Conference Week: A Day by Day Journey
FRIDAY, FEBRUARY 20
Even after 28 years of directing the National Arts and Crafts Conference, you realize that no two conferences are alike.
One year ago today the temperature set a record when it reached 72 degrees.
On Friday morning we set the opposite record when the temperature dropped to 5 degrees.
Inside the Grove Park Inn the exhibitors spent the morning putting the finishing touches on their booths, nervous about whether or not clients would brave the bitter cold and patches of ice to make their way to the afternoon show.
But when one o’clock came the line stretched down the long hallway of the Vanderbilt Wing, then doubled back on itself. Within minutes the crowd was pulsating through the aisles and rooms, picking out both new and vintage items for their homes and offices. And by mid-afternoon red sold tags were beginning to sprout in gardens of brown furniture and matte green pottery.
The unexpected excitement of the day, however, did not occur until after the crowds had retreated to the Great Hall and the exhibitors had all closed their booths for the day. At seven o’clock a water pipe in an exterior wall froze, swelled, and burst, sending a stream of water across the carpeted floor in the Contemporary Craftsfirms Show.
Fortunately, a Grove Park Inn security officer making her rounds spotted the spreading lake of water and put in a distress call. Within three minutes we had a dozen people attacking the water, quickly turning off the shutoff valve and immediately moving booths of artwork, tiles, furniture, and lamps to higher ground. They were then joined by even more staff, armed with vacuums, sucking up the water and pouring it into nearby sinks. As soon as they finished, another crew arrived with fans designed to begin drying out the carpet.
When I left the scene at eleven, the carpets were starting to dry, so this morning our staff will start reassembling the affected booths — and hopefully by the time the show reopens at noon everything will be back to normal.
I’ll try to snap a few photos this morning and out them up later, so check back to see how things go on Saturday.
THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 19
We awoke this morning to another first in our 28 years of the National Arts and Crafts Conference: roads so slippery that the exhibitors could not get up the hill to the loading docks at the Grove Park Inn.
The Grove Park Inn’s staff was right on top of things, scraping the roads before spreading salt and sand over them, but we all knew that we would have to await the arrival of one key player.
And right on schedule, at ten o’clock the clouds broke apart and there was the sun, ready to start melting the snow that had accumulated overnight on the Grove Park Inn roadways.
So, after a couple more cups of coffee and several sugary donuts, the exhibitors began bringing in their merchandise and setting up their booths. Once inside, we create our own Arts and Crafts world, insulated against the world news and the weather.
And in case you are wondering, the show does go on, regardless of what might be happening outside. The exhibitors will be ready for the Friday opening at 1:00pm and will be ready to answer all of your questions. They will stay open until 6:00pm on Friday, then will return on Saturday from Noon until 6:00pm, and again on Sunday from 11:00am until 4:00pm.
It will be an experience not to be repeated until twelve months from now, so we hope you’ll make the trek up Sunset Mountain to the Grove Park Inn this weekend.
Until tomorrow morning,
Thanks for checking in!
WEDNESDAY, FEBRUARY 18
Wednesday is our first full day setting up at the Grove Park Inn, and for me it represents a critical transition day: letting go.
Perhaps better put: letting someone else go — to work.
Right now Alex is running the Registration Desk smoothly, and I can tell when I’ve called one time too many from my end of the hotel, where the crews are erecting the pipe-and-draping for the booths, moving in tables, and unloading huge glass display cases.
I have given them all detailed floor plans and specific instructions, but it’s still hard to actually and physically step back and let them do their job. They don’t need (or want) me picking up a table, moving electrical cords, or hanging signs. They know what they need to do, and they have their own way of doing it.
And so I pace. I make my rounds, checking and double-checking, making my lists of looking at my shrinking “To Do” list.
Of course, I could be worrying about the weather, but I’ve learned there’s nothing I can do about it. The forecast remains clear and cold for the weekend, so I’ll stick with that. The exhibitors are itching to start setting up their booths, which they can do first thing tomorrow morning, and promise to have a fantastic selection of items, both vintage and contemporary.
So, I’ve taken long enough for this update. Now its time for me to call Alex again, or maybe Paul, or Vince, or Kevin, or someone who will let me do something.
Hope to see you here this weekend!
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 17
In Asheville, it’s often been said that our definition of a winter storm is that while they will cancel school in the morning, by afternoon someone will be playing golf.
But when I woke up this morning to a truly solid, half-inch of ice coating all of our roads, I thought that perhaps the joke was now on us.
Yet here it is three o’clock on Tuesday afternoon and in Asheville the sun is shining, the roads are dry, and you have to look hard to find any trace of snow even on the north side of the houses.
Alex stayed in Asheville last night, so by noon she was able to make her way over to the Grove Park Inn to begin setting up the Arts and Crafts Conference registration desk. I live on a steep knoll seven miles south of Asheville, so I had to wait a couple of extra hours for the sun the loosen the icy layer atop our asphalt driveway.
But by the time I reached the Grove Park Inn at two o’clock, the staff there was already putting up tables and getting the meeting rooms ready for us.
I unloaded the supplies that Alex hadn’t been able to fit into her car and now am back in my nearly-empty office, tapping out this column before driving my truck packed with boxes of tote bags, posters, envelopes, silent auction donations, and bottled water back to the hotel. With our office stripped of all of its computers and file boxes, there isn’t much I can do here, except to turn it over to Jasper and Daisy, who live for the day when some stranger will try to open the door when I am gone.
And tomorrow, when the next crew starts hanging the pipe-and-draping and more of the exhibitors start checking in, the adrenaline rush will kick in and I will start checking off my daily list of things to do and places to be.
And before I know it, Sunday night will be here and I’ll wonder how it all flew by so fast.
But before then, I have a truck to unpack.
Thanks for checking in!
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 16
You would think that after 27 years I would be used to it, that I would be over it, that I would have overcome it, but not the case. It just never fails: anytime someone calls up just before the conference and tells me they have to cancel, regardless of the reason — a big project at work, an illness in the family, an ice storm along the interstate — I still take it personally.
I know, I need therapy, or a glass of wine . . . .
Or, better yet, a therapist who serves wine.
We used to just call them “bartenders.”
We are hunkered down here in Asheville tonight, dealing with a half inch of sleet, something we only get once or twice each winter, and generally in January.
Down here, February is for jonquils, not snowplows.
And even though the forecast is calling for sunny skies tomorrow, albeit with cooler than normal temperatures, we still got two cancellations today: one from an elderly couple in Arkansas, another from loyal attendees in Buffalo. Both were afraid to get on the road this week, even if the storm is predicted to move totally off the coast by the end of Tuesday.
And I bite my tongue, not wanting to talk anyone into doing something they don’t feel comfortable doing, even though I know that in a few days the temperatures will again be in the forties — and climbing.
But just as I was beginning to thumb through the Yellow Pages looking for that therapist who could prescribe a good merlot, I got another phone call, this one from someone who has never even come to any of our previous 27 Arts and Crafts Conferences, but who wants to come to this one.
“Hey,” he explained in a Boston accent. “It’s going to be better there than it has been here all winter. And it sounds like you guys have some fun.”
And so I reminded myself, as I hung up the phone, it doesn’t matter who doesn’t come.
It only matters who does.
And so tonight we are packing up our computers, closing up about seven boxes of file folders, and getting ready to move into the Grove Park Inn.
And while no one is apt to need any suntan lotion on the Sunset Terrace, the fires will be roaring non-stop in the gigantic fireplaces in the Great Hall, where people will be sitting up most of the night, catching up with old friends, meeting new ones, and remembering how much having found Arts and Crafts has meant to their lives.
And celebrating that discovery each year at the historic Grove Park Inn.
Thanks for the therapy session.
(I’ll find my own wine.)
SUNDAY, FEBRUARY 15
Naturally, the big question today is, ‘What’s the weather going to be like?”
One answer is certain: “By our [Southern] standards, it will be cold.”
Right now it appears that Monday and Tuesday will be our days of precipitation. Whether that will be snow, ice, or rain remains to be determined by the path of the front. By Wednesday the storm will have moved out, and clear skies will return — but it will be chilly.
Rest assured, the Grove Park Inn will have both fireplaces in the Great Hall roaring and the rocking chairs waiting!
Around here, it’s a small mountain of boxes and tubs: catalogs, magazines, totes, calendars, posters, badges, signs, materials, and file folders.
It all starts being loaded and driven to the Grove Park Inn tomorrow (Monday), and continues into Tuesday and Wednesday. We’d love to start even today, as right now it’s a clear, mild, sunny day, but the hotel is packed with hung-over Valentine’s Day guests, many of whom are taking advantage of the Presidents’ Day holiday tomorrow to stay an extra day.
So, we sit and wait and triple-check our lists.
Check back with us each day this week and I’ll keep you posted on what’s happening here in Asheville and we continue the countdown to the 28th National Arts and Crafts Conference.
SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 14
I’m sitting here in my office on Saturday afternoon, glad that I made reservations for Leigh Ann and I to go out for a Valentine’s Day dinner tonight, for if I hadn’t, I’d be explaining to her how my office looks like it is papered in yellow sticky notes.
Translation: I need to stay home and work on the conference.
We still have a couple more days here in the office before Alex and I make the move over to the Grove Park Inn. Starting on Tuesday, her office will be the Arts and Crafts Registration Desk in the Sammons Wing. Mine will be the Arts and Crafts Ticket Booth in the Vanderbilt Wing. Here in the office we normally sit about fifteen feet apart, working on everything from name badges and invoices to workshop sign-ups and directional signs.
But during Conference Week I generally won’t see her during the day, as we each have our own set of responsibilities. She checks everyone in, hands out catalogs and tote bags, and answers questions, while I make sure all of the exhibitor booths are setup, organize load-in for the exhibitors, and answer questions.
And if we’ve done all we need to do here in the office, then things should flow smoothly once people start arriving at the Grove Park Inn.
Then, we actually start to lean back and watch as people come in, other players begin playing their roles, and the action starts.
Earlier this year I encouraged all of our exhibitors to reach out to their best clients by offering them complimentary tickets to the afternoon shows. It’s a win-win situation: a serious collector comes to the show, an exhibitor gains his client’s appreciation, and I gain the continued support of the exhibitors. Sure, I guess I lose some ticket sales by giving away so many show tickets, but if the show gets stronger as a result of an influx of new collectors, then we all win in the long run.
And trust me, right now 28 years is starting to feel a little like a long run . . . .
And as good as next Monday will feel, I have already started a file of things we are going to do to make the 2016 National Arts and Crafts Conference even better than this one — before it even happens.
I make the joke, but it really is true, that we will spend as much time working on the Arts and Crafts Conference in March as any other month . . . . except maybe February.
I am going to attempt again this year to start each day of Conference Week by adding some insight to what goes on behind the scenes at the Arts and Crafts Conference. I’ll log on each morning and add some comments to this column: what the weather might be like, how set-up is progressing, and even what challenges we are encountering.
So, wake up each morning with me, log on while you’re drinking your coffee, and see what’s happening up at the Grove Park Inn.
“If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?”