Reflections and Resolutions

I’m sitting here this morning next to the cold ashes in our fireplace, looking across the room at a still brightly lit Christmas tree that in a few days will be propped against a fence on our small farm, providing shelter for the nuthatches and cardinals Leigh Ann feeds all winter. It’s a new year, which for me is as much a time for reflection as it is resolution.

This is a milestone year for the Arts and Crafts Conference. Thirty years ago I stepped into the cavernous Great Hall at the historic 1913 Grove Park Inn, and all I could think about was how I could share that experience with my new Arts and Crafts friends. In truth, there weren’t that many of them in 1987. I had just moved from Iowa, where a set of Roycroft dining room chairs locked in a basement storage room had opened my eyes to the Arts and Crafts style, prompting me to begin replacing the pressed back Golden Oak furniture I had been collecting with what was then still called Mission Oak.

I didn’t find many more Arts and Crafts collectors in North Carolina, but now I could more easily begin exploring the Arts and Crafts sites I had been reading about:  Craftsman Farms, the Roycroft Campus, museum exhibits in New York and Boston, auctions at Skinners’ and Rago’s, as well those trendy avant-garde galleries in lower Manhattan, including Jordan-Volpe, Don Magner, Peter-Roberts and Gallery 532.

I was encouraged by the small but enthusiastic group of dealers, collectors and enthusiasts who had gathered in the summer of 1987 for a three-day Arts and Crafts conference held at the 1902 Roycroft Inn. The aging wooden structure was about to be closed for what turned into an eight-year renovation, and my timid invitation to come to Asheville and the Grove Park Inn for a similar event the next year was met with unbridled promises to attend.

And their enthusiasm was only surpassed by their loyalty.

As I began planning the first Arts and Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn, I discovered that both Gustav Stickley and Elbert Hubbard had hosted their own conferences, complete with speakers, tours, exhibits, receptions, demonstrations and shows. As I researched them, I was disappointed to learn that beyond a few newspaper articles and reviews there was no written record of these events.

And so I decided just weeks before the first Grove Park Inn conference that we would have a catalog to serve as a guidebook for the weekend, as well as a record of the speakers and exhibitors who attended. Our first Conference Catalog was just 24 pages long, stapled together, printed in black-and-white, and contained some pretty amateurish cut-and-paste ads and articles, many done on my new forty-pound Macintosh Plus computer sprawled across my Stickley library table.

I have preserved a few copies of that original catalog, as well as each year’s edition which has followed. And as the Arts and Crafts Conference grew larger, so did the Conference Catalog, as it reflected and documented through its agenda, articles and advertisements the steady evolution of the revival of the Arts and Crafts movement.

This week I will be proof reading our 30th anniversary edition, now 88 pages in length and featuring full-color, professionally-designed ads and in-depth articles, printed on glossy stock and bound with glue rather than rusty staples. What I had pulled together in a few weeks back in 1988 now consumes a good part of my entire year, but with never a single regret, for each edition still serves as a record of our annual conference, documenting for present and future historians why it is that for three decades we have gathered the third weekend in February at the Grove Park Inn to greet old friends — and to meet new ones — around the roaring fireplaces in the Great Hall.

Until next Monday,

Reflections and resolutions.