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Saturday, May 6, 2006 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Glassblower challenges integrity of Chihuly art

Seattle Times staff reporter

A Redmond glassblower who was sued for copyright violations last year by artist Dale Chihuly fired back in court Friday — challenging the integrity of Chihuly's art and the public's impression of how it's created.

Among other things, Robert Kaindl alleges in a counterclaim filed in U.S. District Court that Chihuly is not involved in conceiving, creating, designing or even signing a "substantial number" of artworks that bear his name.

Kaindl also maintains in his claim that Chihuly sometimes buys glasswork from other artists, removes their names and then puts his own trademarked name on it.

"We aren't going to comment on any of this," said Chihuly publicist Janet Makela.

Chihuly sued Kaindl and one of Chihuly's former glassblowers, Bryan Rubino, in October, accusing them of copying his designs and selling "knockoffs" at several local galleries.

Four galleries also were named in the copyright-infringement suit, but Chihuly's studio and publishing company has since dismissed those claims.

Rubino, who now runs a glass studio in Shelton, Mason County, has not formally responded to Chihuly's suit. His attorney declined to comment on Kaindl's counterclaim.

Friday's filing represents the first substantial response to Chihuly's charges that Kaindl and Rubino schemed to make money copying Chihuly's designs.

Chihuly's studio has long acknowledged that the artist does not blow glass himself, relying instead on a team of glassblowers and hired contractors to execute his ideas. But the concepts, designs and final aesthetic are distinctly his, Chihuly and his associates have repeatedly said.

Kaindl's countersuit challenges that assertion, noting that when Rubino was blowing glass for Chihuly as a contractor, Chihuly "would often ask Mr. Rubino to 'come up with something' for Dale Chihuly to review and purchase" so that he could sell it through Chihuly Inc.

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The counterclaim also accuses Chihuly and his associates of destroying Kaindl's business relationship with galleries, The Seattle Home Show and Costco by badmouthing the art entrepreneur, questioning his credentials as an artist and describing his work as "cheap knockoffs."

Kaindl's most incendiary charge against Chihuly, however, is the allegation that people other than Chihuly sign the artist's name to a "substantial number" of glass pieces.

Chihuly's signature gives the work its value, and the artist has said his two companies — Chihuly Inc. and Portland Press, his publishing firm — live or die by it.

In a recent interview, Chihuly insisted that he alone signs the work, and bristled when pressed on the issue.

"No one's ever signed my name for anything that I've made, including the editions, including the prints, the glass, the drawings," Chihuly said.

Kaindl's filing challenges Chihuly's trademark and copyright claims, saying the names of Chihuly's most famous works — including those with titles such as baskets, Persians, Venetians and sea forms — are so generic that they can't be trademarked.

It also says that some of the ideas and processes that Chihuly is claiming as his own have been around for centuries.

Allowing Chihuly to claim those things as his own would deprive other artists of essential tools they need to create art, said Kaindl's attorney, Timothy L. Boller of Seed Intellectual Property Law Group in Seattle.

"We do feel they've reached too far," Boller said. "All the elements he's pointing to, people have done for centuries."

Seattle Times staff reporter Sheila Farr contributed to this report.

Susan Kelleher: 206-464-2508 or skelleher@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company

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