Chihuly Gift Spans Health, Wellness, and Art

Photos by Karl Rabe and John Abbott

As Vassar launches its largest fundraising effort in history, Trustee Leslie Jackson Chihuly ’83 is giving the campaign an early boost with a series of gifts totaling more than $2 million. They include an estate gift, a major donation to the College’s Health and Wellness Fund, and a series of annual gifts to the Vassar Fund—topped off by a donation of several works created by her spouse, renowned artist Dale Chihuly.

“I’ve helped run campaigns before, and I know there are many ways donors can structure their gifts,” said Leslie Chihuly, one of nine co-chairs of the $500-million Fearlessly Consequential campaign. “I wanted to have my gift in place before the launch of the public phase of the campaign in hopes that others would be inspired by my example to participate. We have a very big vision for the College, and there are many important projects that need to be funded. I thought this would be a good way to start the clock.”

Leslie Jackson Chihuly ’83 and her husband Dale Chihuly standing in front of the “Ulysses” cylinders they donated
Leslie Jackson Chihuly ’83 and her spouse, Dale Chihuly, donated some of the “Ulysses” cylinders that were part of an exhibition in the Thompson Library in 2015.

Vice President for Advancement Timothy Kane said he was confident that others would be inspired by Chihuly’s gift. “Leslie’s gift embodies the spirit, depth, and breadth of what this campaign is about,” Kane said. “She recognizes the need for Vassar to invest even more in student health and wellness, and established the Leslie J. Chihuly ’83 Health and Wellness Fund to provide funds for additional programs, people, and facilities that are in support of our students’ physical and emotional health.

“In addition,” Kane continued, “she understands the need to support Vassar’s greatest needs through the Vassar Fund and committed to a multi-year pledge. And finally, a Chihuly gift would not be complete without some stunning Dale Chihuly glass. We are thrilled to have these gorgeous ‘Glass on Glass’ installations and ‘Ulysses Cylinders’ now installed in the Thompson Library.”

Library Director Andrew Ashton standing in front of the “Glass on Glass” works installed in the library
Library Director Andrew Ashton said the “Glass on Glass” works installed in the library are a perfect complement to the Cornaro stained glass window located at the other end of the room.

Leslie Chihuly oversaw the installation of the glass works in Thompson Library just days before she and other co-chairs of the campaign took part in the kickoff on campus October 14 and 15. “I wanted to make sure the artwork was up in the library before the launch weekend,” she said.

The artwork includes two pieces, created in 2017 and 2018, titled “Glass on Glass,” each consisting of three glass panels painted with vitreous enamel and layered within a single frame. The gift also includes five glass cylinders from Chihuly’s “Ulysses” collection. The cylinders contain images based on drawings by artist Seaver Leslie that were inspired by passages from the James Joyce novel. Cylinders from the same body of work were part of an exhibition at the library in 2015 curated by Mary-Kay Lombino, Deputy Director and the Emily Hargroves Fisher ’57 and Richard B. Fisher Curator of the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center.

‘Ulysses Cylinders’ now installed in the Thompson Library
Leslie Chihuly ’83 said she hopes a student would be inspired by the “Ulysses” glass cylinders to conduct some research on how the art relates to the James Joyce novel.

Director of Libraries Andrew Ashton said the “Glass on Glass” pieces installed at the library act as a counterpoint to the Cornaro stained glass window situated on the opposite wall. “These paintings provide a warm and beautiful glow to the Cornaro room, opposite the magnificent Cornaro window,” Ashton said. “They provide a distinct but complementary addition to the colorful natural light that fills the library when the sun shines through the Cornaro window. And the Ulysses Cylinders are unique objects that meld Chihuly’s mastery as a glass artist with connections to the library’s rich collections of literature, as well as to the journey of the book’s protagonist.”

Chihuly said she too was struck by the complementary relationship between the “Glass on Glass” works and the Cornaro window, and she said she hoped the Ulysses Cylinders might inspire those who see them to seek to learn more about James Joyce’s masterpiece. “I’d love for a student to do some research and write something about the scenes that appear on these cylinders,” she said.

As for her decision to dedicate part of her gift to the College’s Health and Wellness Fund, Chihuly said it was triggered by experiences she had while she lived on campus as well as by conversations she has had with students since she became a trustee. “There was a dearth of mental health services when I was here, and there was a stigma that prevented any real discussion of the issue,” she said. “We have to be more proactive about this. Even before the pandemic, it was something I heard about from students.”

Dean of the College Carlos Alamo-Pastrana said Chihuly’s gift would substantially enhance the College’s ability to deliver comprehensive mental health services. He said some of the funds would be used to help students find long-term mental health services that Vassar’s Counseling Service is not able to provide. And the funds will enable case managers to help students navigate the health care system. “The office of case management connects students with therapists and other specialists in the community and helps students with insurance issues,” Alamo-Pastrana said. “Leslie’s gift will act as seed money for our general fund for these services as well as enhance our emergency fund at a time when there is an urgent need. She is one of the best advocates and supporters of health and wellness on campus and has been an incredible ally in this work.”

November 28, 2022
Campus Initiatives