“Together We Grow Stronger”
In lieu of a regular column this week, I decided to print a portion of my opening remarks delivered at the33rd National Arts and Crafts Conference on Friday, February 21.
I can’t help but get a little nostalgic each time I step to the podium here at the Grove Park Inn and look out over this wonderful crowd of smiling, receptive people. Who could have thought, thirty-three years ago, that a small gathering of curious collectors would make the trek down to Asheville and up Sunset Mountain to the Grove Park Inn – a 1913 resort hotel then in search of its own identity – only to sit right where you are now and wonder, “Who is this guy from Iowa that we never heard of — and what could he have to say to us about Arts and Crafts?
The truth was “Not much.”
I stood here that night in February of 1988 and talked about the history of this wonderful hotel and its famous guests. That first year the entire conference all took place in one ballroom: antiques show on the left; seminar room on the right.
That was it.
No walking tours, no small group discussions, no demonstrations, no book club, no house tours, no workshops, and just one contemporary craftsman. Fourteen of you here tonight were also here back in 1988, and have come every February since then – all 33 times.
If this Arts and Crafts Conference can be considered a success, and I hope historians yet to be born will consider it so, I can attribute it to two people. My mother passed away two years ago at age 88, but before she did she raised four children to believe in a sense of community and of responsibility to those around you. We were small town, Midwest Presbyterians, not so much concerned with what the minister was preaching as we were with looking around to see who had skipped the Sunday service to sneak out to Scotterman’s pond to go fishing for bluegills.
My father, who went from high school graduation right into the Navy and the war in the Pacific, was a quiet stoic Swede, often with little to say, but a direct way of saying it.
“If you are going to do something,” he taught me, “do it right.”
And for 33 years, I have used the many tools my parents passed on to me to try to make this annual event as special as I could for you. Somewhere along the way I developed into an optimist. A seeker of silver linings in dark clouds. Give me ten minutes and I’ll start a twenty-minute project. If my glass isn’t half full, it’s only because I haven’t drunk out of it yet. Give me a lemon and I’ll squeeze some lemonade out of it.
Every January, as my friends are headed someplace warm where bartenders mix colorful drinks topped with miniature umbrellas, I swear to Leigh Ann that this is going to be my last conference, that I want to be someplace warm and dry in January rather than worrying over everything from the weather and a thousand name badges to the conference catalog and the afternoon house tours.
And, then, something happens.
And you’re not whining, you’re not complaining. You’re smiling, you’re happy to see old friends, you’re looking forward to meeting new friends, to sharing stories, shopping the shows, exploring the hotel, sitting by the fireplaces, chatting in the small group discussions, watching the daily demonstrations, taking a workshop, even getting on the trolley for one of the house tours.
Over the years, Arts and Crafts has given us many things, but one I have come to appreciate even more as I grow older is the opportunity to get excited. As we have all learned, adulthood can take the excitement out of life. So can work, as can families and the burden of responsibilities.
Pretty soon we think excitement is something we left behind at high school pep rallies. But here, this weekend, we get to do something special: We get to be excited again.
Excided over seeing and meeting friends. Excited at inspecting fabulous works of craftsmanship, old and new. Excited at the prospect of picking something out for our home. Excited at feeling alive, at reviving emotions dulled by our daily routines, at learning new information, not because it makes us better at our jobs, but because it makes us appreciate life and creativity, art and craftsmanship.
Head, heart, and hand.
For us, these are not just words typed on a piece of paper or hammered on a sheet of copper. They are words which guide our daily decisions; words which brought you here this weekend to learn something new, to feel your heart race as you spot something special, or to create something with your hands, regardless how modest.
Head, heart, and hand.
I hope you will let yourself get excited this weekend, then take the excitement home with you. Because here’s the best thing about it: excitement is contagious.
And nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.
People can catch it from you. And pretty soon you have a room full of excited people, talking, laughing, sharing.
Head, heart, and hand.
The Arts and Crafts trinity that bonds us all together, regardless where we came from, regardless of our age, or what we do back home. Strangers for a moment, friends for life.
An Arts and Crafts life.
Finally, if there is anything we have learned on our own individual journeys, it is that life is fragile. That there is no guarantee of anything more than this very moment, right now. And so, we must make our decisions carefully, thoughtfully, not wasting a single opportunity to reach out to someone, to make a connection, to share an opinion, an emotion, an experience. Even just a smile.
Making sure that we do something to make someone else’s day just a little brighter, a little easier, a little funnier.
My grandmother made a needlepoint in 1930, while she was awaiting the arrival of my mother, who was born a few months later. And it hung in our house in Illinois for years, until I brought it back, and displayed it in my office.
“Count that day lost,
Whose low descending sun,
Views from thy hand,
No worthy action done.”
And one final thought:
Arts and Crafts does not hold the secret to a long life, just to a good life.
A life worth living, each and every day,
Head, heart and hand.
Until next week,
“Together we grow stronger.”