloody Maries, Washington oysters on the half-shell, mighty omelets, and caramelized apple and ricotta beignets with vanilla bean caramel anglaise.

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A recently opened Homer offered a variety of shareable plates from roasted romanesco with canned tuna, smoked pine nuts and tomato relish to house-made meatballs with yogurt and tomatillos in addition to a long list of Oregon and international wines.

For a quick lunch, we enjoyed a hole-in-the-wall GH Pasta Co overrun by the local day breakers vying for a delicious bowl of daily changing special pasta.

At our centrally located and excellent on all counts The Charter Hotel, where we were staying in comfort for our entire trip, the Patagon Argentine Grill served specialties like Gaucho Breakfast starting early in the morning, while The Fog Room on the top floor offered creative cocktails, small bites, and the views of the city lights way into the night.

For more information on Seattle, Refract festival, city tours, sites, accommodations, places to eat, and all upcoming happenings and events, go to