Friday Night Inspections and Reflections

This past weekend was auction weekend here in Asheville.

We are fortunate to have Brunk Auctions nearby, for not only does it give those of us too tired for the late night bar and music scene, for which downtown Asheville is noted, a place to go on an occasional Friday night, it is also another of those great learning opportunities.

And even though I might be feeling too old most Friday nights to sit in a crowded bar waiting for a band to start playing at ten-thirty, I haven’t yet reached the point where I feel too old to get excited about learning something new.

Brunk Auctions was started twenty-some years ago by my good friend Bob Brunk, who built it from a small space in a downtown alley called Carolina Lane into one of the most highly respected auction houses in the country. And as Bob will attest, it was never an easy journey. Consignors often have unrealistic expectations and, despite written and verbal warnings as to the fickle nature of collectors, will generally tend to believe that the poor condition of their consignment somehow had less to do with its lackluster performance than the skill of the auctioneer.

But for a group of us, Brunk’s auction every other month gives us an excuse to meet at the Friday night preview and spend a few hours perusing the assemblage, comparing notes and observations before retiring to a nearby restaurant for a late dinner together.

With more than 1100 lots in this catalogued, two-day sale, we had plenty to inspect and discuss on Friday evening, from an 18th century Southern walnut cellaret with a pre-sale estimate of $30,000, to a Tiffany sterling silver punchbowl and a collection of Picasso drawings.

And there’s always some Arts and Crafts in the mix.

I’ve both bought and sold Stickley furniture at Brunk’s, and watched Bob sell Newcomb pottery, Heintz lamps, Roycroft metalware and, on this particular weekend, a darling small Charles Warren Eaton oil on canvas.

Bob has recently retired, at least officially, turning the business over to his son Andrew, and so has been able to join us for dinner after the Friday night previews. As the talk turned, as it often does, at least according to my friends and to my wife, to the upcoming 26th annual Arts and Crafts Conference, Bob leaned across the table and asked, “It’s been 25 years. Don’t you ever get tired of it all?”

On that particular evening, after that particular week, the answer was easy.


And it’s not the work, I quickly explained. It’s the worry. The worry that people will stop coming, that exhibitors will have a poor show, that speakers won’t live up to our expectations. The work is the easy part. It’s the worry that never stops.

He nodded. He knew.

But then, I said, just when you’re having one of those days when you’re convinced it just isn’t worth it, someone will call and in the course of the conversation will start talking about how much their weekend at the Grove Park Inn means to them, how they reconnect with their friends, how much they learn, how much they look forward to bringing back something for their home, how important that one weekend in February is to their Arts and Crafts life, and that’s when you also know.

It’s still worth it.

Until next Monday,

Have a great week!


Charles Warren Eaton (1857-1937) was trained in the Hudson River School style, but evolved during the Arts and Craft era into a tonalist artist, earning the nickname “the pine tree painter.” His intimate, almost moody scenes rarely included human figures. His artistic career came to an end with the Great Depression, and he lived out his life with his sister in New Jersey. Both his work and his reputation are again highly regarded. Pictured: “The Pines” (est. $1000-$1500).