Alumna Brings Downton Abbey to Life in Exhibit

The popular PBS Masterpiece series Downton Abbey has come to life through an exhibit at Biltmore in Asheville, North Carolina, curated with the help of a UT alumna.

Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, played by Hugh Bonneville, and Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, played by Elizabeth McGovern in a film still from the first season of Downton Abbey. Film Still Credit: Carnival Films

Robert Crawley, Earl of Grantham, played by Hugh Bonneville, and Cora Crawley, Countess of Grantham, played by Elizabeth McGovern in a film still from the first season of Downton Abbey. Film Still Credit: Carnival Films

The “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” exhibition, open through May 25, displays forty-five costumes worn in seasons one through four of Downton Abbey. Ranging from servants’ uniforms to lavish evening gowns, the award-winning costumes reflect how world events—the sinking of the Titanic, World War I, the Jazz Age, and the evolving roles of women—influenced fashions.

Laura Cope Overbey, a UT alumna with a degree in history, is the collections manager in museum services at Biltmore. Overbey said there are many parallels between the fictional world of Downton Abbey and the real life world of Biltmore.

Lady Mary Crawley stands in Biltmore's library in a dusty-pink silk evening dress that was worn at dinner the first time Sir Richard visits Downton Abbey. Photo Credit: The Biltmore Company

Lady Mary Crawley stands in Biltmore’s library in a dusty-pink silk evening dress that was worn at dinner the first time Sir Richard visits Downton Abbey. Photo Credit: The Biltmore Company

“If the Granthams were a real family, it is highly likely that the Vanderbilt family and the Granthams would have known of each other,” said Overbey. “It’s possible that Edith Vanderbilt might have attended a ball that Lady Grantham would have attended in Newport. Mr. Vanderbilt, on his travels though England, could have gone to Downton Abbey to look at the architecture and collections as he’s drawing inspiration for Biltmore.”

The interior of Biltmore House strikingly resembles Highclere Castle, where the series is filmed, making it easy for guests to imagine how the Vanderbilts and their employees lived a century ago.

In Edith Vanderbilt’s bedroom, Lady Mary Crawley is being dressed by her lady's maid. This evening dress was worn at dinner for Matthew Crawley’s arrival at Downton Abbey. Photo Credit: The Biltmore Company

In Edith Vanderbilt’s bedroom, Lady Mary Crawley is being dressed by her lady’s maid. This evening dress was worn at dinner for Matthew Crawley’s arrival at Downton Abbey. Photo Credit: The Biltmore Company

“It’s great to tour through the house and see how the people lived,” Overbey commented on the exhibition. “It puts you in that space where the people were.”

Overbey, a Knoxville native, is a Central High School graduate and earned her UT degree in 1995. She became Biltmore’s associate collections manager in 1999 and has been the collections manager since 2008.

A footman (left) and valet (right) stand in the servants’ dining room. Photo Credit: The Biltmore Company

A footman (left) and valet (right) stand in the servants’ dining room. Photo Credit: The Biltmore Company

As collections manager, Overbey’s duties include cataloging, inventorying, and documenting objects in Biltmore’s collection. To get ready for the “Dressing Downton” exhibit, Overbey and her crew had to shift nearly 600 objects in Biltmore House and know where each ended up.

Overbey said she enjoys working at Biltmore because of the beautiful house and its history. She has been a fan of Biltmore since her first visit in 1985.

Lord and Lady Grantham stand in Biltmore's banquet hall. In the back of the room is the butler, Mr. Carson. Photo Credit: The Biltmore Company

Lord and Lady Grantham stand in Biltmore’s banquet hall. In the back of the room is the butler, Mr. Carson. Photo Credit: The Biltmore Company

The “Dressing Downton” exhibit will be at Biltmore through Memorial Day, after which it moves to Wisconsin.

CONTACT:

Amy Blakely (865-974-5034, ablakely@utk.edu)

Laura Overbey (828-225-6343, loverbey@biltmore.com)