Forty Years in Field and Forest at Biltmore

Bill Alexander may have retired from his day-to-day role as Biltmore’s Landscape and Forest Historian in 2018, but he assures us he’s never more than a phone call away and he continues to work on projects that will keep him returning to his favorite Blue Ridge “backyard.”

Bill Alexander examines leaves at BiltmoreBill Alexander amidst the landscape Frederick Law Olmsted designed for Biltmore

Early experience

His love of Biltmore began in childhood, growing up close to the estate’s main entrance. Some of his earliest memories are of seeing deer in the surrounding woods and visiting Biltmore’s calf barns.

“As a child, I didn’t know that Frederick Law Olmsted designed the landscape, but it had me from the start,” Bill said. “I loved the wilder areas. It’s where I developed my interest in trees and flowers.”

Bill Alexander unrolls a copy of Frederick Law Olmsted's mapBill keeps a copy of an original Olmsted map with him on the estate for reference

Beginning a career

In 1978, Bill met Biltmore’s general manager, who encouraged him to consider the estate as a career option. After completing his forestry and wildlife management degree, Bill became one of two education horticulturists for Biltmore. He rose to become the Conservatory and Walled Garden manager. Later, he also oversaw landscape and forest management, and eventually became the estate’s landscape curator and historian.

Bill Alexander indicates a possible house site at BiltmoreThe possible location of an original house site near the Bass Pond

The importance of Olmsted

Bill also developed a deeper appreciation for Olmsted, which led to research trips to study the landscape architect’s work and papers at other locations—and a lot of sifting through archival materials stored at Biltmore.

Bass Pond dam and spillway at BiltmoreOlmsted’s design for the Bass Pond dam and spillway are still functional today

“The more I researched Olmsted the more I realized how important Biltmore was in his life. We needed his notes and plans to help others understand how to stay true to his designs for Biltmore, so I helped develop guidelines that we use today,” said Bill.

Next projects

Although he’s enjoying spending more time with his family—which now includes eight grandchildren—Bill is still working on several book ideas related to Biltmore’s history.

“After completing a book on the story of George Vanderbilt’s Pisgah Forest as the ‘cradle of forestry’ in this country,” said Bill, “I’m focusing on another project regarding documented accounts of the early settlers, farmers, and landowners prior to Vanderbilt’s purchase of the acreage that would become part of his private estate.”

Through his research, Bill has learned that much of the land encompassed by Biltmore is strongly connected to the early history of Western North Carolina, including an ancient Native American trade route that came through what it is now Biltmore’s Lodge Gate on its way to Tennessee and Ohio. In addition, a village existed 1500–1800 years ago adjacent to that long-ago highway.

Bill Alexander with Biltmore's Bass Pond bridge behind himTwo Biltmore icons: Bill Alexander and the Bass Pond bridge

“God willing and granted that my health holds,” Bill said, “I will continue to document and write about the fascinating history of this region. I don’t think there’s another historian who’s had this unique opportunity and experience I have had.”

Featured blog image: Bill Alexander on the wooden bridge over the Bass Pond dam at Biltmore

Savor the Art and Science of Winemaking

“The art and science of winemaking—for nearly 20 years, that’s how Bernard Delille and I described ourselves and what we accomplished as a team,” said Sharon Fenchak, winemaker and vice president of wine production for Biltmore.

A shared philosophy

“Our backgrounds were very different, with Bernard having begun his winemaking career in France,” said Sharon, “while my passion for the craft began while I was in the U.S. Army, stationed in Vicenza, Italy.

Despite their differences, the two shared a philosophy of creating high-quality wines that are true to varietal character while still being food-friendly and approachable.

Biltmore winemakers Sharon Fenchak and Bernard Delille enjoy a glass of wine in the vineyard

Sharon Fenchak and Bernard Delille enjoy a glass of wine in Biltmore’s vineyard

Raising a glass to retirement

When Bernard announced he planned to retire in July 2018, all the members of the wine production team wanted to handcraft a special wine that would commemorate their years of working together.

“We knew it had to be outstanding,” Sharon said. “It needed to speak to all that we’ve accomplished as a team, and to reflect the distinctive direction in which we’ve developed Biltmore wines.”

Clusters of white grapes ripening in Biltmore's vineyard

Clusters of grapes ripen in the vineyard

Art and science in Biltmore’s vineyard

For the wine itself, Sharon and the wine production team looked no further than the natural outgrowth of “art and science” in Biltmore’s vineyard.

When she joined Biltmore’s wine production team in 1999, one of Sharon’s first projects involved a clonal selection initiative in the estate’s vineyards. “Clone” refers to a cutting or bud from an original varietal.

“The vineyard team was working with Dijon Chardonnay clones,” said Sharon, “and we were looking for those best suited to the conditions of the estate vineyard. From a winemaking and viticulture standpoint, clones 76, 95, and 96 showed great promise, producing smaller, looser clusters of grapes with more intense flavors and aromatics.”

The 2017 harvest of these distinctive clones would result in the first release featuring them exclusively, and Sharon knew these grapes were the perfect ones for a signature Chardonnay in honor of Bernard’s dynamic career and their long partnership.

Winemakers' Signature Release North Carolina Chardonnay 2017 label

The commemorative Chardonnay label featuring Bernard’s handwriting font at the bottom

Labeling a work of art

“For the label, we wanted something that illustrated the idea of art and science,” Sharon said. “The marketing team created a number of different concepts, from traditional monograms to some very fun graphics that had grape vines turning into the scientific formula for malolactic fermentation!”

X marks the spot

According to Lisa Vogel, art director, the design finally came together with an X-shaped cross of the two winemakers’ names and a traditional wax seal featuring their initials in the middle.

“Everyone admired Bernard’s beautiful penmanship,” said Lisa, “so we created a special font entitled Delille from his actual handwriting to further personalize the collaboration represented by the label and the wine inside the bottle.”

“It’s a remarkable Chardonnay with a compelling label,” said Sharon. “I hope that everyone who tries it truly savors the art and science of winemaking it represents—including the expertise of our vineyard team who nurtured and harvested the grapes and the care with which the wine production team handcrafts all our Biltmore wines.”

Savor our wines by the bottle or glass

Although there is very limited availability for our Winemakers’ Signature Release North Carolina Chardonnay 2017, you can purchase other Biltmore wines at the estate or online. Visit today for a complimentary tasting of more than 20 of our fine wines at the Winery in Antler Hill Village.

Featured blog image: Sharon Fenchak and Bernard Delille in Biltmore’s Vineyard.

Discover Biltmore’s Distinctive Shrub Garden

Summer at Biltmore is a glorious season–and the perfect time to discover Biltmore’s distinctive Shrub Garden.

Discover Biltmore’s distinctive Shrub Garden

Landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted designed many of the areas closest to Biltmore House as a series of outdoor rooms that beckoned guests to step outside and enjoy their surroundings.

Discover Biltmore's distinctive Shrub Garden
A family enjoys an outdoor picnic in the Shrub Garden

Biltmore’s Shrub Garden, located between the Italian Garden and the Walled Garden, invites guests to lose themselves among the winding paths and lush plantings.

Stone steps in Biltmore's Shrub Garden
Stone steps beckon you to discover new delights in the Shrub Garden

Caring for this distinctive space

For Brooke Doty, a member of the estate’s landscaping team since 2017, Biltmore’s Shrub Garden offers a subtle beauty in striking contrast with other portions of Olmsted’s design.

“It’s not as obvious as the Walled Garden with all its bright, blooming flowers, but the Shrub Garden is a place of deep shade and clean structure. The shapes of the mature trees and the open, airy feel of the pathways make it the perfect place for wandering,” said Brooke.

Jack-in-the-pulpit plant in Biltmore's Shrub Garden
Uncovering a native jack-in-the-pulpit plant

In caring for Biltmore’s Shrub Garden during the past several years, Brooke has come to appreciate more than just the overall plan of the area.

“I constantly see things I never saw before,” Brooke said. “Things that you don’t notice immediately. There are plantings that are tucked back away from the paths, and specimens that you won’t find in most gardens.”

Notable specimens

Discover Biltmore's distinctive Shrub Garden
Brooke examines the decorative fruits of the Japanese Snowbell tree

Styrax japonicus or Japanese Snowbell is one such horticultural gem; the tree is known for producing cascades of flowers in the spring, interesting fruits in summer, modest fall color, and shapely limbs for winter interest.

The Shrub Garden is also the home of two state champion trees. One is the golden rain tree (Koelreutaria paniculata) with clusters of small yellow seed pods that hang from its nearly weeping branches in early summer.

Discover Biltmore's distinctive Shrub Garden
State champion river birch with cables to support its branches

The other is a massive river birch (Betula nigra) with distinctive, cinnamon-colored curling bark. In addition to its champion status, the river birch is one of the original plantings in the garden.

“From champion trees to the ‘bones’ of Olmsted’s design, Biltmore’s Shrub Garden offers something interesting for every season,” said Brooke. “I’m always encouraging guests to spend more time here exploring the paths, enjoying the quiet beauty, and discovering the little surprises that await you around each turn.”

Colorful summer blooms against the brick tunnel bridge in the Shrub Garden
Colorful summer blooms against the brick tunnel bridge in the Shrub Garden

Plan your summer visit today

Kids in Biltmore's Azalea Garden
Guests of all ages love discovering Biltmore’s “outdoor rooms” like the Azalea Garden

In addition to exploring our glorious historic gardens during peak season, enjoy all that Biltmore offers this summer, including Biltmore Gardens Railway, on display in Antler Hill Village July 1–September 7.

Featured blog image: Brooke Doty at work in the Shrub Garden

Restoring Our Roots, One American Chestnut Tree at a Time

When George Vanderbilt first visited Asheville, North Carolina, in 1888 and began envisioning his private estate, the wooded slopes of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountains included vast numbers of American chestnut trees.

The edible nut of the chestnut tree in its spiny burr covering

Seeds from one of Biltmore’s hybrid chestnuts encased in a spiny, protective “burr”

History of the American chestnut tree

Known as an all-purpose tree, American chestnuts grew quickly to great size. The wood was strong and resistant to rotting, making it a prized material for foundations, fencing, and railroad ties while the edible nut was an important source of food for cattle, hogs, and wildlife.

Around the turn of the 20th century, a blight (Cryphonectria parasitica) struck the American chestnut tree, effectively destroying the species as a source of food and lumber. The blight doesn’t kill the tree’s underground root system, but once an American chestnut sprouts from an existing stump, it succumbs to blight before it matures into a tree.

​​Scaly, thickened bark on this branch shows evidence of chestnut blight

Restoring our roots

In 1997, Biltmore partnered with the American Chestnut Foundation (AFC) to provide a test site for hybrid chestnuts as part of the AFC’s work to restore this heritage tree. The AFC collected pollen and seeds from the estate and crossed the genetic material with blight-resistant Chinese chestnut trees. The seedlings were planted on a sunny slope near Deerpark Restaurant.

“In a way, we’re restoring our roots,” said Jason Mull, Landscaping Supervisor for many of the outlying historic areas of the estate, including the Approach Road and the chestnut plantings. “This project has a natural tie to the importance Vanderbilt and Olmsted placed on landscaping and managed forestry.

Jason Mull points out one of three original hybrid chestnut trees at Biltmore

Jason Mull indicates one of the original hybrid chestnut trees planted at Biltmore in 1997

The project continues

Jason has been involved with the chestnut project since the beginning and has now cared for several generations of trees. The test site includes a mix of American-Chinese hybrids plus full Chinese chestnuts that act as a control group.

“There are only three hybrid chestnuts left from the original planting,” Jason said. “They’ve grown pretty well in the last 20 years. They do show effects from the blight, but it hasn’t killed them.”

According to Jason, some of the more recent plantings carry a much higher percentage of American chestnut DNA than the originals because the hybrids have served their purpose in helping increase resistance to the blight.

Students from a local charter school help plant new hybrid chestnuts at Biltmore in 2013

Planting a legacy

“We’re continuing to work with the AFC to establish another planting site on the estate—preferably in the kind of wooded area that chestnuts tend to prefer,” Jason said. “If our trees continue to do well over time, that’s a wonderful legacy to leave for future generations.”

Featured blog image: Jason Mull and a student from a local charter school plant a hybrid chestnut tree near Deerpark Restaurant in 2013

The Top 5 Most Naturally Romantic Spots on the Estate

Biltmore’s stunning natural beauty and long tradition of hospitality have earned it recognition as a romantic destination for more than a century. But with 8,000 acres to explore, it can be hard to pick the perfect must-see spot to share with your loved one. Take a look at our list of the top five most naturally romantic locations on the estate.

Tea House

Strategically set on the far west corner of the South Terrace, this secluded spot offers sweeping views of the surrounding Blue Ridge Mountain vistas.Tea House

Tennis Lawn

Tucked away between the Pergola and the Shrub Garden is the Tennis Lawn, an often overlooked “outdoor room” with a fairy-tale view of America’s Largest Home.Tennis Lawn

Conservatory

Indoor enchantment awaits in Biltmore’s Conservatory, a private tropical oasis that houses a wide variety of exotic plants beneath its grand glass roof.Conservatory

Bass Pond Waterfall

An easy stroll down our Azalea Garden path leads to this rewarding view of the Bass Pond Waterfall—a picturesque backdrop for many Biltmore proposals.Bass Pond Waterfall

Shores of the Lagoon

Perfect for a picnic or a pleasant stroll, the shores of the Lagoon offer a number of quiet, cozy spots that have a marvelous view of Biltmore House in the distance.Lagoon

Biltmore is an ideal place to spend special time with your sweetheart. Plan your visit today.

Image credits
Feature image: Stephanie Wilson
Tea House image: Yu Lin Hsu
Tennis Lawn image: Jason Rosa
Conservatory image: The Biltmore Company
Bass Pond image: Breanoh Lafayette-Brooks
Lagoon image: Gary Horne

Winter Wonderland: Our Top 5 Picks for the Season

When visiting Biltmore during the winter season, you’ll have a wonderland of exciting options to enjoy, from America’s Largest Home® to America’s most-visited winery! Here are our Top 5 picks for the season: 

Front entrance of the Biltmore WineryWinery

Chase the chill in the air away with a visit to our Winery, located in the heart of Antler Hill Village. Housed in an original estate dairy barn, you can go behind the scenes with a guided tour of our production facility, then enjoy complimentary tastings of more than 20 of our handcrafted wines. Check out the Wine Bar, or reserve your space for one of our fascinating specialty wine experiences like the delightful Red Wine & Chocolate Tasting.

Orchids in Biltmore's ConservatoryConservatory

Take a trip to the tropics without ever leaving Biltmore! In the heart of Biltmore’s Walled Garden is an architectural treasure, almost as beautiful as Biltmore House. The Conservatory, designed by Biltmore House architect Richard Morris Hunt, was built to provide Biltmore House and the gardens with flowers and tender bedding plants. Today, more than a century later, it still fulfills that role. The glass-topped, light-filled space features a gorgeous array of plants any time of year, but winters are truly special as exotic specimens in the Orchid Room reach peak bloom during the coldest months of the year. Many of the orchids are the same varieties that George Vanderbilt originally chose for the Conservatory, and there’s always a new breathtaking display just around the next corner.

Enjoying Afternoon Tea at The Inn on Biltmore EstateAfternoon Tea at The Inn on Biltmore Estate™

Warm up a chilly day with the elegant charms of Afternoon Tea at The Inn. Inspired by Vanderbilt family traditions—they enjoyed tea themselves and served it to their guests—our Afternoon Tea offers a welcome moment of leisure spent enjoying a delightful assortment of teas, English finger sandwiches, scones, fruit breads, cheeses, and tea pastries.

Biltmore blacksmith at work in his shop at Antler Hill BarnBlacksmith Shop at Antler Hill Barn

Catch a glimpse of the past as you watch an estate blacksmith practicing the ancient art of forging metal into useful and beautiful implements. Not only is it fascinating to watch an expert blacksmith at work—it’s also quite cozy in the confines of the Blacksmith Shop, located in Antler Hill Barn. For a memento of your visit, check for hand-forged items at The Barn Door shop located nearby.

Guests enjoying a guided hike at BiltmoreGuided Hikes (Thursday—Sunday)

Head outdoors for our Guided Hikes, included with your stay at The Inn, Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate®, or Cottage on Biltmore Estate™. Choose your activity level, from the moderate to fast-paced Trail Blazers to the more relaxed River Stroll, and spend between 1 and 1.5 hours enjoying the long-range views that winter brings to Biltmore. Although these Guided Hikes are only available for those with overnight accommodations at Biltmore, we recommend the trail from Antler Hill Village to the Lagoon for our day guests who want to warm up by walking. 
 

Plan a Biltmore getaway now

With all these wonderful warmer-uppers to choose from, winter is a great time to plan your next Biltmore visit!

Like Being Inside a Bottle of Sparkling Wine

If you’re visiting Biltmore during Christmas, you will not want to miss the stunning holiday vision situated high above Biltmore’s Winery.

Inspired by the over-the-top holiday decor in a New York City-based restaurant, 7,000 ornaments ranging from large to gigantic are suspended from the ceiling over the winery’s main Tasting Room.

Michaela Schmidlin, a member of Biltmore’s marketing department, lived in New York City for years, and knew of the restaurant’s annual eye-catching holiday hall-decking traditions. She proposed a similar – albeit scaled-down – version for Biltmore’s Winery.

Using monochromatic metallic tones, she and Biltmore’s floral displays manager created a look that mimics the bubbles inside of a champagne bottle, a perfect homage to the winery’s popular selection of sparkling wines.

Close-up of bubble decorations

And now, the globe-shaped ornaments in gold and champagne tones are dazzling our guests as they sample wines in the Tasting Room. When the light hits them just right, the ornaments look almost like they’re as fizzy as the bubbles in Biltmore’s sparkling wine.
Couple interacting with wine host with decorations in background.

Saving Wines to Savor Later

Many wines are ready to drink when released, but some taste even better if they are correctly stored and allowed to age.

Chooseing a bottle from Biltmore's wine cellarWhy age a wine?

We asked Biltmore winemaker Sharon Fenchak for tips on why and how to age a wine.

“The reason to store a wine is because you believe it will improve with age. At first tasting, if the wine dries and coats your mouth then it’s obvious you should hold it to drink later. I call it ‘pucker power,’” she said.

Sharon notes that some wines, primarily reds, have more initial tannins at bottling. Aging softens those tannins, creating a more balanced and pleasurable wine experience. As the tannins soften, sediment often settles at the bottom, so don’t be surprised to find sediment in aged wines. With proper decanting, the sediment can be removed, allowing the wine to be more easily enjoyed.

Antler Hill wines suitable for agingSuccessful aging tips

Wines age most successfully if you store them in the coolest, most temperature controlled place in your home, and allow for some humidity. Place the bottles upside down to keep the cork from drying out, and keep the wine away from vibrations.

Sharon recommends select red wines from our Vanderbilt Reserve or Antler Hill® series for cellaring (as the experts refer to the process) for up to five years.

Ladies enjoying a glass of red wineDeciding how long to store a wine is literally a matter of taste. “If you really like a wine, buy a case and in two years try a bottle and take notes,” she said. “If you think it will benefit from more aging, try another bottle in two more years. If you feel it needs more time, open another bottle the following year,” Sharon advised.

Discover our award-winning wines at your local retailers or online.

Featured image: Biltmore winemaker Sharon Fenchak
First image: Choosing a bottle from Biltmore’s wine cellar
Second image: Antler Hill red wines suitable for aging
Third image: Friends enjoy a glass of well-aged red wine

Mrs. Mary “Mimi” Ryan Cecil

Mary “Mimi” Ryan Cecil died on Friday, November 17, 2017 in Asheville, NC. Mrs. Cecil and her late husband, William A.V. Cecil, were active members of the Asheville, NC community as owners of the historic estate, Biltmore.

Born Mary Lee Ryan on December 11, 1931, she was the daughter of textile manufacturer John J. Ryan, Jr., and granddaughter of the prominent New York banker, lawyer, and builder James T. Lee.

She graduated with a B.A. in English from Vassar College in 1953. Notably, she was in the first class of female graduates from the University of Michigan Law School. She was elected to the Law Review in 1956 and was a partner in the Wall Street firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft.

In 1957, she married William A.V. Cecil at St. Vincent Ferrer’s Roman Catholic Church in New York City. In 1960, the Cecils moved to Asheville, NC to raise their family and to oversee the management and preservation of Biltmore, which was created by his grandfather George W. Vanderbilt III. Upon their return, Biltmore was transformed into a privately owned, profitable, working estate that was named a National Historic Landmark in 1963. Mrs. Cecil

While supporting her family’s endeavors at Biltmore, Mrs. Cecil became a legend in her own right within the community. Known for her relaxed and approachable manner, she was a familiar figure in the world of non-profit leadership, and devoted her life to making a difference in the areas of education, social inequities, the environment, and the arts.

She was a trustee and served 14 years as Chair for North Carolina Environmental Defense. In 1995, in recognition of her devotion and support of the organization, the Board of Trustees and Staff elected her Chair Emeritus, expressing their deep and lasting appreciation, respect, and love for her dedication to the welfare of the organization and her lifelong efforts to insure the overall betterment of North Carolina.

Mrs. Cecil was a founding board member of the Nature Conservancy and Friends of the Smokies, and was recognized for 20 years of stewardship by the National Park Service for her work with Friends of the Smokies. She also served on the Board for the North Carolina Zoological Society.

In 2007, The French Broad River Garden Club and The Garden Club of America presented the Zone Conservation Award to Mrs. Cecil for her inspiring dedication to the conservation of our environment, natural resources, and mountain heritage.

She served as Chairman of the Community Foundation of North Carolina board for a decade, and was Chair of the Warren Wilson College Board of Trustees from 1998–2005.

Mrs. Cecil was a supporter of the Asheville Symphony and Guild, the Asheville Art Museum, the Health Adventure, the United Way, and the National Forest Foundation. She was also active with the Buncombe County Board of Education, Hospitality House, John C. Campbell Folk School, and the National Parks Conservation Association.

She volunteered with the Mission Health System for 20 years and was a long-time member of The Biltmore Company’s Board of Directors.

Mrs. Cecil was devoted to her family, sharing her love of travel especially with her five grandchildren. As each grandchild reached the age of ten, they were able to pick a travel experience to share with her, creating a memorable tradition that spanned generations.

In the book Lady on the Hill, Mr. Cecil recognized Mimi Cecil for her integral part in Biltmore’s success story and in supporting those efforts for more than 45 years. “She has been a wonderful wife and mother and has offered her considerable gifts, skills, and abilities to our community, our mountains, and our country. I am profoundly in her debt,” he stated.

Mrs. Cecil is survived by her son, William A.V. “Bill” Cecil Jr., and daughter-in-law Virginia “Ginger” Cecil; her daughter, Diana “Dini” Cecil Pickering and son-in-law George “Chuck” Pickering II, brother John J. Ryan III, and sister-in-law Jacqueline Ryan; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Mrs. Cecil in Antarctica

Photos

Top: Mr. and Mrs. Cecil at their wedding, 1957.

Right: Mrs. Cecil. Photo by David Dietrich.

Bottom: Mrs. Cecil in South Georgia, Antarctica, 2004.

Now This Is a Desk Job!

Although her day-to-day responsibilities may include anything from cleaning 100-year-old china to inhibiting biologic growth on outdoor statuary, when Genevieve Bieniosek, Furniture Conservator, tells you she has a desk job, she means it literally.

Matching sections of brass to the original designBiltmore’s Museum Services team has been working for several years to return the Oak Sitting Room to its original appearance during the Vanderbilt era of 1895-1914. Like detectives, team members carefully sift through photographs, letters, and other details for clues to the furnishings and objects that were found in the room originally.

Image of the desk with its component piecesOne prominent item that will be displayed in the Oak Sitting Room is a massive desk or bureau Mazarin, named for its association with Cardinal Mazarin, a chief minister to King Louis XIV of France in the seventeenth century.

This type of desk was developed in France in the mid-1600s and functioned as a writing table with drawers on either side of a kneehole. Such furnishings were often decorated with intricate wood and brass marquetry in the style of Andre-Charles Boulle, a royal cabinetmaker to Louis XIV. This desk is original to the Biltmore collection, but only appears in archival photos dating from the 1930s when the house was open to the public.

That’s where Genevieve’s expertise comes into play. “The desk was probably already an antique when George Vanderbilt purchased it,” Genevieve said. “When this project began, it was stored in pieces for many years. There are multiple layers of old repairs, from both before and after Vanderbilt used it.”

In addition to locating all the pieces, like the legs that were discovered in a drawer in the conservation lab and a bag of tiny brass shapes that had come off the desk over the years, Genevieve must be able to understand how earlier repairs were made, including the mix of adhesives that might have been used to reattach sections of delicate brass marquetry that have lifted or come loose from the desk’s elegantly veneered ebony surface.

New brass marquetry shapes cut to fit the original desk“We’ve allowed two years to complete the repairs,” said Genevieve, “and three or four people will be working on the desk on and off during that time. We are re-gluing sections of brass and wood that are loose, and in cases where the brass or veneer is missing, we make templates and cut replacement pieces to fit.”

Leg of desk showing old and new repairsThe original brass marquetry was also engraved in fine detail, adding depth to the design, but Genevieve says they will paint the lines rather than cutting them, to distinguish modern repairs from the original.

“It’s important that we document everything we’ve done so that future conservators don’t have to wonder or guess,” Genevieve said. “Not knowing how or why something was done makes the repairs that much more difficult and time-consuming.”

— Main blog image: Genevieve Bieniosek carefully polishes one of the desk’s eight decorative legs

— First image: Each section of brass is mapped according to its original placement

— Second image: Photograph of the desk with its component pieces, including feet and X-shaped stretcher bars that support the surface of desk on each side of the kneehole

— Third image: New brass marquetry shapes cut to fit the original design on the desk

— Fourth image: Desk leg shows contrast of newly repaired and polished design with original