Is It Biltmore Industries or Biltmore Estate?

“Stickley” isn’t the only Arts & Crafts name that can be a bit confusing.

You may have read recently that the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms is hosting a fundraising dinner in Asheville on Thursday evening, February 16th, the night before the official start of the 25th National Arts & Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn.

The evening’s festivities will be taking place in and around five restored circa 1917 Arts & Crafts workshops located next to the Grove Park Inn called Biltmore Industries.

This Arts & Crafts cottage industry was founded five miles away in 1905 by Edith and George Vanderbilt for the sons and daughters of their employees on their 125,000-acre Biltmore Estate. The workers and their families lived in a small, adjacent village called Biltmore Village, now a quaint collection of restaurants, shops and galleries.

Three Biltmore names: once all connected, now three separate historic attractions.

Biltmore Industries remained in Biltmore Village from 1905-1917, when Fred Seely, designer of the Grove Park Inn and close friend of Elbert Hubbard, bought it from Edith Vanderbilt and moved the woodworkers, weavers and woodcarvers into five Arts & Crafts workshops he built next to the Grove Park Inn. Their woodworking department flourished into the 1940s, and their oak looms remained busy producing homespun cloth for ladies’ and men’s suits until the 1970s. The buildings have since been restored as a restaurant, the Grovewood Gallery, an auto museum, and several artisan workshops.

The woodworkers primarily made small, hand-carved items which were sold to tourists, local residents and guests at the Grove Park Inn. As a result, they can surface today in just about any part of the country. Although they subscribed to Gustav Stickley’s The Craftsman magazine, most of their bookends, bowls, letter openers, bookracks, picture frames and similar items were made from walnut or mahogany, both better suited to hand carving than quartersawn oak.

The most desirable among collectors are those items with the deepest, most advanced carving of natural motifs, most notably the dogwood blossom or the grapevine. In contrast, a plain bookend with a single monogrammed letter carved by one of the beginning craftsmen sparks only minimum interest.

Although their brochures illustrated pieces of furniture, these rarely surface. Still considered rare, a larger number of small walnut or mahogany benches, with carved seats, have appeared in collections and on the antiques market.

Three shopmarks appear most frequently. The earliest (1905-1917) featured a branded arrow around the word “Forward” placed over “Biltmore, N.C.” After the move in 1917, the “Forward” arrow appeared over “Asheville, N.C.” Later items were branded only with block letters “Hand-Made And Hand-Carved / Biltmore Industries / Asheville, N.C.”

While not a household name even among Arts & Crafts collectors, the hand-carved bowls, frames and bookends made at Biltmore Industries serve as excellent examples of the products of manual arts workshops, classes, schools and cottage industries — products that reflect an allegiance to the Arts & Crafts philosophy that many more famous figures often neglected.

– Bruce Johnson

For more information, I suggest you check out these websites:

Biltmore Industries:

Stickley Museum dinner:

Grovewood Gallery: