In the shadow of The Omni Grove Park Inn sits a low-key-elaborate cultural gem. Grovewood Gallery offers a backdrop of historical Arts and Crafts culture while supporting the full rush of the modern maker movement. Boasting 9,000 square feet of exhibit space over two floors (the first level features primarily small items and the upstairs showcases furniture, lighting, and fine art), the venue was founded in 1992, making it one of the pioneers of Asheville’s modern gallery scene. Today, it sells works created by more than 400 artists from around the country.
The property was originally home to Biltmore Industries, a weaving and woodworking enterprise started in 1905 by Edith Vanderbilt, Eleanor Vance, and Charlotte Yale as a social-work mission. At its height, in the late ’20s, Biltmore Industries contained 40 looms; workers produced hand-woven wool that was prized by customers around the world. Years later, in 1953, when a decision was made to liquidate the business, Harry Blomberg (of Asheville’s Harry’s on the Hill Cadillac dealership fame) happened to stop by, intent on purchasing a table for his cabin at Lake Lure.
While there, he became intrigued by an old moonshine still sitting in the corner, says Grovewood Gallery Marketing Manager Ashley Van Matre, and inquired about purchasing it. He was told the only way he could do that was to purchase all of Biltmore Industries.
“After 20 minutes of negotiations,” says Van Matre, “he bought the whole operation. Harry really wanted to preserve this historic part of Asheville.” (Blomberg’s daughter and two granddaughters still own the property, including the gallery.)
The acquisition, collectively known as Grovewood Village, consisted of several buildings and shops that reflect the distinctive architecture of The Omni Grove Park Inn.
The gallery is housed in the Eleanor Vance Building, and its mission, says General Manager Russell Gale, is “to keep craft traditions alive by partnering with skilled artisans across the country.”
Eleven studio artists currently work in the historic buildings adjacent to the gallery. “We have artists who have been here for over 20 years,” says Gale, who was a self-employed furniture maker on the property before joining the gallery’s management staff. These makers, working in wood, glass, metal, jewelry, and ceramics, open their studios to visitors every third Saturday of the month from May to October, and other times by appointment.
“We inspire people to buy handmade,” says Gale. But Van Matre also acknowledges, “I think the vast amount of craft offerings in Asheville can be overwhelming … it can be a challenge to stand out from the competition. New generations are prioritizing experiences over ‘stuff,’ so we have to get creative and offer something more.” A robust schedule of exhibits and an outdoor sculpture garden with picnic seating help contribute to that goal.
There’s also a sister gallery, Gallery of the Mountains, inside The Omni Grove Park Inn. While Grovewood Gallery represents national as well as local artists, Van Matre says Gallery of the Mountains only sells work created in the Southern Appalachians. “So you’ll find offerings there you won’t find at Grovewood Gallery,” she points out.
The Biltmore Industries Homespun Museum on the property is open April through November, offering a glimpse into the important history of the location’s original business. And Golden Fleece Slow Earth Kitchen, also on campus, fulfills the foodie part of the maker aesthetic.
There’s even more to Grovewood Village, including the site’s Antique Car Museum. Blomberg converted Biltmore Industries’ weaving shed into a place to keep the 19 cars and four horse-drawn carriages he’d collected over the years.
While not an official part of the gallery’s operation, the museum is a fascinating side trip. Even here, the Arts & Crafts heritage lingers. Look up and you’ll notice two large, custom-made Roycroft chandeliers that once hung in Overlook Castle in Asheville.
Blomberg hired the most talented mechanics and artisans he could find to restore each vehicle to near-original condition. He kept the moonshine still, too.
Grovewood Gallery, 111 Grovewood Road, adjacent to the Omni Grove Park Inn, North Asheville. The gallery’s hours are 10am-5:30 pm Monday through Saturday and 11am-5pm on Sunday. Grovewood Gallery will host its annual Holiday Sip & Shop on Friday, Dec. 6 and Saturday, Dec. 7, 10am-5:30pm, with complimentary wine, hot cider, cookies, and a 10% discount on gallery merchandise. “Vessels of Merriment,” an annual showcase featuring handmade cups, growlers, tumblers, and more from 16 potters, runs through Tuesday, Dec. 31. For more information, call 828-253-7651 or see grovewood.com.