Thursday, June 24, 2004

Williamsburg wheelwrights keep carriages safely "shod".

"Made of wood and bound with iron, the wheels of the carriages, wagons, and riding chairs that navigated rugged colonial roads had to be strong and tight.

Producing wheels requires strength, ingenuity, and the talents of both a carpenter and a blacksmith. Precise measuring skills are mandatory.

Like their Williamsburg predecessors, the wheelwrights who practice the trade at the Governor's Palace today start with a hub fashioned on a lathe from properly aged wood such as elm. A tapered reamer opens the center to receive a metal bearing; The wheelwright uses a chisel to create rectangular spoke holes around the circumference of the wheel. Carved from woods like ash, the spokes radiate to meet a rim of mortised wooden arches, called "fellies," that join to form a perfect circle." - Colonial Williamburg website

Porcelain items a luxury in Colonial Williamsburg

Ceramics in Colonial Williamsburg
Ceramics in Colonial Williamsburg, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
"Hard paste" porcelain was not invented until 1708 by an alchemist in Meissen, Germany. Therefore, European-crafted porcelain items (as opposed to imported Chinese porcelain) were affordable only by the well-to-do in Colonial Williamburg.

See: The History of Teapots

Early British-made furniture gave way to American furniture by the mid-18th century

"Cabinetmakers in colonial Virginia produced fine furniture, but neither England nor the colonies could support full-time furniture producers until the last half of the 17th century. Only then did an adequate number of people have the leisure to enjoy the material trappings that reflected their new status. By the mid-18th century, only one-third of stylish Virginia furniture appears to have come from England. This percentage diminished as patriotic Virginians increasingly honored attempts to boycott English goods as the Revolution neared."

- Official Colonial Williamsburg website

A feast fit for a governor

A Governor's Feast
A Governor's Feast, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
The governor's cook busied herself preparing such tasty colonial dishes as Carolina fish muddle and apple tansy. I ordered "authentic" Jeffersonian fish cakes for lunch at one of the taverns. The menu said they were prepared from a recipe enjoyed by Thomas Jefferson.

Marble elements connect the Old World with the New in Williamburg's Governor's Palace

Although this marble mantle in the dining room of the Governor's Palace was probably shipped to the colony from Europe, one of the largest deposits of crystalline white marble was discovered in 1835 in Georgia.

Friday, June 18, 2004

Guest Accomodations at the Governor's Mansion

Although common folk slept on mattresses stuffed with rags or corn husks, the governor's guests at Williamsburg were provided with quite comfortable accomodations. The folks at Better Homes and Gardens tell us "bed canopies first appeared in the 13th century. In those days before central heating, bed curtains were used to ward off the cold. Bedrooms of the Middle Ages often doubled as spaces for receiving guests, so the bed became an important status statement. A bed with a full canopy signaled that guests were in the presence of someone very important.

Williamsburg Governor's Mansion

Williamsburg Governors mansion
Williamsburg Governors mansion, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
Like many visitors, we began our exploration of Colonial Williamsburg at the Governor's Mansion. I was fascinated by the carved leather wall coverings and the collection of weapons in the entry way.

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Biltmore freight wagon

Biltmore freight wagon
Biltmore freight wagon, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
The maintenance of "acres of gardens, parklands, and managed forests" of the Biltmore Estate required hauling tons of supplies in wagons like this.

Appalachian craftsmen demonstrate their skills at Biltmore

Biltmore broom binder
Biltmore broom binder, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
In the historical barn a number of Appalachian craftsmen were demonstrating their skills including this broom binder.

Biltmore's Handcrafted Hardware resembles works of art

Biltmore handcrafted hardware
Biltmore handcrafted hardware, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
I found the style and detail of these hardware pieces produced by Biltmore's blacksmith to rank among works of art.

Biltmore blacksmith keeps equipment in top condition

Biltmore Blacksmith
Biltmore Blacksmith, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
The Vanderbilts maintained an extensive staff on the estate including a blacksmith to keep the farm equipment and structures in good repair. In the mansion, the laundery requirements of the family and staff necessitated a long row of large laundry tubs and washboards in a basement chamber.

Biltmore's working heritage displayed in it's historic barn

Biltmore antique tractor
Biltmore antique tractor, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
The Biltmore Estate was a working farm. A large staff included field workers as well as blacksmiths and other craftsmen. Crops were raised to feed the estate's livestock and the Vanderbilt family when they visited the property.

Biltmore Historical Barn

Biltmore historical barn
Biltmore historical barn, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
The historical barn with its copper roof had just been restored when we visited the Biltmore Estate. Here we found demonstrations of Appalachian craftsmen and were treated to an ongoing performance of bluegrass music. Here, fourth and fifth graders participate in Barn Tales, a program designed to teach children about historic equipment, farm animals, and encourage an appreciation for early 20th century farming

Biltmore's multilevel construction

Bilmore mansion stairs to plaza
Bilmore mansion stairs to plaza, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
The Biltmore mansion is composed of 250 rooms on four levels including the basement. Fortunately the tour provides enough break between stair climbing to recover if you find stairs tiring. There are also elevators for visitors that cannot physically use stairs. The multilevel construction continues in the landscaping of the estate with stairs of various lengths providing access to the gardens, conservatory, and outdoor plaza.

Biltmore's Pan

Biltmore Pan
Biltmore Pan, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
Pan seems quite at home at the Biltmore Estate with the Vanderbilt family's emphasis on music. Family guests were frequently entertained by live orchestras and today's visitors were treated to musical performances ranging from Bach to bluegrass.

Bilmore's Eros

Biltmore Eros closeup
Biltmore Eros closeup, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
With my passionate interest in classical history and art, I particularly found the sculptures around the outdoor plaza interesting. Here, little Eros plays with a shell at the feet of his mother Aphrodite.

Biltmore "butterflies" educate children about entymology at the Biltmore Estate

Biltmore butterflies
Biltmore butterflies, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
I found these beautiful "butterflies" flitting among the flowers in the plant conservatory. They were part of the Seeds, Buds, and Crawly Things program presented to fourth and fifth graders to develop an understanding of plant life cycles, beneficial insects, and composting presented the day of our visit.

Biltmore conservatory houses lillies for Easter morning

Biltmore Lillies
Biltmore Lillies, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
We arrived at the Biltmore Estate on Easter morning so I thought it was only appropriate to find lillies in their plant conservatory. We indulged in a wonderful Easter brunch at the Deerpark Restaurant on the grounds of the estate later in the day.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Biltmore fascade reflects a European influence

The Biltmore Estate entrance
The Biltmore Estate entrance, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
Although the exterior of the Biltmore Estate resembles a French chateau, the interior is furnished with massive pieces adorned with decor from the medieval period. I was also surprised to see few formal paintings except of family members. Much of the wall space was filled with black and white lithographs. The library was the exception where the frescoed ceiling was imported from Venice.

Classical Antiquity Not Overlooked at Biltmore Estate

Biltmore Garden Nymphs
Biltmore Garden Nymphs, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
George Vanderbilt's fascination with the Middle Ages did not totally overshadow the decor at Biltmore. Classical sculptures like this one of Aphrodite and Eros grace the border of an outdoor plaza where entertainments were held in the summer months.

Dreams of Medieval Splendor Influenced the Vanderbilts

Biltmore Main Entrance Closeup
Biltmore Main Entrance Closeup, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
George Vanderbilt, a medieval history enthusiast, decorated the Biltmore Estate with medieval symbols of power and royalty. The dining room was designed like a medieval banquet hall with massive furniture and walls draped with huge medieval tapestries. Unfortunately, photos are not allowed inside the mansion.

Tulips a Spring Treat At the Biltmore Estate

The gardens at the Biltmore Estate are planted to provide splashes of color to the grounds throughout the Spring and Summer. At our visit in mid-April, Tulips were the predominate flower.

The Victorian era comes alive at the Biltmore Estate

Biltmore Lady and Ladybug
Biltmore Lady and Ladybug, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
A lady costumed in late 19th century fashion strolls the grounds at the Biltmore Estate to lend an atmosphere of time travel to the experience. The Biltmore also hosts educational programs throughout the year. This "lady bug" is a participant in a presentation on insects planned for the day of our visit.

Chamber Music Charms Vistors to the Biltmore Estate

Biltmore Chamber Musician
Biltmore Chamber Musician, originally uploaded by mharrsch.
The Biltmore Estate is not only a feast for the eyes but for the ears as well. We enjoyed Mozart in the library and chamber music in the conservatory. Summer guests can purchase tickets to a variety of evening concerts featuring such artists as Clint Black, Bruce Hornsby, and Al Jarreau.