It has been called a cruise ship lodged atop a mountain.
Make that an Arts and Crafts cruise ship….
When the Grove Park Inn opened on July 12, 1913, guests did not come simply for one night, nor did they come with expectations of leaving the ship, so to speak….
As a result, when owner E.W. Grove and his son-in-law and manager Frederick L. Seely designed the resort hotel, they included a number of amenities for their guests, including a three-lane bowling alley, an indoor swimming pool, two tennis courts, a Donald Ross golf course, hiking trails, horseback rides, two pool tables, shuffleboard, silent movies, music recitals, lectures, dances, a writing room, and a Ladies Lounge, for those who enjoyed a Muratti’s “Young Ladies Cigarette” in private.
Last week I made my first trip in several Covid months back up Sunset Mountain, meeting with the heads of key Grove Park Inn departments as we look forward to planning a live 35th National Arts and Crafts Conference scheduled for February 18-20, 2022. We are finishing the contract terms and should be able to make an official announcement and open the computers for reservations in the coming days.
While the Great Hall was pleasantly humming with people, those being individuals rather than any convention attendees, the portions of the hotel we also occupy, namely the two spacious ballrooms and all of the meeting rooms, were eerily empty. The hotel staff, from Managing Director Gary Froeba down to 37-year veteran bellman Bob Stafford, are excited about the prospect of the Arts and Crafts Conference bringing back all of our energy and passion for their famous building and its Arts and Crafts collection.
I cannot speak of the passion Arts and Crafts collectors have for our discoveries, whether it be of treasured pieces or the history behind them, without thinking of Peter West (1939-2003) and Bob “Gus” Gustafson (1926-2004). Peter was the husband and partner of printmaker Kathy West, who exhibited her artwork at our early GPI conferences. Peter loved being around people, especially on Sunday night, relaxing in the Great Hall in front of one of the enormous fireplaces after the shows had closed and everything had been packed away. He would lean back on one of the couches and announce to everyone, “This is like going to Arts and Crafts church camp.”
Bob “Gus” Gustafson and his wife Jackie journeyed from California to Asheville for our very first Arts and Crafts Conference in 1988, and returned every year until his untimely death in 2004. He and Jackie would always sit in the front row for every seminar in the Heritage Ballroom, hanging on every word, regardless of the speaker or the topic. Invariably Bob would come up to me afterwards and genuinely exclaim, “Wasn’t that fantastic!”
After each of their passings, their families and I made arrangements to plant a dogwood tree, whose blossoms have inspired scores of Southern artists and artisans, in their memory on the hillside below the Great Hall. I check on both of their trees regularly, making sure the grounds crew keeps them pruned and fertilized, and that their plaques remain upright and in clear sight.
And, in return, each time they both give me reason to smile, and to appreciate everyone I have come to know since I, too, discovered Arts and Crafts church camp.
Until next week,
“The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.” – Chinese proverb