Chihuly glass exhibit at Asheville’s Biltmore House

What happens when American sculptor Dale Chihuly is offered the grounds of America’s largest house to design an exhibit?

When an invitation to tour the Chihuly glass exhibition at Asheville’s Biltmore House arrived, I asked B if she was interested. Her answer was a quick and excited “absolutely, when is it.” My next question was “Chi-who?

She excitedly explained that Dale Chihuly is an American artist known for striking hand-blown glass sculpture. Chihuly glass is appears in hundreds of top museums worldwide, but the artist is perhaps best known for creating massive touring exhibitions combining thousands of pieces of glass, often with dramatic use of landscape and lighting.

Still don’t know who Dale Chihuly is? Remember that beautiful glass ceiling at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas? One of Chihuly’s largest and most popular sculptures, the Bellagio installation comprises 2,000 individual pieces of hand-blown glass. Marvel at that next time you pass through on the way to the blackjack table.

Chihuly glass exhibit at Biltmore House, Asheville, North Carolina
Chihuly glass exhibit at Biltmore House, Asheville, North Carolina
Chihuly glass exhibit at Biltmore House, Asheville, North Carolina

George Vanderbilt and America’s largest house

For those not familiar with Biltmore House, here’s a quick history lesson. George Vanderbilt II visited Asheville, North Carolina in 1888 and fell in love with its mountain location. He immediately began buying land and in 1889 started construction on his “country home,” set on 120,000 acres of land. That country home opened six years later as the 250-room Biltmore House.

Vanderbilt commissioned Frederick Olmsted to design the landscape at Biltmore House. Olmsted gained fame for his designs of New York City’s Central Park, the U.S. Capitol Grounds and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park before taking the Biltmore commission, his largest and final project. Olmsted’s original landscape and garden designs are preserved to this day.

You need this quick history to understand how truly unique the setting is for “Chihuly at Biltmore,” an exhibition running May – October 2018.

Chihuly glass exhibit outdoors at Biltmore House, Asheville, North Carolina
Chihuly glass exhibit outdoor Biltmore House, North Carolina
Chihuly glass exhibit outdoor Biltmore House, North Carolina

Chihuly glass melds with historic Biltmore House gardens

Our tour guide for the exhibit was Chase Pickering, great-great grandson of George Vanderbilt. Pickering grew up on the Biltmore House grounds and joins several family members working to preserve and protect the estate while sharing it with more than 1 million tourists annually. He was the perfect guide, sharing his love for the property with stories of the two years of work bringing the exhibit to life.

This is Biltmore’s first art exhibition ever in its historic gardens. One installation appears inside the house, but otherwise this is an outdoor exhibit where Chihuly glass somehow melds perfectly with historic sculpture, water gardens and acres of flowers and plants. Art lovers will marvel at the large-scale glass creations. Don’t consider yourself an art lover? You will be after seeing towering glass red reeds in the Shrub Garden, a floating boat of colorful glass spheres in the Italian Garden or one of Chihuly’s signature suns on the front lawn.

Dale Chihuly glass exhibit at Biltmore House in Asheville, NC
Dale Chihuly glass exhibit at Biltmore House in Asheville, NC

We seek out active travel destinations. Biltmore House and the surrounding Asheville area fit the requirement. You can get your miles in for the day simply walking this exhibit while enjoying the artistic vision of Dale Chihuly and Frederick Olmstead. Beyond that, Biltmore has miles of trails for walking, biking and horseback riding.

Daytime access to the Chihuly show is included with admission to Biltmore House. For a completely different experience, visit in the evening when Biltmore turns on the lights to illuminate the glassworks in the Great Smoky Mountains twilight. Chihuly Nights events are offered Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights through early October. A separate ticket is required.

If you hear of a Chihuly glass exhibit where you live or travel, we suggest you make time to attend.

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