Asheville''s Biltmore Estate creates Tiffany floral exhibit
→ Form 2011/7/4

ASHEVILLE — Emulating fine art from 100 years ago in a garden is a tall order, but the Biltmore Estate horticulture team pulls it off.

In honor of the estate's new “Tiffany at Biltmore” exhibition, the team created a coordinated floral theme in the walled garden south of Biltmore House.

The flowers' colors and planting arrangement reproduce elements of Tiffany lamp designs.

“We like to tie things together here,” said LeeAnn Donnelly, Biltmore's senior public relations manager.

Louis Comfort Tiffany (1848-1933), who created those signature lamps, had an eye for botany in his designs, said Leslie Klingner, the curator of interpretation at the estate.

Most of those design elements are re-creations of nature. Poppies, dragonflies, butterflies, dogwood blossoms and water lilies abound.

And, for once, the lamps also abound. “Often when you go to a Tiffany lamp exhibit, there are just a few lamps,” Klingner said. “We have 45.”

The lamp exhibit — “Tiffany Lamps: Articles of Utility, Objects of Art” — opens Friday in the Biltmore Legacy exhibition hall in Antler Hill Village on the estate, next to the winery. A few of the lamps on show are the single existing examples of their particular style.

The show also includes tools, materials and period photographs illustrating how Tiffany worked, and background information on Tiffany's influences from the Far East.

48,000 plants, 4 dragonflies

But the most Biltmore-specific elements of the estate's Tiffany project may be those outside the exhibit itself.

From the glass grapes in an arbor at the doorway to Biltmore House to the garden flowers' blue and fuschia hues, there are hints of Tiffany's work everywhere around the estate.

Each of the walled garden's four diamond-shaped areas recreates a large-scale Tiffany-style dragonfly spanning 40 feet. Each dragonfly uses 12,000 plants, said Travis Murray, the crew leader for the walled garden.

The lamp designs also appear in the form of small glass replicas placed in pots sprinkled throughout the walled garden and in Antler Hill Village, the re-created town square next to the winery.

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These “pot stickers,” as Murray calls them, pop out.

They were custom-made by Asheville stain-glassed artist John Orlich, imitating single elements in Tiffany lamps.

Murray took care to place the “pot stickers” in what he thought were pretty pots, but he also coordinated the color palette of the flowers to match the colors of a Tiffany lamp.

The peacock feather pot stickers, for example, blend with yellow and orange flowers and lots of green leaves, just as the Tiffany lamp designs blend in an impressionistic style, Murray said.

Doc Cudd, Biltmore's blacksmith, also created wrought-iron lamp posts with tops that resemble Tiffany lampshades, each planted with colorful flowers.

Inside the conservatory next to Biltmore House, the horticulture team also built a 24-foot “living wall” of flowering plants and greenery, resembling a stain-glassed window.  

Klingner also noted the preexisting connections between plants on the estate and Tiffany designs.

Wisteria, for example, is both a frequent Tiffany motif and abundant on the library terrace of Biltmore House.

Tiffany ties

While both the Tiffanys and the Vanderbilts were part of early 1900s New York City high society, the families are not known to have interacted.

The only signs of the Tiffany family within the house itself are the silver table lamps from Tiffany & Co. installed before Louis Comfort Tiffany took over the company in 1902 from his father, Charles Lewis Tiffany. They are not at all similar to the Tiffany lamps people recognize, Klingner said. There is also a vase that Louis Tiffany made, dating to 1895 in the house, he said.

The Biltmore Legacy exhibition hall also houses a permanent exhibit of three stain-glassed windows made for William Vanderbilt, George Vanderbilt's father, in 1879 by John La Farge, a contemporary of Louis Tiffany.

“They were both known for their innovative ways of making stain glassed,” Donnelly said. “That's where the tie lies.”

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