A Roycroft Retreat — Stickley Style!
From the desk of Vonda Givens, Executive Director of The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms
Farms Afield trips have been a part of the The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms’ annual program schedule for years, well before I joined the staff in 2008. Planning these trips, which range from a half to several days long, and explore all kinds of Stickley-relevant sites, has always been one of the best parts of my job. Trips have included a visit to George Nakashima’s home and studio compound in New Hope, Pennsylvania, where we enjoyed a tour with his daughter Mira, and a two-day Centennial trip to Syracuse, New York, for a one-of-a-kind “In Stickley’s Steps” tour.
No matter where we visit, camaraderie is a part of the trip. We’ve seen extraordinary sites, but sharing them with other Arts and Crafts enthusiasts is the best part of the journey, and it’s a bonus that this group will sincerely understand your need to crawl under that table to look for a shopmark, to ask one more question about that glaze, or to get that just-right snapshot of an architectural detail.
The museum’s most recent Farms Afield, the Roycroft Retreat to East Aurora/Buffalo, NY took place from Wednesday, July 8 to Saturday, July 11. Our most requested trip over the years, the Roycorft Retreat was planned exclusively for Members of the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms.
When Arts & Crafts Collector asked me to write a travelogue, it seemed fitting since the Arts & Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn helped to cement the connections that made the trip possible. Our table in the Conference’s Contemporary Craftsfirms Show has for years been located next to the Roycroft Campus Corporation table. Through our close proximity, our GPI neighbors have become colleagues and friends. Over the years, our conversations have evolved from a vague “we should do something together” to meaningful collaborations.
In another Arts & Crafts Conference connection, the Roycroft Retreat was announced at the Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms’ annual kick-off party. When we were piling on layers of clothing during a bitterly cold February, summer seemed far away, but warm July days finally arrived, and on July 8, twenty-five Stickley Museum Members from all over the country met up at the Roycroft Inn for some in-depth Arts-and-Crafts sightseeing.
Tuesday, July 7 – A Stickley Detour
The museum’s education manager, Kristen McCauley, and I started our Farms Afield on Tuesday, heading north a day early to work out last-minute details before the group arrived. On our way, we added a little Stickley scenery to our journey with a side trip to Syracuse, New York, for a quick hello to Dave Rudd at Dalton’s American Decorative Arts, and a visit to the original L. and J.G. Stickley factory in Fayetteville, now the home of the Stickley Museum. It was my second visit to the museum, which — combining two things I love! — shares the beautifully preserved factory building with Fayetteville’s public library. It’s always exciting to see the museum’s extraordinary collection and exhibitions. I especially enjoyed a thought-provoking display pairing examples of the company’s re-issued furniture with the historic pieces that inspired them, but I was most pleased to meet with the museum’s new director, Amanda Clifford, and to catch up with Mike Danial, the L. and J.G. Stickley company historian, who treated us to lunch.
Back on the road, our progress was slowed by heavy storms. We were relieved when the beautiful Roycroft Inn finally emerged into view. Originally built in 1905 and a National Historic Landmark today, the Roycroft Inn was — and is still — a thriving part of the Roycroft Community. We checked into cozy rooms filled with Arts and Crafts furnishings, and though rain had settled into the area, we still enjoyed a delicious dinner outside under the Inn’s lovely peristyle before dropping into bed.
Wednesday, July 8 – Retreat!
As Kristen and I dealt with final logistics on Wednesday, we happened upon trip attendees, newly arriving from points all over the country, including Washington, Texas, Maryland, and Wisconsin. Finally, at 6 p.m. we gathered for the start of the Roycroft Retreat with an Orientation at the Roycroft Campus Corporation’s Power House. This newly re-constructed building, on the site of the original Power House that supplied electricity to all of the Roycroft buildings, features one section of an original wall, and serves as the RCC’s Visitor Center.
As attendees arrived, happy greetings echoed through the Power House as old friendships were renewed and new ones begun. I welcomed the group and introduced Alan Nowicki, Program Director at RCC, whose guidance had been essential to our trip planning. Nowicki shared an overview of East Aurora’s history, its unique sites, from Roycroft to the famous Vidler’s 5 & 10, and its restaurants. Our first evening was capped off with a group dinner in the Library of the Roycroft Inn, where we received a welcome from Innkeeper Martha Augat as we settled in with glasses of wine.
Thursday, July 9 – Roycroft and Graycliff
Rainy weather, often giving way to downpours, marked the first hours of our day but didn’t dampen our spirits. We met up again with Alan Nowicki to start our behind-the-scenes Roycroft tour. Nowicki reviewed Roycroft history and the life and work of founder Elbert Hubbard, before RCC Executive Director Curt Maranto joined us to talk about the present day mission and goals of the organization. Then, this truly dynamic duo teamed up to lead a one-of-a-kind extensive tour that included the Roycroft Inn, the Chapel, the Print Shop (a recent purchase of the organization, our group was honored to have the first public tour of the building), and the Copper Shop, which is also the RCC’s charming gift shop today.
Thursday afternoon was set aside as free time before we boarded a bus for a visit to Graycliff, the extraordinary estate on Lake Erie designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Happily, the skies were clear as we began our special evening tours of this beautiful estate, which, like Craftsman Farms, was spared from development through a grassroots effort. We began with a stroll down the driveway, admiring the recent restoration of the Wright-designed landscape. Inside, our tour groups crisscrossed through both floors of the house, studying architectural details and the stunning views from each room, before reuniting on the terrace to end our day with a delicious wine and cheese reception as twilight descended on the lake.
Friday, July 10 – Darwin Martin House and Buffalo Tour
Sunny skies greeted us as we departed the Roycroft Inn after a delicious breakfast in Hubbard Hall. Our first stop was the woodworking studio of Stephen Oubre, the lead cabinet maker responsible for the restoration and reconstruction of the built-in furniture elements of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Darwin Martin House, which we would be visiting later in the morning.
We gathered around tables in Oubre’s two-story workshop, and he shared his personal history as a woodworker, while his corgi, Zeppelin, roamed the crowd making friends. A craftsman most of his life, Oubre studied woodworking and furniture design at the Rochester Institute of Technology. Our Q & A session with the affable Oubre took some twists and turns before settling on a long conversation about veneer. Beginning with a declaration to transform our generally negative views of veneer, Oubre used the conversation to demonstrate the process of cabinet making, from milling to finished piece, that is central to his work for the Darwin Martin House. Though we longed to linger in Oubre’s workshop, our special Restoration Tour of this extraordinary house in Buffalo beckoned.
Coordinated with our visit to Oubre’s workshop, the Darwin Martin House Restoration Tour provided a full overview of the restoration of this National Historic Landmark. Completed in 1907, the Martin complex is Frank Lloyd Wright’s largest and most important grouping of residential buildings designed for a single client. Abandoned for 17 years after the Martin family’s fortune was lost, this pilgrimage-worthy complex has undergone an impressive restoration. Our exceptional tour took us throughout the house, to areas in the basement and upper floors not often seen on public tours, to the adjacent Barton House, which was built for Martin’s sister, and the gardener’s cottage.
After a relaxing lunch overlooking Buffalo harbor, Alan Nowicki joined us again to lead our tour of Buffalo. Nowicki’s historic and architectural tour of the city began with a walk along Canalside, the city’s waterfront, which features a partial restoration of the Erie Canal. We then boarded the bus to see Buffalo’s architectural sites, from Louis Sullivan’s Guaranty Building to the Richardson Olmsted Complex to the stately homes on Millionaires Row. We stopped to stretch our legs at Delaware Park, which is part of the amazingly forward-thinking parks and parkway system developed by Frederick Law Olmsted for Buffalo in the late 1860s, the oldest system of its kind in America.
After a full day, we circled back to the Darwin Martin House to drop off Alan and spotted preparations for the arrival of special guests Mick Jagger and Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones, whose visit to Buffalo on their ongoing concert tour would, of course, include a visit to this significant landmark.
Saturday, July 11 – Finale
Our final half-day, three tours in East Aurora, all walking distance from the Roycroft Inn, provided a local finale to our Roycroft Retreat. We began the morning at Baker Memorial United Methodist Church to view the sanctuary’s remarkable Tiffany windows.
We then made our way to the Elbert Hubbard Roycroft Museum, located in a picturesque bungalow built by members of the Roycroft community. The museum features a significant collection of Roycroft artifacts, including a Roycroft copper candlestick telephone.
Our final stop was to the home of 13th U. S. President Millard Fillmore. As we walked through the house, built by Fillmore himself, our enthusiastic guide recounted the story of Fillmore’s life, from his humble beginnings in a log cabin to his ascendance to the presidency.
After our tours, we ambled back to the Roycroft Inn, taking our time through the sunny streets of East Aurora, knowing that our arrival would mark the end of the Retreat. As we gathered in clusters to say, “Goodbye, until next time,” the Inn was abuzz with preparations for a busy evening ahead.
A 5-hour drive awaited Kristen and me, but before we hit the road, one more stop at the Copper Shop was in order. I had a small purchase to make for my office bulletin board. Amid all of the delightful Roycroft mottos featured in the shop, one, inscribed on a notecard, had particularly caught my eye. Now, at the end of our satisfying trip, the motto seemed especially fitting: “Blessed is the woman who has found her work” I couldn’t agree more.
We’re already planning for our 2016 trip. Stay tuned for more information!
Our sincerest thanks goes out to Vonda for crafting such a wonderful travelogue for us to share here this week. The only thing that could possibly make it better is if we had been there in person to experience it ourselves. Thank you, Vonda. Head over to our Facebook page to see even more incredible photos from their Retreat that we weren’t able to post here with the article!
Want to plan your own Roycroft Retreat? Re-trace Craftsman Farms’ steps with the following links: