Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Halloween Room

The Halloween Room
The drive is long. A tunnel of green in any season, it winds through magnolias and hemlocks so artfully arranged one must assume they were placed there by an artist of most high renown, which of course, they were.  The grey ribbon of road spirals deeper into the wood, circling round moss-dotted ponds and over half-moon stone bridges, leading you far enough away from the commonplace and familiar that there is no surprise when it suddenly straightens in front of a chateau appearing much more at home in the Loire Valley than in the mountains of North Carolina.  This is Biltmore House, the largest private home in the United States, designed in 1880 by George Vanderbilt who dubbed it his “little mountain escape” in the same facetious fashion that led his siblings to refer to their opulent mansions in Newport as their “summer cottages”.   Biltmore House certainly deserves a visit by anyone who loves art and beauty.  Around every stone corner  of this magnificent house one finds ever increasing levels of grandeur and delight.  The library alone is swoon-worthy.  I myself have spent many an hour roaming the corridors of this grand palace, soaking up inspiration like a sponge, for inspiration percolates in this place and no more so than in the belly of the grand house, in a room known as The Halloween Room.
 Follow me down staircases that dwindle in extravagance the further we descend, eventually depositing us in the catacombs of the castle where the dark narrow hallways are formed by blocks of stone, rough and cool to the touch.  At the very end, - there, just to the right - is the entrance to a huge rectangular room made glorious by the imaginations of revelers long forgotten, party goers whose artworks were painted by their own hand right upon the brick walls.  These paintings remain today, untouched and undisturbed, as testaments both to the individuality of their creators as well as to the value placed on art education in the early twentieth century, for these are fantastic paintings, full of whimsy and romance, with nary a stick figure amongst them.
  As the story goes, George Vanderbilt’s only child, Cornelia, (pictured above) threw a party in this room on a Halloween night in the middle of the decade forever known as The Roaring Twenties.  Providing colours and brushes, she invited her guests to take sections of the room and paint whatever they desired.  Blossoming from that request are young men sitting in elaborate windows serenading lovely veiled women on guitar, black cats navigating the tightropes of roof lines, bats and birds, palm trees and accordion players.  Closing your eyes, it is not difficult to almost hear faint traces of laughter still echoing in the brush strokes forever preserved on these old walls. 

I have always been struck by the drawings each of these guests chose to create for I think the images we choose so often reveal much more about who we are than our words can ever accomplish.  In my years as an interior designer, I was often astonished at the amount of discomfort and intimidation some clients seemed to experience whenever they were asked to illuminate their personal style.  They would stutter and stammer, eventually looking to their partner for assistance.  But when I asked them, as I often did, to choose which pictures appealed to them, they had no problem doing so.  By this exercise, and other sly tricks of observation, it was easy for me to pinpoint their preferences and predilections so I could create rooms in which they would find themselves comfortable and at home, which was always my goal.
Even though I freely admit to no small amount of snobbery with each new quirk of technology that pops up in my sight range, I also freely admit that I am frequently wrong.  Yes, I do love my iPhone, even though I was convinced I didn’t need one.  And yes, I enjoy Twitter, a lot.  But when I heard about Pinterest I was, naturally, convinced it wasn’t for me.  But then I started visiting... and now, of course, I adore it.  Far from another slim outlet for mere entertainment, I now see it as a wonderful portal for self-discovery, for as we choose the images that appeal to us, much like my clients, much like Cornelia’s Halloween guests, we reveal our innermost personalities.  I am a fairly severe editor on Pinterest.  While I see many, many images that I like there, I only “pin” the ones that seem to speak to my hidden self.  I know them when I see them.  By categorizing these images into files known as “boards”, a whole person begins to emerge, a mirror whose reflection is no less accurate for being composed of pictures rather than glass.  Through Pinterest, I see that I am drawn to pathways and windows, tartan and trees.  It’s rather fascinating.  I invite you to try it.
Like the creators of the Halloween Room,  
which images would you choose?

Visit Edward and me on Pinterest HERE.


  1. First, I love the idea of the Halloween room. What a remarkable way to document an evening! I had no idea this was leading to a plug for Pinterest but what a astute comparison.

    Unfortunately I just don't have the time to really explore Pinterest. My boards are still somewhat lackluster. Between my blog, Twitter and Instagram...oh, and my job! - Pinterest has taken a backseat, probably because I know it will be a rabbit hole of no return!


  2. Pamela, I love the story of the Halloween room. What a sight to see! I hope to visit one day.
    Like you, I have been skeptical of Pinterest, but now am coming around to it and want to learn more, especially after reading your endorsement. I'm off to visit your pinterest "boards," you have enticed me with the promise of pathways, windows, tartan and trees.

  3. Hello Pamela
    You describe Biltmore House so beautifully and I am putting it on my list. The Halloweeen Rooms sounds most intriguing.
    Your writing has me holding on to your every work. Have you a book coming soon, please say yes.

    I love your Pinterest and I am in total accord with your fashion sense.

    Have a wonderful week

    Helen xxx

  4. Pamela I still don't do facebook, twitter and have yet to pinterest. I am still kicking and screaming, but am going to your pinterest site now.

  5. Darn--same limitation--pinterest requests I sign up with facebook or twitter, but I just can't....otherwise, I'd love to see your specific inclinations, thaough you give us a pretty good idea of them on your blog.

  6. I can't express in english what I feel when I read your words and see the paintings you publish. I would need more vocabulary in your language but I hope you understand how I feel. your blog is totally diferent and marvelous. Thank you

  7. Without question Pamela..."If you want to know where your heart is, look where your mind goes when it wanders."
    Pinterest is personally eye-opening!

  8. I've avoided Pinterest, thinking it must be another huge time waster. Your post is the first that has made me think that, just maybe, I'd find something there. I'll have to think about exploring (after all, I finally gave up my Blackberry for an iphone last month!).
    Meanwhile, the writing here grabbed my imagination, as always.

  9. Thanks for the wonderful ode to the Biltmore House, located in my old mountain hometown.

    Re Pinterest, I would like to refer you to an article which appeared in the NYT Magazine July 22, 2012, title 'Being Addicted to Longing for Something,' subtitle 'In the online world of Pinterest, Tumblr and other digital mood boards, we can all be 'curators,' collecting snippets and photos to tell the world who we are, or at least who we would like to be.' (Written by Carina Chocano, to give the writer credit.) A description of Pinterest that I think hits the nail on the head. Pinterest could take up more hours than I wish to invest; so far I've been able to resist.

  10. Oh Pamela - you certainly know how to tempt a person with a piece of writing like this.

  11. Love to visit Biltmore since we have a vacation home nearby, and we get a yearly pass so we can come and go as often as we please and can visit the gardens in all seasons. (It's a great deal.) I refer to the Halloween room as the 'dungeon' and it is very whimsical for a room so far below stairs. Wouldn't want to be there if the power went out, though! Actually the Vanderbilts' daughter was named Cornelia, after grandfather Cornelius I'm sure.

    I'm quite entranced by your Pinterest boards. I do like to wander there, but I haven't done my own pinning after reading an article about how you could easily be sued for violation of copyrights. The article quite scared me off, but I do clip some pictures for my own files on One Note. Hopefully the success of Pinterest and the volume of pins will make for safety in numbers.

  12. What an interesting history of a house (castle). I love the Halloween story.

    I agree, Pinterst really can reveal some inner most trends in your personal taste. I found a theme that I wouldn't have guessed existed in my leanings. I don't twitter or post on facebook, even though I have accounts in both. One step at a time.

  13. If ever I make it to your corner of the world Pamela...and I hope I do, we have to go to the Biltmore House together. You have captured my imagination and now I must see! I watched Midnight in Paris last night for the 3-4 time...the thought of travelling back in time for the Halloween party, just to draw on the sounds magical to me. :)

    Pinterest is fun and are so right, it is the best way to express oneself...controlling oneself is another matter! :) xx

  14. Pamela a fascinating account of the Halloween Room at the Biltmore House. How creative of Cornelia!

    Off to visit your Pinterest page!

    Art by Karena

    2012 Artists Series

  15. If I weren't running off to the market now I'd browse some more; glad to find & follow you on Pinterest!

  16. I love the story behind the Halloween Room and that it has stayed like that for nearly a century. As for Pinterest, I fear I don't have time for anything else online, but it was fun to see your page.

  17. I remember visiting Biltmore House almost 30 years ago and I remember that library. I don't recall the Halloween Room, however. I was in my 20s and didn't know very much about what I liked or didn't like as yet. I would love to go back there. We are just back from a month in France in our motorhome. As I snapped hundreds of photos, I found myself drawn to doors, windows, street lights, trees and sky, stairwells, all sorts of architectural details. I haven't made time to get involved with Pinterest, as I already feel the computer gets too much of my attention. I can see how it could be put to good use, however.

  18. Do you suppose there was only one party there? A whole room for one night? Ah, the rich.
    I can visit you on P. and I do, but one has to be on Facebook to be a member, and I'm not.

  19. Living not too far from Biltmore has enabled me to visit many times.......and every visit brings something new and special. Of course I love Asheville for many other reasons too so am always up for a visit when possible.

    Superduper post Pamela.........thanks for sharing and perhaps we'll bump into one another there some day, that would be awesome.

    Hugs - Mary

  20. How cool to have been one of those guests, painting. I wonder if they were intimidated by one another, like your clients when asked to articulate a personal style?

    Just a few days ago I condescended to Pinterest...oh man. Image heaven.

  21. I love the image of the half moon bridge. What an extraordinary place you describe.

    I don't do Pinterest as yet, but I have enjoyed looking at some of your choices. It would make a good quiz, to guess the owner of the pin board by the choices they make! Yours are very you.

  22. That first sentence was a beauty in and of itself. As beautiful as the landscape you so well describe. Mother nature does sometimes come across as a crafted artist. Even if the hand of humans is behind the creation occasionally.

    Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

  23. Oh Pamela...I've been holding off on Pinterest, but posts such as yours keep enticing me to Pin away and get lost in imageland...I'm worried that I won't ever be able to come up for air one I start though...but I suppose that unless I try, I will never know!

    I absolutely loved what went on in that Halloween room! When we tore our previous house down to build 24C, we invited the local children to draw whatever they wanted on the walls...the only problem is, none of these masterpieces survived the demolition, such a shame!
    xo J~

  24. Oh how I wish I could visit Biltmore House, you made it sound intriguing and I kept wanting to see a photograph of that room downstairs! And the swoon-worthy library.I love your writing!

    I found Pinterest a few weeks ago, and I must admit to finding it ever so enjoyable, especially as I don't get out much these days. How great to be able to just click a button and save all my favourite pictures, all without glue and scissors! It did scare me a bit to read I could be sued for copyright violation, but then I reasoned I'm only saving them because they affect me in some way which is after all mostly what the photographer presumably wanted in the first place, and I'm not making money out of any.

    The painting of Cornelia is lovely, her dress must have been satin or velvet it has such lustres.


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