Parties, Poets and Goats

I struggled most of last summer trying to think of something special to do to mark our 25th meeting at the historic Grove Park Inn on February 17-19. If you have attended any of our previous 24 conferences, you know that the ballroom and meeting rooms in the Vanderbilt Wing are occupied all weekend by the 125 antiques dealers, artists and artisans. The second ballroom in the Sammons Wing is used all weekend for our seven seminars, with a stage and three screens across the front, audio-visual equipment lining the back, and more than a thousand chairs in between.

I sensed that tearing any of that down for a Saturday evening event, then reassembling it by early Sunday morning would be asking a little too much of the Grove Park Inn’s staff.

Besides, large events are prone to being disappointments, never quite living up to our expectations. I also knew from 24 years of experience, suggestions and feedback from you that our format of evening and morning seminars separated by the afternoon buying shows, interspersed with tours, demonstrations, book clubs and Small Group Discussions were what you were coming for.

Gradually, then, it dawned on me: make it a three-day celebration filled with several small events: free drawings before each seminar for gifts from our exhibitors, nightly champagne and dessert, live music in the Great Hall each night, dancing on the Sunset Terrace on Saturday night, and the Asheville premier of the film documentary “The Day Carl Sandburg Died.”

The idea for the Saturday evening showing, plus an appearance by filmmaker Paul Bonesteel, occurred to me last July, as my wife and I were sitting in the Flat Rock Playhouse listening to Paul talk about the making of his latest documentary. I have always been an avid Sandburg reader, having grown up just a few miles from his birthplace in Galesburg, Illinois and, like Sandburg, having later moved to the mountains of North Carolina.

Carl Sandburg and his wife Lilian moved to Connemara (a farm named by a previous owner after a district in Ireland), about twenty-five miles south of Asheville, in 1945. He lived in their 1839 farmhouse for 22 years and wrote nearly a third of his work, including his Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of Abraham Lincoln, in their spare bedroom on the second floor. After his death in 1967, Lilian sold the house and its contents (including four Stickley dining chairs) to the National Park Service. It opened to the public in 1974, looking exactly as it had during Sandburg’s final years, right down to the stack of Life magazines on the floor next to his reading chair and the manuscripts littering his desk.

If you are an avid Sandburg fan, you may well want to take this opportunity to visit Connemara. Lilian’s famous herd of prize-winning goats still roams the farmyard, and you can walk amid the barns and sheds, go down to the pond or stand in his study and soak in all that you can. For those less familiar with the Poet of the Prairie, you may be surprised to know that as a young man Sandburg was a close friend of Elbert Hubbard, stayed and spoke at Roycroft, and was an active and vocal Social Democrat inspired by the reform movement of William Morris — yes, Arts & Crafts was about more than just fumed oak and hammered copper back then.

I hope you will come to the Grove Park Inn next month and join us in another Little Journey back to the Arts & Crafts era, back to a time when they, too, struggled to find The Simple Life amid the rapid changes technology was making in their world.

Until next Monday,

Have a great week!

– Bruce

For more information, please go to or call our office at (828) 628-1915.

Note: Look closely at the photo of Paul Bonesteel in Carl Sandburg’s dining room and you will see Sandburg’s Stickley chairs — beneath the pads!