SCHENLEY PARK -- Phipps Conservatory in Oakland is closed until officials can figure out how to stop light refracting through newly-installed glass sculptures from setting fires inside the historic building. The conservatory spent an undisclosed amount of money to install dozens of glass sculptures by Dale Chihuly throughout the display rooms for the next six months. Although many public gardens have displayed Chihuly’s work without incident, Phipps started having problems as soon as the first pieces went in.
“I’m not sure why we’re having all these fires,” Executive Director Richard Piacentini said today. “Maybe the sunlight coming through the glass roof and then hitting the sculptures is the cause. Maybe it’s the latitude we’re at and the angle of the sun right now. Or maybe light is refracting off all the particulates in Pittsburgh’s air,” he said, referring to the city’s recent poor showing in national air quality rankings. Piacentini had planned to continue discussing the issue with reporters, but he suddenly dashed off in the direction of the Fern Room, carrying a small extinguisher.
A Phipps employee, who asked to be identified only as “Curt,” said he tried to warn managers ahead of time. “I told them, ‘Only YOU can prevent conservatory fires,’ but I guess they thought I was joking. They never listen to me,” he said bitterly. “Once I had this really great idea about having a baby elephant help us move heavy plants around. I’ll have to tell you about it sometime,” Curt said, before suddenly dashing off in the direction of the Victoria Room, carrying a small extinguisher.
In Seattle, Dale Chihuly denied responsibility for the fires. “Hey, I didn’t make those pieces,” he said, referring to the fact that he has not created any of his own work since the 1980’s. “If [Phipps] wants to go after anybody, they should go after my glassblowers. They’re the ones who did it all. I just show up for the exhibit openings.”
For now, Phipps’ managers have no ideas on how to fix the problem. “We’re hoping for a lot of cloudy weather,” Piacentini said. “The plants don’t grow as much when it’s cloudy, but at least they won’t be bursting into flames.”