Why Glass Means a Lot More Than Pints in Asheville

Asheville, North Carolina, kicks off its 2018 Summer of Glass to celebrate a first-ever Chihuly exhibit at Biltmore Estate and the city’s role in America’s Studio Glass Movement.

The art of glass blowing is on fire in Asheville.

Photo by: Rob Travis

Rob Travis

The art of glass blowing is on fire in Asheville.

Asheville’s beer scene may have earned the small Southern city ample attention in recent years, but its deep roots in studio arts have been the main draw for decades. This summer, Asheville celebrates and shares its great love of glass with a special exhibition at the Biltmore Estate and plenty of glass blowing — and taps flowing — all around town.

Chihuly at Biltmore

"Red Reeds" by Dale Chihuly adorns a hillside at Biltmore gardens during the 2018 exhibition.

Photo by: Parks Anderson

Parks Anderson

"Red Reeds" by Dale Chihuly adorns a hillside at Biltmore gardens during the 2018 exhibition.

Perhaps more than any other artist, Dale Chihuly has put glass on the map. His iconic glass sculptures can be seen in permanent exhibitions around the world, but roving outdoor installations like the one open at Biltmore May 17 through October 7, 2018, are truly magical. Bringing Chihuly’s work to this area is, in a way, bringing it full circle. While Chihuly is largely credited with advancing the Studio Glass Movement in America, its roots lie with Harvey Littleton, who, after retiring from the University of Wisconsin, moved his studio to North Carolina where he taught glass and served on the board of directors at Asheville area’s Penland School of Crafts. Across the country, Chihuly, who was a student of Littleton's at Wisconsin, started his own studio in the Seattle area, but he visited and worked with his mentor in North Carolina a few times before Littleton's death in 2013.

At the entrance to Biltmore House, Chihuly's "The Sun" begins to glow as dusk falls.

Photo by: Scott Mitchell Leen

Scott Mitchell Leen

At the entrance to Biltmore House, Chihuly's "The Sun" begins to glow as dusk falls.

This is the first fine art exhibit in the Biltmore gardens and the first time the gardens have been open at night, a treat typically reserved for the holidays and indoor spaces. Night tours are available by reservation only on specific evenings, and they include a sunset over the Blue Ridge Mountains and sips from an alfresco wine bar, making the advance planning well worth it. While you can certainly grab a local brew at one of several restaurants on the Biltmore Estate, the best spot to imbibe is the historic winery. A complimentary wine tasting is part of your admission to Biltmore, so find what you like best among the reds, whites and rosés, and proceed from there.

Downtown at Lexington Glassworks

At Lexington Glassworks in downtown Asheville, visitors can experience a working glass studio while sipping on local brews.

Photo by: Olive and West

Olive and West

At Lexington Glassworks in downtown Asheville, visitors can experience a working glass studio while sipping on local brews.

In the heart of downtown Asheville, this 5,000-square-foot working studio plus gallery and taproom serves as a hub for the handmade glass scene today. Watch artists work through the glassblowing process from start to finish while you work through a rotating selection of local craft beers on tap. Be sure to stop in the Lexington Glassworks shop to peruse glass art made onsite, including vases, wine glasses, decanters, and more, before you head out to some of Asheville’s top breweries just around the corner, including famed Wicked Weed.

River Arts District

Artist Robert Gardner works glass in a River Arts District studio.

Photo by: Emily Chaplin

Emily Chaplin

Artist Robert Gardner works glass in a River Arts District studio.

Consisting of 20+ renovated industrial buildings along a mile stretch of the French Broad River, Asheville’s premier arts district showcases local glass, pottery, metal, painting and other art studios with a welcoming open-door policy. Anytime you visit, you’ll find open studios where you can see artists at work and shop their wares. (To see if specific studios will be open during your visit, call ahead.) Glass art enthusiasts should first stop in North Carolina Glass Center, a non-profit, public-access space with ongoing classes and glass-blowing demonstrations. Then explore the studios of several glass artists crafting everything from delicate jewelry to large cast sculpture. When you’ve had your fill of glass and need to fill up on beer instead, just down the way you’ll find local Wedge Brewing Co., and across the river, you can tour New Belgium Brewing Company’s newest brewing location, where, yes, you will get samples.

For more details, deals and a full list of happenings, visit Asheville's Summer of Glass website.

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