One City, Two Shows: A Study In Contrasts

It happened in Asheville, but it could just as easily have been near you.

This past weekend two long-standing shows came to town: the indoor 64th annual Asheville Antiques Fair and the outdoor 38th Village Art and Craft Fair. I attended each, for two different reasons, and came away with some disturbing thoughts.

I was a speaker at the Antiques Fair, a traditional high-quality antiques show with approximately fifty antiques dealers spread across the spacious floor of the downtown Civic Center. I was the opening day speaker, scheduled to talk about the Arts & Crafts movement. Thirty minutes before I was to hit the podium I surveyed the show and predicted I wouldn’t have more than ten people in the audience. At one point I could have thrown a tennis ball the length of an aisle and never hit anyone.

Despite the fact there were only two pieces of Arts & Crafts in the show – a pair of non-hammered copper bookends ($79) and a beautiful 6″ Marblehead tile depicting a pair of flying ducks ($1400) – nearly every chair in my seminar room was taken when I arrived. As I stood listening to my introduction, it hit me: no one in the audience was under the age of 45.

The next morning we drove to Biltmore Village, a popular historic district two miles south of downtown, where 125 craftsmen and craftswomen were crammed into row upon row of white 10’x10′ tents on the grounds around the historic All Souls Cathedral. This was a show of the highest quality contemporary arts and crafts: jewelry, pottery, paintings, prints, yard art, furniture, textiles and metalwork.

While the styles varied, philosophically it was all Arts & Crafts.

And the place was packed, wall-to-wall, tent-to-tent people – all of whom had to park several blocks away. As the day went along, the temperatures soared, and still they came. And they bought. Yard art, pottery, jewelry – it was flying out of the booths.

And while some may have come from the downtown Antiques Show, the majority were under the age of 45, not over. More than a few were hopelessly trying to maneuver baby strollers through the sweaty throng.

And what they were buying, even if they weren’t aware of it, was Arts & Crafts.

Twenty-first century Arts & Crafts.

I had ended my seminar at the Antiques Show with a line I coined many years ago: “In Asheville, the Arts & Crafts movement never ended.”

And what I witnessed this weekend drove that point home.

So, I asked myself, are traditional antiques shows following the path of the once mighty dinosaurs?

I thought of our own show, held during the Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Conference, where people still stand in line to get in each day, where the aisles are still packed, where collectors are still buying antiques – along with contemporary Arts & Crafts.

Will it, too, soon become extinct?

What I saw this weekend demonstrated a reassuring point: young or old, people continue to be drawn to the Arts & Crafts style.

Hand-craftsmanship, quality materials, simple, yet sophisticated designs and themes inspired by nature – these elements don’t suddenly fall out of fashion.

Nor are they bounded by time. Old or new, antique or contemporary, people are attracted to good design.

I opened my talk at the antiques show with the famous photo (shown here) of the infamous potter George Ohr, who lovingly called his vases ‘mud babies.’ At the art and craft fair I spied a young potter who had labeled his clay creations ‘mud puppies.’

I asked, as he was ringing up yet another sale, “what would George have thought about your ‘mud puppies’?”

The young man smiled knowingly. “He would have said his were better.”

Then he added, “And he would have been right.”

Until next Monday,

“Do something that makes you feel good about yourself.”

Bruce Johnson

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