From The Grove Park Inn to Boston and East Aurora
In 1986, when I began planning the first Arts & Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn, there were just a handful of antiques dealers who specialized in Stickley furniture, Roycroft and Heintz metalware, and Grueby, Rookwood and Teco pottery.
Among the names on a very short list were those of Michael FitzSimmons in Chicago, Don Treadway in Cincinnati, Don Marek in Grand Rapids, Jim Messineo and Michael Witt in Boston, David Rago in New Jersey, Robert Rust and Kitty Turgeon in East Aurora, David Rudd in Syracuse, Mark and Jean Oberkirsch in St. Louis, Linda Hubbard Brady and Boice Lydell in East Aurora, and D.J. Puffert on the West Coast.
With no email, no websites, none of the magazines such as American Bungalow, Arts & Crafts Homes or Style 1900 to either provide me with a list of dealers or to advertise the event, I did what we used to do in the Dark Ages: I made expensive long-distance phone calls and I wrote letters.
Lots of letters.
I cooked up an agenda for a three-day conference with morning and evening speakers and an afternoon Arts & Crafts antiques show, and I mailed it and pictures of the Grove Park Inn to anyone I was told had an interest in Arts & Crafts.
And I got lucky.
In March of 1987 the Boston Museum of Fine Arts opened “The Art That Is Life: The Arts & Crafts Movement in America.” This two-year traveling exhibition, which also drew record crowds in New York, Detroit and Los Angeles, propelled the Arts & Crafts movement into mainstream America. I flew up to Boston for the opening, armed with color pamphlets that I handed out to everyone I met.
Suddenly the idea of an Arts & Crafts Conference in an original Arts & Crafts resort in the mountains of North Carolina didn’t sound so crazy.
Besides, I reasoned, what else would they be doing in February?
About that same time I learned I hadn’t been the first to come up with the idea of an Arts & Crafts conference. Decades earlier Elbert Hubbard had held one nearly every year at Roycroft, and four leaders of the Roycroft Renaissance — Kitty Turgeon, Robert Rust, Boice Lydell and Linda Hubbard Brady — had hosted a conference on the East Aurora campus for the past few years.
Their efforts had been hampered by the limited number of rooms available at the aging 1905 Roycroft Inn, with a dining room that also had to serve as an antiques show, and a small lecture hall across the street, but the enthusiasm they injected into the event was contagious. I called Kitty Turgeon only to be told that the Inn was sold out, but she kindly gave me the name of a collector in Raleigh who had reserved a room. I called Ron Djuren and persuaded him to let me be his roommate — quite a credit to the character of Arts & Crafts collectors — but, as I have learned over 26 years since then, not at all unusual.
I arrived in East Aurora with pamphlets falling out of my pockets and immediately found myself immersed in the Arts & Crafts experience as only the historic Roycroft Campus can offer. I have completely forgotten major events in my life, but I can retrace nearly every step I took that weekend in East Aurora and can recall the name of every individual I met.
We were all saddened by the announcement that weekend that it would be the last Arts & Crafts conference held in East Aurora for an indefinite length of time. The Roycroft Inn had been sold in 1986 to a non-profit foundation whose plans for an extensive renovation and expansion would require that Elbert Hubbard’s massive oak doors remain closed for nearly a decade.
Unwilling to give up on the idea of an annual Arts & Crafts Conference, my suggestion to gather at the Grove Park Inn in February of 1988 was embraced by everyone there. No one was more supportive than the four leaders of the Roycroft Renaissance — Kitty, Bob, Boice and Linda — who not only came to Asheville that following February, but who helped spread the word about the inaugural Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Conference.
Without their encouragement, participation and support, we might well have sputtered to a halt, had that first year at the Grove Park Inn been a bust.
A few more stories to tell in the coming weeks….
Until next Monday,
Have a great week!
Note: Lower photo is of the lobby of the Roycroft Inn as it appears today.