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Chihuly at Biltmore

By Susan Shinn Turner for The Salisbury Post

ASHEVILLE — “Glass is the most magical of all materials. It transmits light in a special way.”

The quote by artist Dale Chihuly speaks to the very heart of the newest exhibit at Biltmore House.

“Chihuly at Biltmore” marks the first time that art has been displayed in the estate’s extensive gardens, and the first garden exhibit of the Seattle-based artist’s works in North Carolina. The exhibit runs through Oct. 7, and features both daytime and nighttime tours.

Once you’ve seen artwork by Dale Chihuly, you never forget it. If you’ve ever visited the Mint Museum Uptown in Charlotte, you’ll recall the striking Royal Blue Mint Chandelier that the museum purchased in 1998.

For the Biltmore exhibit, Chihuly’s art is not just one piece of glass, but hundreds of pieces of blown glass — maybe more — that form one piece of art. He continues to work in his Seattle studio with a team of 100 employees, the reason he can be so prolific in his output. Along with the Biltmore exhibit, there are special exhibitions taking place in France and the Czech Republic, with another planned in the Netherlands beginning in December. There are also permanent exhibits across the country, including Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle.

The gardens at Biltmore make the perfect backdrop for Chihuly’s style — it’s organic and flowing and gorgeous and seems to come from nature itself. You might see flowers. You might see leaves. You might see graceful curves … or wait, are those snakes or eels? What you discover within the art is limited only by your imagination.

The Italian Garden, to the lower left of the massive home, features classical statuary and three formal water gardens. For this exhibit, the Chihuly team installed five separate pieces of art. There are 16 throughout the estate. Two are at the house, four are in the Conservatory, and one is in the Shrub Garden. There’s a set beneath the Pergola, with two at Antler Hill Village.

The Italian Garden was designed for quiet moments of reflection for the Vanderbilt family, and it’s a perfect spot to contemplate the gorgeous Chihuly art here.

“Float Boat” is juxtaposed with “Niijima Floats.” The blown glass orbs are reminiscent of a child’s marble collection.

Two installations in the Italian Garden, “Float Boat” and “Niijima Floats,” recall a child’s marble set.

The cream-colored “Palazzo Ducale Tower” turns fiery as it catches late-afternoon light.

“Neodymium Reeds with Fiori Verdi” pairs tall, purple reeds and flower-like creations in myriad shades of green which shine with iridescence. A dragonfly even lands on one curvy stem, perhaps thinking it’s the real thing.

“Neodymium Reeds with Fiori Verdi” incorporates contrasting shades of purples and iridescent greens.

The already fascinating live water plants are further enhanced by this enchanting art.

Another boat, “Fiori Boat,” is filled with glass pieces, this time with endless swoops and curves instead of spheres.

“Fiori Boat” is resplendent with colorful swoops and graceful shapes in bright reds, blues, oranges, and yellows.

The magic continues in the Conservatory. With summer plantings that complement the art, it’s easy to understand why this exhibit was two years in the making.

“Paintbrush Tower” and “Electric Yellow and Deep Coral Tower” are surrounded by plantings in red, yellow and orange. It’s a dazzling display. In front of the Conservatory itself is an installation called “Cattails and Copper Birch Reeds,” its rich reds a good contrast to the green grass and blue sky. Inside the entrance, a chandelier called “Burnished Amber, Citron, and Teal Chandeliers” hangs just below the glass ceiling.

A set of glass works called “Pergola Garden Fiori,” completed just this year, is situated along the Pergola, in a variety of colors and whimsical styles. (The word “fiori” translates from Italian to “floral.”)

The grouping of artwork under the pergola, “Pergola Garden Fiori,” takes on a whole new look as dusk falls.

But perhaps the most striking piece — and one of the largest — sits on the front lawn. Called “Sole d’Oro,” it glows like a golden sun as dusk begins to fall.

In Antler Village, an installation called “Alabaster and Amber Spire Towers” is spiky, fiery gold against the dark night sky.

It’s hard to say whether a daytime visit or a nighttime visit is the better time to explore Chihuly at Biltmore. Another stroke of genius from the estate’s marketing team, to be sure.

For more information about “Chihuly at Biltmore,” visit Biltmore.com or call 800-411-3812.

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