Chihuly glasswork worth trip to Biltmore

Published 3:22 pm Saturday, June 30, 2018

By Joanne Wilkinson

If you are looking to take a short break away between now and October, if you enjoy touring grand homes, and if you like looking at fabulous glass sculptures, I have a suggestion for you. From now until Oct. 7, the amazing glass works of American artist, Dale Chihuly will be at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, N.C.

Chihuly was born in 1941 in Tacoma, Wash. He studied interior design at the University of Washington during which time he became intrigued with the medium of glass. In 1968 he received a Fulbright Fellowship, which enabled him to travel to Venice, Italy to observe and learn the team approach to blowing glass.

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This technique greatly influenced his work from that point forward. His extraordinary work is on display at over 200 museums worldwide.  So when I heard that his glass sculptures were going to be on display at the Biltmore Estate, I immediately started planning a trip to Asheville.

It has been about 20 years since I toured the Biltmore Estate, so I knew that I wanted to see the house again. There are two types of tickets available, a daytime ticket that allows entry to the entire house and gardens, and a nighttime ticket that allows access to only a few rooms on the ground floor and to the gardens. There is a combination ticket in case, as I did, you want to see the entire house, and you also want to see the exhibit at night. You buy the nighttime ticket at $67 and then add on the daytime ticket for $25. The nighttime exhibit is only from Thursday to Sunday, so you need to plan your trip accordingly.

People have asked me if I enjoyed the daytime or the nighttime display the most, and the truth is I enjoyed both. I really liked touring the stately home, built for George Vanderbilt and his family in 1895. The home is beautifully decorated and you get to see all of it including the banquet hall complete with an organ, ornate salon, a library, a music room, a tapestry gallery, swimming pool, bowling alley, a gym, kitchens and a multitude of bedrooms. In addition to how lovely the house is on the inside, there is also an outstanding view of the Blue Ridge Mountains from the balcony, and a view of some of the 8,000 acres that the house sits on.

The Chihuly glass sculptures are located on the ground floor of the house and in the gardens. The first one you see as you enter the grounds is a globe of glass with tentacles almost like a sun with solar rays darting out. It is called the Sole d’Oro (2017). It sits on the front lawn with the Biltmore Estate as a backdrop. Then as you get close to the house, there is another exhibit of all blue glass right by the front of the building named Sky Blue and Cobalt Fiori (2017). In my opinion, the most dramatic exhibit is when you go into the house and enter the winter garden. The exhibit, placed in the winter garden, is called Laguna Torcello II (2018). It is so intricate and so beautiful that you feel drawn to walk around the sculpture to look at it from every possible angle. Everyone around me seemed spellbound by the beauty of the glass.

The rest of the glasswork is distributed around the beautiful gardens and in the conservatory. The Italian Gardens contain a pond, and several sculptures are there and seem even more striking as they are reflected in the water.  The first one you come to is a boat with a collection of large brightly colored glass balls called Float Boat (2017). It is hard to choose which ball is the most beautiful as they are all so colorful and unique. In the shrub garden, there are two very striking sculptures done in vibrant shades of orange, yellow and red that almost look as if they are on fire.

Along the entire wall of the pergola are several glass structures called Pergola Garden Fiori that reminded me of anemones waving in the wind. They are done in shades of purple, orange, red, green and even some in black and white.

At nighttime, all of the glass sculptures are illuminated making them look almost otherworldly and absolutely breathtaking. The entire experience was nothing short of magical.

We stayed at a hotel close to the Biltmore Estate, but if you want to splurge, it is possible to stay on the Biltmore Estate, as there are two hotels on the grounds, The Inn on Biltmore Estate and the Village Hotel. From the entrance to the Estate, it is about a four-mile drive to the parking areas (which are free). You can park and ride a shuttle bus right to the front door, or you can park and walk, which takes about ten minutes.

Included in your ticket is admission to the Antler Hill Village and Winery. It is worth stopping there, as at the winery you can sample as many types of Biltmore wine as you want. We must have sampled about ten different types of wine. Then in the gift shop, there are some yummy food samples available. You can also buy bottles of the wine that you sampled.

It is a nine-hour drive from Oxford to Asheville, so you might want to spend a few days in Asheville and go to the Biltmore Estate, see the arboretum, go for a hike on the Blue Ridge Parkway and possibly tour the Carl Sandburg home in Flat Rock or take in a theatrical production at the Flat Rock Theater.

You will certainly have a marvelous break.