Spring cleaning a bit early: Seattle firm removes dust and more from Chihuly works at visitors center

Let’s just say right from the top that the dusting chore at the Columbus Area Visitors Center looks slightly different than it does at most homes.

Few can boast they have a 1,200-pound, elaborate, ornate, exquisite and expensive work by one of the world’s premier glass sculptors that requires a cleaning every now and then.

A company spent a few days this week carefully cleaning one of Columbus’ most iconic visitor attractions, Dale Chihuly’s Yellow Neon Chandelier, a show-stopper at the local Visitors Center.

“The real cleaning challenge is with the most intricate parts,” said Regan O’Reilly, senior manager of the Seattle-based Denny Park Fine Arts, a specialty art firm that cleans, packs, uninstalls and ships major art work.

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The challenge that O’Reilly references is understandable, considering that Dale Chihuly’s Yellow Neon Chandelier hanging at the visitors center features more than 900 cascading pieces of blown glass swirling this way and that to make one of the city’s most widely recognized pieces of public art.

So you can hardly take a furniture or glass cleaner, lemon or otherwise, to simply spray and wipe your way to a newfound shine. But you do need to use cleaning products — Regan and art handler Sean Leen would prefer to avoid naming specific cleaners — to gently rub away the dust.

It’s especially important if that dust has gradually collected since the piece was installed nearly 24 years ago, as Yellow Chandelier was after now-late art aficionados J. Irwin and Xenia Miller gifted it to the community. That installation Oct. 1, 1995 marked one of several of the artist’s local visits to Columbus.

The visitors center’s Jan Banister mentioned that seeing the chandelier earning a measure of the renewed spotlight now seems appropriate, considering that Xenia Miller played a major role in the design of the piece, including specifying the yellow color. Plus, Banister mentioned that the new art exhibit titled “XSM: Xenia Simons Miller” will open Feb. 21 in Gallery 506 at the visitors center.

“Behind the scenes, she was very influential,” Banister said, referring to a recently-released book highlighting the idea that Xenia Miller had a larger-than-previously-known role in the design of the local Miller House. “We have a legacy in Columbus to protect. And we have to keep it shining, and keep it bright.”

The fine arts firm duo recently spent a couple of days cleaning the chandelier for the first time ever, and also Chihuly’s Persians hand-spun glass plates, another celebrated artwork and window dressing at the visitors center.

And though Leen and O’Reilly live in Florida, they’re both familiar with Indiana Chihuly-related maintenance tasks. They have made frequent trips to the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, where they or others have cleaned the towering, 43-foot Fireworks of Glass Chihuly sculpture there every six weeks.

“That piece can get a lot of cobwebs,” Leen said.

They smile at some of the comments and questions they hear from the public. That includes people leaning close to a just-cleaned piece, and remarking, “Oops — you missed a spot.”

“If I had a nickel for every time someone said that, I’d be a wealthy man,” O’Reilly said with a chuckle.

Another big question would have to be: Have you ever broken a piece of a fragile Chihuly? The pair offered a you-must-be-kidding set of expressions to that.

“We’re very confident in what we do,” O’Reilly said, adding that they have been worldwide for Chihuly cleanings. “And nerves don’t really come into play.”

On a recent afternoon, as Leen took a soft cloth and wiped it over and around the curly elements of the local chandelier, one could hear the soft-yet-unmistakable clinking and clanking of glass touching glass.

“It’s almost like the sound of lightly clanking kitchen cookware together,” Leen said.

When their work is done and a sculpture’s glass shines as brightly as Chihuly’s creativity, the pair can rest.

“That really gives us a sense of accomplishment,” O’Reilly said. “And we can walk away with a big smile on our face.”

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”About Yellow Neon Chandelier” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

  • Installed Oct. 1, 1995 in the window at the Columbus Area Visitors Center, 506 Fifth St., in downtown Columbus.
  • The glass sculpture from world-renowned sculptor Dale Chihuly weighs 1,200 pounds, is 9-feet long and 6-feet wide.
  • It is lit from interior neon tubing.
  • It was a gift from J. Irwin and Xenia Miller, late community leaders who also were worldwide supporters of top art and architecture.