Around town: Biltmore celebrates completion of 15-year restoration project

KEEPING IT CLEAN: Objects conservator Renee Jolly cleans a bronze lamp that is featured in the Biltmore Estate's restored Oak Sitting Room. Photo courtesy of the Biltmore Estate

After 15 years, a team of curators, archivists, collections managers and conservators at the Biltmore Estate will celebrate opening of a large conservation project in the home’s Oak Sitting Room on Friday, May 28. Using letters, photographs and other found documents in the estate’s archival collection, the space — located between George and Edith Vanderbilt’s private bedrooms — will appear as it would have during the Vanderbilts’ time at the estate in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Lori Garst, Biltmore’s associate curator who has worked on the project since its inception, says among the many fascinating discoveries was a 1902 letter from guest Joseph Choate, who “wrote about visiting the Vanderbilts in their ‘private apartment’ and the abundance of Rembrandt etchings on display.”

Four years after Choate’s stay — and for reasons not entirely known — George Vanderbilt sold his Rembrandt collection to fellow collector J.P. Morgan. In conjunction with the room’s restoration, the Biltmore Estate has worked closely with the Morgan Library to reproduce a selection of the etchings, which will be on display inside the Oak Sitting Room.

“Some of the etchings are so small they are nearly the size of a postage stamps, yet the detail Rembrandt was able to achieve is breathtaking,” says Garst.

Along with the Rembrandt reproductions, the room will also feature a pair of silver gilt filigree candelabra, several bronze sculptures, a Boulle-style desk with intricate brass inlay and an ebony cabinet on stand made in Paris in the 17th century.

“We have always strived to present the historic interiors of Biltmore House the way they looked when the Vanderbilts lived [here],” Garst says. “The fabrics, furniture and decorative objects present the [Oak Sitting Room] as never before and allow us to tell the story of this space used as a private sitting area by Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt.”

For more on the restoration, visit

Outstanding Achievement Award

On Tuesday, May 18, the Western North Carolina Historical Association will present artist and historian Ann Miller Woodford with the 2020 Outstanding Achievement Award for her work in preserving and promoting the history of African Americans in WNC. Woodford is the author of the 2015 book When All God’s Children Get Together: A Celebration of the Lives and Music of the African American People in Far Western North Carolina.

The upcoming recognition, says Woodford, “is a welcome, yet unexpected reward for the many late nights I spent writing and my travels to cemeteries, churches and individual homes[.]”

In a larger sense, Woodford hopes her work conveys “to all people the rich history of my people whose lives would be forgotten if not recorded by someone who cares.” She also encourages today’s youths to interview and record their family stories “in order to leave a legacy for future generations.”

The virtual award presentation takes place on Zoom at 6:30 p.m. and will include a 20-minute film adapted from one of Woodford’s lectures about her book. To reserve a ticket, visit

‘This Divided Land’

Asheville Area Habitat for Humanity recently released a short documentary on the history of local and national discriminatory housing practices and how these actions continue to shape our community. This Divided Land features interviews with Buncombe County Commissioner Al Whitesides; DeWayne Barton, founder of Hood Huggers International; Sophie Dixon, president of the Shiloh Community Association; and several other local historians, experts and residents. To view the film, visit

Stand-up comedy at Rabbit Rabbit

After a very unfunny year, some humor might do us all good. Every Thursday, 6:30-9 p.m., Slice of Life Comedy & Disclaimer Lounge hosts Sunset Rooftop Standup Comedy at Rabbit Rabbit, 75 Coxe Ave. The weekly event features several regulars, including the event’s emcee, Cary Goff, and fellow comedian Petey Smith McDowell, along with a range of other local talents.

“Coming out to a show like this, hanging with your friends, listening to real people sharing their real stress or ridiculous stories from their past … helps us remember that it’s OK to be human,” says Michele Scheve, owner of Slice of Life Comedy and the event’s organizer. “You also remember how healthy it feels to laugh.”

Currently, seating is limited to two-person and four-person tables. Tickets are $12 per person. Masks are required. To learn more, visit

Intergenerational Theatre Workshop

Applications are now being accepted for N.C. Stage Company’s 2021 Intergenerational Theatre Workshop, available to LGBTQIA+ identifying individuals ages 17-23 and 60 and older. No theater experience is required.

“The purpose of the workshop is to provide a space where two generations are supported to discover new understanding, celebrate self-expression and engage in creative collaboration,” says Michelle Carello, associate artistic director at NC Stage.

This year’s online workshops run Tuesday, June 1-Saturday, June 5, 11 a.m-1 p.m. The deadline to apply is Thursday, May 20. The series is free to attend, but space is limited. To learn more, visit


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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