Chihuly and “The Spirit of the Maker”

Bourbon whiskey gets much of its aromatic flavor, and all of its rich amber color from months, and often years, of resting in charred, white oak barrels. When the aging process is complete, the bourbon is corked into glass bottles before being shared with a thirsty world. 

To celebrate this age-old process, it only seems fitting that world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly would be recruited to create a special exhibit of his iconic art glass for the 60th Anniversary of the equally famous, old-house bourbon distiller, Maker’s Mark.

In a recent post in our series on art glass, we featured Chihuly’s work in a museum setting in St. Petersburg, Florida. But anyone who’s seen his versatile art outdoors knows that it can enhance a green landscape just as easily as the walls of a modern art gallery.

Fantasy in Glass: Chihuly’s Pure Unadulterated Eye Candy

Located in Loretto, Kentucky, population 713, Maker’s Mark looks more like a sleepy Victorian village than a busy whiskey distillery. Surrounded by small streams and the rolling hills of the bluegrass, this is about as relaxed and understated as factories come. 

Chihuly’s signature colors and shapes are a marvelous contrast to the natural colors and textures of the lush landscape and nostalgic architecture, and the results are terrific. There is an array of whimsical pieces scattered around the grounds. But the “big reveal” is the ceiling above the dusty walkway inside the main barrel house –  cleverly called “The Spirit of the Maker.”

“What pleases me most about the Spirit of the Maker is how it contrasts with the space it inhabits,” Chihuly says. “Surrounded by stacks of dusty, wooden barrels and hovering above a floor of unfinished wood planks, its hues of red, blue, green and amber create a warm and ethereal environment.” —Dale Chihuly 

Bourbon distilleries have a long tradition in Kentucky, and perhaps, adding a modern-art twist on a bucolic location sounds counterintuitive. But standing in the warm glow of Chihuly’s kaleidoscope of colors with the faint smell of oaked bourbon in the air is truly intoxicating.

So if you’re passing through, get off the interstate, drive the country roads to Loretto, take a tour, have a taste, and experience the Spirit of the Maker. 

Good Health and Happy Trails,

James & Terri



We're Terri and James Vance - high school sweethearts who went on to international careers and became world nomads. Today, 65 countries later, we're still traveling ... and still in love. Check out Our Story for more of the backstory at

57 thoughts

  1. The luminosity and exquisite elegance of Chihuly is yet again, boundless! Serendipitously, his words echo a John O’Donohue poem that I literally just read moments ago:
    .. And when your eyes
    Freeze behind
    The grey window
    And the ghost of loss
    Gets into you,
    May a flock of colours,
    Indigo, red, green
    And azure blue,
    Come to awaken in you
    A meadow of delight.”
    Isn’t it true that Chihuly is constantly creating meadows of delight?
    Thanks for the beauty, Terri & James!

    1. Amit, this is a perfect poem for this post, and the phrase “Meadow of delight” couldn’t be more appropriate. You probably can’t tell from the photos, but this entire facility sits in a wonderful, green and grassy meadow with a large stream meandering through. And with the addition of Chihuly’s brilliant colors, I can’t imagine a better phrase than Meadow of Delight. Thanks for a great addition to the post. ~James

  2. After reading your last post I started thinking ” I wonder if he is the artist behind the glass art work at the Bellagio in Vegas?” Lo and behold it was him who created the famous Fiori di Como glass sculptures that hang from the ceiling in Bellagio’s lobby. My husband and I celebrated our wedding anniversary with a stay at Bellagio in Vegas a few years ago and we were mesmerised by his work. Again here at this Borboun distillery his work ” The Spirit of the Maker” and the other sculptures scattered around the gardens are just exquisite. Such impressive pieces of art, he really is amazing.

    1. Good eye there Gilda. In previous posts, a few others mentioned this same art at the Bellagio. In fact, on our last trip to Vegas we sat on a bench right under that Chihuly ceiling in the Bellagio, and had lots of time to rest and admire the incredible color and shapes that is his signature. As I remember, it was also a golden people-watching opportunity as the soon-to-be-fleeced gamblers queued to check into their hotel rooms.

      A wedding anniversary at the Bellagio? Very Romantic! Had you been camping beforehand? If so, that must have been quite a change from camping. ~James

    2. Dennis K. Mullen actually has a Serpentine exhibit in the ceiling of the Bellagio, a series of platters mounted by brackets from behind. He’s also an exceptional artist, along with John Collins. Though Chihuly is the most well-known, there are several that surpass him in talent. I encourage you to check out Viscosity Glass as well!:)

      1. Thanks for the comment Emily and for dropping by the blog. I must admit that I don’t know many glass artists so I’m always glad to get recommendations. I’ll check out all the artists you mention. Thanks for the heads-up. ~James

  3. Amazing sculptures. Wouldn’t it be fascinating to watch the installation of some of his pieces? I can only imagine the work it takes to pack, ship and install! We plan to be in KY later this summer, hope we have time to visit the distillery!

    1. Laura, I love just admiring the work, but the practical side of me has the same questions that you do. How do they manage to ship and install all that incredibly fragile glass without tons of breakage? In fact, you’ve given me an idea for a Youtube search of a Chihuly installation. If I find anything good I’ll let you know. ~James

      1. hi james – you are so right about the way the grasses work with the reeds – those complements of green and red make a nice vibrant appeal and side note – this post inspired me to look for an archive photo of our Chihuly Ref Reeds and i just mentioned the green there too – so we are in the same page.
        oh and i also loved the colored hanging glass abstracts in your post! i would love to walk though such an art installation and feel the vibrancy –
        and one last note – we just gifted someone a bottle of maker’s mark whiskey for Xmas and the guy loved it ! a fine brand

      2. Yvette, thanks for the link to our post. We haven’t been to the VMFA in years, but the Chihuly there will be a good excuse to go.

        And BTW, a bit of of Makers Mark trivia you may not know: each of the distinctive bottles is hand dipped in red wax by a team of local women who have been on the job for years. ~James

      3. i knew the wax was there – years ago i tended bar and i always liked folks that drank certain things – makers mark – VO -certain scotches – and so when we have the makers mark bottle to our friend – i ran my hand over the too and wondered if us was a plastic kind of wax as it felt like that – a synthetic – but maybe not! and did not know they were still hand dipped – very cool!

  4. Several years ago Steven and I visited Maker’s Mark as part of our journey on Kentucky’s Bourbon Trail. Guess we’ll have to go back to take in Chihuly’s Spirit of the Maker after reading your post! Loved your photos.

    1. Annie, we live in Lexington, Kentucky, which as you know, is in the middle of bourbon country. So we’ve toured quite a few of the Bourbon Trail Distilleries. And I must say that Maker’s Mark is one of my favorites. There are tours that give a better feel for the actual bourbon-making process, but for a pleasant outing and the nostalgic feel of bourbon’s history, MM is the best. ~James

  5. After a short while, tours of distilleries, vineyards and breweries become repetitious. Jack Daniels stands out in my mind, but Alie had less interest. However, now I think I might have a hook to interest her in Maker’s Mark the next time we pass through Kentucky. 😁

    1. Ray, I agree about the repetition in tours, but MM is really more about the place than the process. The location and grounds are attractive, and even without the tour, it’s worth a visit. Also, the “Sisters of Loretto” which is a historic retreat for women is nearby and is scenic area as well. ~James

    1. Darlene, we were there on a perfect weather day, and the landscape couldn’t have been greener, nor could the colors of the art have been brighter. It truly was awesome. ~James

    1. Thanks Rebecca. You know, I’m never totally sure about how photos will turn out until they’re downloaded, and I see them full-size on the computer. But I was really pleased with these. It’s a photogenic spot. ~James

      1. Rebecca, these types of ceilings are a signature piece for Chihuly. Interestingly, we’ve seen two of them and both had a glass baby included. The cherub is sometimes hard to find, and I’m not sure of the symbolism, but it’s a good easter egg hunt. ~James

    1. Leslie, at one point we thought about buying a small piece of Chihuly’s work until we saw the price tag … Wow! I’m not sure about these days, but then, a small bowl was $4,000. Good for him, but it’s out of our price range. ~James

      1. I too, checked out the prices and was chocked. His work is lovely, but to put that kind of money on something that is so fragile – I don’t think so.

    1. Thanks Tracey. I love his work anywhere, but like you, I’m particularly fond of his outdoor installations. As I mentioned, the contrast to the natural colors and textures is striking. ~James

    1. Yvette, thanks for the link to our Chihuly post. I can see from your photo that his red reeds look wonderful anywhere, and I’m sure it must be fun to see them throughout the year. ~James

    1. Thanks for passing this info on to your friends Tricia. And FYI, the outdoor portion of the exhibit has moved on, but the Spirit of The Maker is there permanently. MM is a nice, old distillery and it makes a wonderful daytrip to the countryside. Also, tell your friends to check out “The Sisters Of Loretto.” ~James

    1. Kelly, I was particularly impressed with this exhibition given the setting. I also suspect that Chihuly’s work might be very different from the typical sort of art that “Bourbon Trail” tourists are accustomed to seeing. And broadened horizons are always a good thing. ~James

  6. I’m so glad you called this place to my attention — I had no idea that all this great Chihuly glass was within a day or so drive for us! Yay! And we’ve been needing an excuse to travel to Kentucky anyway — haven’t seen it all, for sure.

    1. Rusha, FYI, the Chihuly pieces on the grounds were a special anniversary exhibit, and unfortunately, have moved on. However, the Spirit of the Maker inside the rickhouse remains. But, even without the Chihuly, I recommend a trip to see and tour this distillery. It’s a beautiful area, and you might also want to drive by the “Sisters Of Loretto” Retreat that’s nearby. ~James

      1. Thanks for the tip. I haven’t even heard of Sisters of Loretto. We’ve been to some of the distilleries on the Bourbon Trail, but not all by any means. Thanks for posting this exhibit. Sorry it’s gone, but I find this glass pops up in a variety of places. Last I heard, there was a Cheekwood exhibit in Nashville with pieces that were the same or similar to the ones installed at Biltmore. It’s all good not matter where you see it.

  7. Although bourbon is not my top refreshment, Chihuly’s work has amazed me wherever we have had the chance to see it. I wonder if there would be a way to see the work in progress. It must take such vision to create such large pieces.

    1. Sue, there are a few things on Youtube about Chihuly and his work so you might want to check that out. The video I watched really demonstrated the team approach to creating these wonderful pieces. I’m sure it’s a resume-builder for most of these artists. ~James

    1. This is an interesting question Jean. I’m sure that normally there’s a fee for one of his exhibits, but when the venue makes a big purchase, as this distillery did, maybe there’s a discount. What I do know is that Chihuly has gotten very wealthy from his work, and for good reason. ~James

  8. I have never tried Bourbon whiskey (yet) I have only seen Chihuly’s work indoors many years ago. Your photos are stunning! I cannot imagine what it is like seeing all of this in person. I am emailing this post to my husband. A “must see” if we are near the area. Thank you for a fascinating post, Terri and James.🙂

    1. Erica, the combination of Chihuly’s electric colors and the natural environment at this distillery made it a very photogenic place. And BTW, the outdoor portion of the Chihuly exhibit was a special event, and unfortunately, has moved on, but the Spirit of The Maker is there permanently. MM is a nice, old distillery and it makes a wonderful daytrip to the countryside so it’s definitely still worth a visit. ~James

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