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In 31 states, six countries and 10 sites in North Carolina, Rafael Guastavino and his son Rafael Jr. from 1882 to l943 created more than 1,000 Catalan tile domes and vaultings that met their criteria for safety, economy and beauty.

“Palaces For The People: Guastavino And America’s Great Public Spaces,” at the Swannanoa Valley Museum through Dec. 1, opened in Boston, moved to Washington, D. C. and New York City, and may travel on to Barcelona, Spain, as well as several other cities in North Carolina, including Winston-Salem, Chapel Hill, Durham, Wilmington, Davidson and Greensboro.

The exhibition in Black Mountain, Guastavino’s former home, has attracted about 2,000 visitors in its first seven weeks.

A native of Valencia, Spain, Rafael Guastavino Sr., then 40 years old, arrived in New York with his 9-year-old son Rafael III in 1881. He had been so successful as a master architect and tile artist in Spain in the era of Gaudi that he brought with him $40,000, a great sum for an immigrant in those days.

After many high and low points, he achieved his first great success in his adopted country by creating tile vaultings and ceilings throughout the new Boston Public Library using a unique, fireproof sealing compound.

Awareness grew of Guastavino’s fine works in various types of buildings, several listed among the country’s 10 greatest architectural achievements.

George Vanderbilt contracted him to bring his talent for tile vaulting into major areas of the Biltmore Estate under construction in Asheville. Guastavino’s unique work can be seen in the Biltmore House atrium’s tiled vaults and dome and in the celebrated basement swimming pool. The Biltmore has loaned artifacts to the exhibition at the Swannanoa Valley Museum.

The exhibition is a cooperative venture of Christmount and St. Lawrence Basilica, with limited participation by the Biltmore Estate.

In connection with the exhibit, there will be conferences, lectures, performances, and other exhibits in Black Mountain, Asheville, and around the nation, involving tile artisans, architects, engineers, musicians, artists, poets, and actors.

The Swannanoa Valley Museum (swannanoavalleymuseum.org) is at 223 W. State St. Admission is by donation.

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