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Asheville Artist Reproduces Biltmore Sculpture

Estate History 06/21/22

Written By Jean Sexton

Asheville artist Alex Irvine has reproduced a Biltmore sculpture, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the wonderful results!

Biltmore sculpture removed for preservation

Known as Woman Reading with Dog, this charming depiction of a young woman reading a book with her canine companion at her knees was originally installed on the Library Terrace at Biltmore House.

Asheville artist reproduces Biltmore sculpture
Artist Alex Irvine worked from the original Biltmore sculpture in his Asheville-area studio to create two new versions for display at the estate.

Like many of the other sculptures found throughout Biltmore’s historic gardens, Woman Reading with Dog was French in origin. It was produced by Gossin Frères of Paris, a firm well known for their ornamental terra cotta fabrications.

After many years of exposure to the elements, Biltmore’s original sculpture had become unstable due to heavy deterioration, and was removed from the Library Terrace for preservation purposes.

Asheville artist commissioned to create new Biltmore sculpture

“We commissioned a replica from Asheville artist Alex Irvine after he worked with Biltmore’s conservation team on a project that involved recreating a missing arm and floral garland for a terra cotta sculpture located on the South Terrace of Biltmore House,” said Kara Warren, Preventive Conservation Specialist. “We’re fortunate to have the opportunity to work with such an exceptionally skilled ceramic artist who is located just miles from Biltmore Estate.”

To reproduce Woman Reading with Dog, Alex employed a multi-step process similar to the one used to create the original sculpture. He began his work by hand building the figure out of clay, scaling it 9% larger than the original to account for shrinkage during the drying and firing of the clay. The entire commission took more than two years to complete.

Original terra cotta sculpture (left); new copy (right) being hand-built around a metal armature that will help support the weight of the clay.
(L-R) The original sculpture and the new clay sculpture that will be used in the plaster mold of the final version. The arms are cast and fired separately.
The original sculpture was created by Gossin Frères of Paris. The re-creation is a perfect copy that includes the firm’s mark.
The mold for the new sculpture included 50 different sections, like this piece for one of the hands.
The sculpture’s arms were cast and fired separately from the rest of the figure and attached with steel pins the day after the sculpture was installed on the Library Terrace.
The newly re-created “Woman Reading with Dog” sculpture out of the kiln after being fired.
A close up of the sculpture reveals her serene expression and the beautiful detailing of her face and features.
Kara Warren, Preventive Conservation Specialist, discusses the sculpture with artist Alex Irvine in his studio. Credit: The Biltmore Company

The next step was the creation of a 50-part plaster mold of the replicated statue. The mold was assembled on the floor of the kiln in stages to allow access for handfuls of clay to be pressed into the mold to produce a hollow cast.

The legs inside the garment and internal structure were hand-built with slabs of clay. Once cast, the surface details were refined again in preparation for firing.

The clay statue was slowly dried over six months and then fired very slowly to 2100ºF in a one-of-a-kind electric kiln built for this commission.

Installation of the new sculpture

The reproduction of Woman Reading with Dog was installed on the Library Terrace, in the same location as the original.

The replica of “Woman Reading with Dog” was carefully crated in Alex Irvine’s studio for its trip to the Library Terrace at Biltmore House. Her arms were attached with steel pins after installation was complete.
Alex Irvine, Kara Warren, and Trip Hudgins, Engineering Operations Manager, assist with the sculpture’s installation on the Library Terrace.
Asheville artist Alex Irvine oversees the prepping of the original limestone plinth on which the sculpture will be installed.
Delicate details like the dog’s tail could easily break during installation, so the artist and members of our Museum Services team handle the project with great care.
The final step of the process was to attach the sculpture’s arms with steel pins once the main installation was complete.
From this angle, you can see some of the wonderful details of the sculpture’s hand and arm, draped fabric, and even the dog’s teeth!

See preservation in action at Biltmore

Biltmore sculpture on the Library Terrace
“Woman Reading with Dog” installed on the Library Terrace of Biltmore House

In addition to viewing Woman Reading with Dog on the Library Terrace of Biltmore House, you can also view a second reproduction of this sculpture that was made as part of the process. The sculpture will be displayed in a niche in the back courtyard of Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate®.



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Helen Smith
3 months ago

Excellent reproduction! Since I am not just a Biltmore fan but a dog lover, I can’t wait to see it in person.

Kitty Hoover
3 months ago

So many talented Asheville artists! He performs his passion remarkably! Do you know if he has a studio that locals may visit?

Sue Ann
3 months ago

It looks amazing. I cannot wait to see it. Thank you for all the great details.

Keith Mitchem
3 months ago

So what happens to the original?

Jessi C.
3 months ago

I noticed it on the terrace right away when we visited last week! Very nice. Thank you for the behind-the-scenes article.

Donna Zoltanski
3 months ago

Amazing artist. A must-see. Love Biltmore!

Gillian Barr
2 months ago

When was the original first removed from the Terrace ?

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