Experiences We Can’t Afford to Miss

Dear Readers –

I am on the road this week, so I took this opportunity to print a letter from one of our readers who, while not a dyed-in-the-wool Arts & Crafts collector, attended last week’s Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Conference. Here’s how he saw it:

– Bruce

My in-laws (who live down the street) work crazy hours at stressful jobs, at an age that I would have long since retired.

Their reward is the get to do some pretty cool stuff. Our reward (for being their daughter and son-in-law) is that we sometimes get to tag along.

We spent the weekend in Asheville, N.C., at the annual Arts and Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn.

From Wikipedia: “The Arts and Crafts Movement was a British, Canadian and American aesthetic movement occurring in the last years of the 19th century and the early years of the 20th century. Inspired by the writings of John Ruskin and a romantic idealization of the craftsman taking pride in his personal handiwork, it was at its height between approximately 1880 and 1910.”

It’s chairs and lamps and crap.

My friends and family who know me absolutely break up laughing when they hear that I go to a furniture conference every year.

My in-laws are experts in the field and enthusiastic collectors. My wife has caught the bug. I am so far resisting.

The first year I attended the conference, I went to a seminar called “So Many Pots” about what to start collecting and why. I piped up in the middle: “Help, I married into a family of collectors. What do I do?”

The guy next to me: “Oh, we’re no help. We’re enablers here.”

The guy across the room, with a six-inch-long beard: “Yeah. I collect spigots.”

They’re an eclectic bunch, arts and crafts collectors. Here’s the funny thing … after four years of attending the Arts and Crafts Conference, I’ve become a fan of the experience. For one thing, the Grove Park Inn is amazing. How amazing? There is a room in the old part of the hotel with a bullet hole in the ceiling. That bullet hole was shot in that ceiling by novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The lobby of the hotel has two giant stone fireplaces, with rocking chairs set in a semicircle in front of them. My wife’s grandmother and late grandfather would hold court in those chairs, settling in just after breakfast and chatting all day. After two days, they’d know the whole hotel.

In fact the whole city of Asheville has a cool aesthetic. It’s like they scooped up a rustic New England town and dropped it in the hills of western North Carolina. You end up with an artsy community, complete with southern charm.

My role for the weekend? Interference.

My wife LOVES having a chance to go to seminars for the chairs and lamps and crap that we can’t afford. So I look after the boy. I even attended a seminar this year. Well, I poked my head into a seminar. The metalsmithing expert was talking about a slide on the screen. “You’ll see the ridges at the top of the bowl. It’s a delicate process-”

“LOOK!!!! A HAMMER!!! DATS A HAMMER!!!” my son blurted out enthusiastically, and at top volume.

So ended my seminar time for this year’s trip.

I’m sure one day, I’ll be one of those people sitting in seminars, comparing the “line” of different furniture styles with fellow collectors from around the United States.

But for now, my goal is to become famous enough that I can show up at a hotel like that, packing heat, and that a night of ceiling target practice gets celebrated by future visitors to the hotel.

Or maybe, like the Great Gatsby, I’ll just pretend I am.

Brendan O’Hallarn is a writer based in Williamsburg, Va. He writes a weekly column for the online newspaper WYDaily (www.wydaily.com) called “White Knuckles,” about his family and their experiences. You can follow Brendann on Twitter, at http://twitter.com/#!/White__Knuckles.