Yesterday David and I packed up the kids and took them out to Asheville for the day. As annual passholders of the Biltmore House, we’ve visited several times, but we’ve never been there when it’s decorated for Christmas.
And OH MY, do they ever decorate for Christmas. Trees everywhere. The tree in the banquet hall made me feel like Clara in the Nutcracker (remember? The tree grows and grows to show that Clara is the size of the toys?). It’s over thirty feet tall and who knows how big around.
Not to mention the GIANT gingerbread house that covered the table in the kitchen…it was a replica of the Biltmore House and apparently took 18 people and 150 man hours to complete.
Wouldn’t a photo or two be nice here? Unfortunately, they do not allow indoor pictures. So you’ll just have to go see for yourself.
But this post is not for me to ramble on about the Christmas decorations. It’s for me to pass along some encouragement that I received from my children yesterday as we walked the halls at Biltmore.
As we entered the front doors, I teased the boys’ minds a bit and said the following: “Boys, while you’re walking around in the house, be sure to keep an eye out for paintings by a man named John Singer Sargent. He’s our artist for our new term, and he knew the Vanderbilts.”
By the time we were heading into our fourth room on the tour, the boys (mostly Andrew) had spotted several paintings by Sargent and had made the leap that he was a portrait painter. They saw Frederick Law Olmsted (right), Richard Morris Hunt, and members of the Vanderbilt family.
As we entered the library — one of my favorite rooms — on the first floor and looked up at the mural on the ceiling, Cameron asked me, “Did John Singer Sargent paint that?”. I replied that Mr. Vanderbilt had found the mural in Venice and wanted it in his home. Cameron already has a concept for Venice in his mind, because we’ve explored the city online as we’ve studied Marco Polo this year.
On we went up to the upper floors, where the bedrooms are for Mr. and Mrs. Vanderbilt as well as those for their honored guests. Each suite has a name: “The Louis XV room,” “The North Tower Room,” and so on. We entered “The Madonna Room,” and the boys knew who “Madonna” was — no, not who you’re thinking, twisted person — because of our study of Raphael Sanzio. They had seen many of the paintings already, including the one to the left, which is mostly famous due to those cute little cherubs down there at the bottom. But Andrew remembered from our study that the clouds behind the Madonna are actually more cherubic faces (if you enlarge the image, you’ll see them). What encouragement to my heart to hear him pipe up with that little nugget of information!
There’s also an entire “Raphael Room,” which I had forgotten. The boys perked up when seeing familiar images on the walls. (The art found here are etchings based off of Raphael’s paintings, not originals.)
We trekked outside and let the kids run across the huge lawn, adorned for the season with a giant evergreen covered in white lights. As we headed back towards our parking spot, we turned the corner at the entrance to the drive. We stopped in our tracks and leaned on the stone wall to watch a squirrel munch an acorn. Cameron looked down at his hand resting on the wall and exclaimed, “MOM! LICHEN!”. Our study of Botany this year has exposed him to that particular area of knowledge.
We drove to the other side of the property and visited the farm, where Cameron held a baby chick MORE THAN ONCE (this is the child who used to scream at earthworms and bugs). We toured the winery and the boys excitedly explored “a real wine cellar,” just like the one we recently read about in George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin.
On and on our visit went, and at every turn it seemed the Lord was showing me how the kids are absorbing so much of what I’m teaching them. Perhaps the most encouraging thing was that I didn’t have to drag it out of them…they expressed their learning out of pure delight in what they’d learned.
“Children make large demands upon us. We owe it to them to initiate an immense number of interests.” – Charlotte Mason