Sunday, April 22, 2018

Levy Lions discovered at Little Biltmore in North Carolina

The Levy Lions with Shields gazing down on tiered gardens.
My mother recently told me that when I was a little girl I loved to put together puzzles (something that I still enjoy). I also love suspense and surprises, so searching for the Levy Lions was a fascination. When I began my quest to find the Levy Lion statues I never dreamed that it would take 5 years to track down 4 massive lion statues. I began to fear the worst as time has a way of eroding and destroying history. In the early 1900's Charlottesville photographer Rufus Holsinger photographed the lion statues many times, over many years, at Monticello. Big, heavy statues don't just disappear.

Amazing manes make this pair unique.
If you have been following my quest, I know you are relieved to know that all four lions have been accounted for! I had a feeling someone would eventually stumble upon my blog and contact me with a lead, and that's exactly what happened. A woman who lives in California claimed her parents had the pair of Levy lions with shields. The history passed down to them by the prior owners of their estate was that in the 1920's the lions were pulled from a storage area that held Levy family items. This certainly lines up with the 1928 removal of Levy items from Monticello. It was even rumored that the lions were won in a poker game! Who acquired the lions and where they were being stored is still a mystery. They could have been purchased at auction and warehoused or removed by a Levy heir prior to auction.

Historic Holsinger photos (1 and 3) vs current photos (2 and 4)
I still had to authenticate the lions. After several fake lion scares, I was suspect. As luck would have it, I was able to do a little online research because the historic home where the lions reside is currently listed for sale and there are several photos of the pair of lions. I knew the second I saw the lions that they were authentic but I proceeded to create a side by side comparison of historic and current photos. One of my favorite historic photos is of the back of the lion which outlines every muscle and details the lovely mane. Another match was the cursive "L" inscribed on the front shield. I've seen several without any inscription so to find anything on the shield is rare. The only discrepancy is time and wear. The lions are missing a few teeth but everything else matches up!

Massive circular fountain bowl & record red Maple on right
The lions guard a historic home and grounds that has an extensive history. Secluded on 28 acres of solitude in virgin forests, Chanteloup is on the North Carolina registry of historic homes. The estate was built in 1840 for a french Count and Countess and has been referred to as Little Biltmore. Two sisters bought Chanteloup around 1900 and hired famed designer Frederick Olmsted, the father of American Landscape Architecture. The Norton sisters knew the Vanderbilt's who were planning to build their estate in Virginia until they visited Chanteloup and fell in love with North Carolina. To note, a state record holding Ornamental Maple tree is on the property.

Leonard and the Levy Lion
Not only was the trip to see the lions amazing, the property owners, Linda and Leonard celebrated this event with us by providing lunch on the veranda. I could gaze upon the lions and the Olmsted gardens and watch the birds dip and dive down in the valley below. We were lucky as it was the first warm Spring day where you could actually sit outside.

Beautiful wall mural painted by Leonard
Linda has an eye for color which is tastefully reflected in the home with updated features and decor but in keeping with the historic charm, period pieces have been collected. Over the years many renovations have preserved the home for future generations to enjoy. The property would make a wonderful museum or wedding reception venue. Linda and Leonard so hate to leave Chanteloup, having committed 20+ years restoring their beautiful home. Even the lions could be sold if the right party would come along. Maybe it's time for them to be reunited with a Levy heir? Time will tell, just please let me know the new owner!

I can't think of a better spot for the lions and am happy they have owners that appreciate them as I do.


Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Rush to get to the Levy Lions, quick detour to the North Carolina Arboretum

NC Arboretum, up with the dog walkers
Rushing as fast as we could to hopefully end the quest to find the missing pair of Levy Lions, we were thwarted once again. Attempting to get to our destination before sunset we still had another 30 miles to go. We were not going to make it and after a horribly exhausting day getting stuck in traffic for hours, we were forced to grab a hotel room at 9 pm in Asheville, North Carolina.

Lovely yellow Magnolia tree
I blindly booked a room on my phone based on good reviews. I had no idea where it was located - just somewhere in Asheville. Missteps snowballed as we attempted to check into the wrong hotel but miraculously the right hotel was conveniently 4 miles from the North Carolina Arboretum! Exhaustion was not going to keep me in bed the next morning and we arrived when the Arboretum doors opened at 8 am!

NC Arboretum Visitors Center lined with tulips & ranunculus
We were scheduled to see the lion statues at noon so we had a few hours to roam the tranquil forests and landscaped grounds! I'm not sure which I was more excited about, lions or trees. After all this is the NC Arboretum, this is not a forest you just drive-by without stopping. I can't believe that I had originally planned our trip to do such a ghastly thing!

It was a tad bit early in the season as many plants were only thinking about unfurling leaves and bursting open blossoms. But no matter the time of year, there is always something interesting to see; mountain views, majestic trees, thick forests, babbling brooks, stonework, and even bonsai plantings.

Frederick Olmsted,father of American Landscape Architecture
The Arboretum is located at the end of the road after leaving fits of traffic and shopping malls which makes this peaceful place even more special. Each day our protected forests are being walled in by roads and businesses, or just plain greed. In Virginia we have protesters camping out in equally as majestic trees to stop pipelines from destroying privately owned land and our national forests. Imminent domain is used to seize ANY property for "justifiable public good". These last three words can be construed to suit business interests and PROFITS.
Prominent sculpture of butterfly wings and chrysalis

I wonder if those in the business of tree destruction have a soul? The feeling one gets in quiet places among spring ephemerals, walls of trees, and trickling brooks is worth fighting to preserve. Even 20 years ago I thought it unimaginable that our national forests would fall prey to corporate greed. Times have changed and people are nearly going to war to save what soon could all be trashed. Make note, the door has OPENED WIDER.

Tiered gardens guarded by Levy Lions, designed by F. Olmsted
I was sad to leave the magical forest environ but a short drive took us to an amazing spot where the Levy Lions have stood waiting to be found for all to read about. Sunday I will reveal the amazing details about the lions!


Monday, April 16, 2018

Monticello Levy Lions, Exciting Discovery

One of the Levy Lions with Shield
If you have been following my blog posts concerning the large lion statues that were on the grounds of Monticello in the early 1900's, I have exciting news to share!

To recap, four lion statues were pictorially recorded mainly by local photographer, Rufus Holsinger. These statues were assumed to have been purchased by the owner of Monticello, Jefferson Monroe Levy, at least as early as 1905. Two statues were of lions with a ball under a paw and two other statues were of lions holding a shield with a large L inscribed. The ball footed lions became famous when their photo, along with Monticello, were minted on the back of the two dollar bill. It was noted by a local Charlottesville resident that it was in error because they were to honor Thomas Jefferson, but the lions were placed at Monticello long after Thomas Jefferson died and were owned by the Levy family.

Ball footed lion, 1912 historic Rufus Holsinger photo
I became very curious about the whereabouts of the lion statues after finding no concrete documentation as to what happened to them after the Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation purchased the estate in 1923. Five years later any property that was not present during Thomas Jefferson's lifetime was sold at auctions held at Monticello and in New York City.

My search for the lions began in 2013 and eventually I tracked down the ball footed lions but the lions with shields remained elusive. Recently I went to the Monticello library for clues. Even with the help of the wonderful library staff, I once again hit a dead end.

Rumor was that lions statues ended up in a junkyard. The thought of this has always horrified me but certainly was a possibility due to the size of the lions and difficulty transporting such beasts. During the transport of a similar lion, the weight topped out at 3,000 pounds!

First lion reported as authentic, not a match.
I have been contacted a few times with reports of lion sightings only to determine they are not the statues that are in historic photographs from Monticello.

My hope was that eventually someone would read my blog posts online and contact me. Finally - finally someone has done just that! 

Second lion reported as authentic, not a match in the least.
It is reported that the lions with shields have been gazing over grounds created by famed landscape architect, Frederick Olmsted and guarding the home of what has been referred to as "little Biltmore"! Oh if it is true, it's such an exciting discovery and fitting site for these historic lions.

In a few days I will publish my findings after seeing the lions with my own eyes!


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