A&E Columns

This must be the place: ‘The idea is not to live forever, it is to create something that will’

The Chihuly exhibit will run at the Biltmore Estate through Jan. 5.  Garret K. Woodward photo The Chihuly exhibit will run at the Biltmore Estate through Jan. 5. Garret K. Woodward photo

Hello from the Antler Village at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville. It’s 11:34 a.m. The wine bar around the corner will open in roughly 16 minutes. I’ve been at this vast property since 8:30 a.m. when I was pulling up to attend the grand opening of the Chihuly art exhibit. 

Dale Chihuly is an 82-year-old art icon in mixed media, but mainly in the world of hand-blown glass. It’s absolutely stunning to behold his work, these intricate, elaborate pieces of fragile glass held high, weighing hundreds of pounds, offering up innumerable mysteries and questions posed from the infinite universe of the creative act.

 Though Chihuly studios are based in Seattle, Washington, he’s become fond of the Biltmore, with this latest exhibit being the second one at the estate. The first was back in 2018, which overtook parts of the garden next to the main house. The new one is located in the Amherst at Deerpark center.

 Regardless, as part of the media group getting first access to the exhibit, it meant I had to get up at 7 a.m. and motor over to Asheville. Though I’m a workaholic by nature, I’m not really a person who gets up at that hour unless I’m camping, at a music festival or trying to catch a flight to destinations unknown. 

The Monday morning sunshine had barely broken across the peaks and valleys of Haywood County when my smart phone alarm jolted me out of a sound sleep. I slowly emerged from bed and looked out the window. It appeared cold outside, a sentiment further confirmed when I opened the front door and the 32-degree air hit me in the face like a frying pan. 

Welp, better dress warmly. Toss on a few layers of winter running clothes. My girlfriend, Sarah, did the same. Grab some coffee and hit the road. Hop in the truck. Merge into the organized chaos conjured by the 9-to-5 morning commuters. Headlights and taillights to jobs either beloved or despised. Red lights and brake lights. Anxious faces trying to get somewhere, anywhere on time. Hurry, hurry the vehicles zoom by like something out of a Richard Scarry children’s book.

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Soon, the hustle and bustle of Biltmore Village. More traffic. More busy faces from this real life Busytown. Turn into the entrance of the Biltmore Estate and leave the world behind, if but for a few hours. Drive under the massive arch of the gate house. Residential sprawl and the unrelenting metropolitan cacophony of Asheville transitioning into rolling farmland.

 Livestock dotting the tree lines and ridges. Sheep. Goats. Horses. Wild turkeys. Herding dogs. Countless Canadian geese in the midst of spring migration. Bales of hay and old barns. Winding roads and big ole beautiful trees hanging overhead. A stiff early spring breeze to greet you and yours.

 Park at Amherst at Deerpark. Rush to the front door and be welcomed by the kind Biltmore staff. A short presentation by the Biltmore events coordinator and a representative from the Chihuly studios. Onward with the show. Open the doors into this glass wonderland of artistic inspiration and an introspective vibration of what it means to walk this earth, lost in joyous thought.

 The essence of Chihuly is this sense of childlike wonder that he — and all great artists — tend to never lose, which speaks to the depth and awe factor of the pieces. Each one is colorful and thoughtful, intriguing and incredibly moving to witness in-person. No pun intended, but it blows the mind to try and capture and explain to others just what you will see, feel and walk away with.

For many of us who, perhaps, lost touch with that sense of childlike wonder, it is art — whether music, writing, painting, sculpture, glass, etc. — we tap into, to once again hold, cherish, immerse and reconnect with our best selves from maybe long ago — too long ago, actually — who sought exploration and welcomed discovery with ease and enthusiasm.

 When was the last time you walked into an art gallery or museum, cracked a book open, took a pottery class, attended a theatre production or simply gazed up and admired that tree in your front yard? Do it. Do it now. And do so with gusto and gratitude for merely being able to do so — in real time on this planet, with air in your lungs and a song in your heart.

Leaving the Chihuly exhibit, there was already a long, winding line out the door of eager faces awaiting their chance to see what I just saw. The general public could now enter and bear witness to these magnificent creations. In passing, I turned to an older lady in line and said, “It was incredible — totally worth it.” She smiled like a kid excited for Christmas morning and replied, “Oh, good.” 

 Heading to Antler Village, I had some time to kill before the wine bar was open for business. With visions of a nice glass of chardonnay and a charcuterie board in mind, I laced up my running shoes and decided to go for a jog down the dirt and gravel farm trail along the ancient French Broad River.

 I was alone and left in glorious silence only found in the depths of a solo run. I focused on my breathing and eventually found the ideal rhythm of motion. Not as fast as I used to be in college, but I’m still truckin’ and that’s all that matters in the grand scheme of things. 

 There were wild turkeys in the field in the distance. More Canadian geese. A lone rabbit with its cotton ball tail. Too many squirrels to count. The soothing sounds of the waters of the nearby French Broad. There I was now, in the art exhibit that is Mother Nature and its bountiful grandeur of animals, plants and old-school joggers.

 Life is beautiful, grasp for it, y’all.

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