Chihuly at Biltmore Estate

Float Boat in the Italian Gardens


“Come with me, and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination.” - Willy Wonka If the famed eccentric confectioner of children’s fiction, Willy Wonka, had been a real-life master of glassworks, his name would be Dale Chihuly. Indeed, upon viewing the dazzling and massive glass installations, currently on exhibit at the historic Biltmore House and Gardens, one could easily call the whimsical sculptures he creates “pure and delicious eye candy”.

Glass is the most magical of all materials. It transmits light in a special way. – Dale Chihuly

After nearly two years of planning and installation, the collaborative efforts of the Biltmore Estate and renowned American artist Dale Chihuly have resulted in one ambitious glass exhibit, Chihuly at Biltmore. It is the first art exhibition at Biltmore’s gardens and the first garden exhibit of Chihuly in North Carolina. See how these works complement and contrast with the remarkable layout of the grounds designed well over a century ago by revered landscape architect, Frederick Law Olmsted, whose portrait by John Singer Sargent prominently hangs in “America’s Largest Home.”

This is a visual spectacle that must not be missed.

I want people to be overwhelmed with light and color in some way that they’ve never experienced.” – Dale Chihuly

After the initial “wow factor” of viewing the opulent 250-room mansion’s limestone façade, the impressive and immense, Sole d’Oro (Golden Sun), greets visitors at the head of the long front lawn. A shimmering, soft white-gold sunburst enrobed in a tangle of spiraling tendrils shooting out in every direction, this mesmerizing sculpture is a commanding presence. It is comprised of 1,300 hand-blown glass pieces and weighs over 5,000 pounds.

Chihuly at entranceAt the front entrance and terrace, Sky Blue and Cobalt Fiori (Flowers) welcome everyone in an array of blue-hued shoots, orbs, and spirals. As one enters the grand foyer, the Laguna Torcello (Torcello Lagoon; Torcello is a tiny island near Venice, Italy) entices viewers to the fountain of the Winter Garden, a glass-roofed solarium encircled with palm trees and other lush plants, which features the only Chihuly piece inside the house. The twisting glass shoots of amber, white, and gold remind one of sea anemones, spiraling upward from the water pulling the eye towards the marble and bronze centerpiece sculpture, Boy Stealing Geese. This piece was created solely for the exhibit at Biltmore and represents Chihuly’s love of water and Venice.

Outside, explore the grounds that lead to the elegant Italian Garden, featuring three symmetrical pools accented by sculptures and grassy panels. The Float Boat languidly sits in the first of the pools- a rustic, wooden dinghy packed to overflowing with large speckled and streaked glass orbs in rich, vibrant colors and various sizes. As if they tumbled out of the boat, even more of these marbles on steroids, called Niijima Floats (Niijima is a Japanese island), dot the serene water laden with Victorian lily pads and Japanese koi swimming about.

The back pool features the Fiori Boat, filled with an array of colorful curvilinear vines, straight-edged reeds, and luscious bulbs. Sharing the watery space are the Neodymium Reeds (in stunning purple) surrounded by Fiori Verdi (Green Flowers), marking another interesting visual contrast of slender, up-shooting pieces juxtaposed with the glittering, twisting cornucopia-horned shapes and translucent arching stems with diving buds.

Truly, the Italian Garden alone is a mesmerizing feast for the eyes. Spend some time here, drinking it all in.

Sculptures in the gardenLeisurely strolling through the shady Pergola, an archway with lichen-covered walls and winding wisteria vines, one will see displayed four marble busts. Each represents a season of the year and is flanked by glass installations in organic shapes and cool-colored hues, called the Pergola Fiori. Below the Fall sculpture, however, was an arrangement that really stood out from the others. It was a group in warm colors (bright red, orange, and yellow) of vertical, rounded shoots that looked like a cadre of hooded cobras standing guard. Just a first impression; open to many interpretations.

The Walled Garden, a marvelous collection of plants, flowers (the roses and hibiscus were especially lovely), and fountains, features eye-catching tall and twisty glass structures, like the Electric Yellow and Deep Coral Tower, while Cattails and Copper Birch Reeds are scattered throughout the plant beds to enhance the surroundings.

Chihuly at BiltmoreAt the edge of the Walled Garden, is the Conservatory, a huge greenhouse with arched windows that holds a variety of exotic plants and flowers. Hanging from the ceiling’s riveted metal beams are three Burnished Amber, Citron and Teal Chandeliers shimmering in the sunlight from the glass roof above- the only other interior pieces in the exhibit, though it feels like one is outside exploring the wonders of a rainforest.

These are just a few of the many highlights of this awesome installation, Chihuly at Biltmore. The monumental exhibit is a testament to how three-dimensional visual art can complement the existing environmental landscape and brings together the creative brilliance of two gifted artists from different eras.

All it took was imagination.

“We are the music-makers, and we are the dreamers of dreams.” -Willy Wonka (from the opening line of British poet Arthur O’Shaughnessy’s “Ode” from Music and Moonlight)

Chihuly at Biltmore runs until October 7, 2018. The exhibit can be viewed during the daytime or see the dramatic change when it is illuminated at night. For ticket information, visit follow this LINK.

For more information about Dale Chihuly, his life and work, visit:

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