Taking the Arts & Crafts Time Machine

With the Arts & Crafts Conference just a month away, I haven’t ventured far from Asheville this week. We’ve stayed busy wrapping up the 88-page Conference Catalog, printing name badges, finalizing tours and demonstrations, coaching speakers and Small Group Discussion leaders, and coordinating everything from security to the breakfast buffets with the staff at the Grove Park Inn.

I typically avoid the Grove Park Inn from Thanksgiving until after New Year’s Day, as throngs of tourists and local residents jam the hallways and parking lots for the opportunity to see the Christmas decorations and dozens of entrees in the hotel’s famed Gingerbread House Competition.

By January, however, the gingerbread houses have all crumbled and the Christmas decorations are packed away, giving the staff an opportunity to catch their breath, move furniture and antiques back to where they typically would be, and prepare for a series of special weekend events. Their most favorite, or so they whisper to me, is always the Arts & Crafts Conference.

Now I use the Arts & Crafts Conference as an excuse to pop into the hotel nearly every afternoon. Even after 25 years and thousands of visits, I still marvel at this place. I still stand in awe of how 400 men could build this entire six-story, 150-room structure in just one year; how they hoisted two-ton granite boulders with just a block-and-tackle (no cranes!) over fireboxes large enough to hold a dozen people standing upright; how they positioned the rocks and hid the mortar in such a way that it looks, as Frank Lloyd Wright would have advised, “of the mountain, not on the mountain.”

It is a magical place, especially for Arts & Crafts enthusiasts.

But what makes it really special is the staff. From the bellmen at the front door to the housekeepers in the hallways, they always make you feel welcome. They know that no other group appreciates the history and the heritage of this century-old hotel like Arts & Crafts collectors. They smile, not frown, when they see us on our hands and knees, peering under the arm of a Limbert chair looking for a branded shopmark, running our fingers over a deeply-carved Roycroft orb-and-cross, or debating whether that is a real through-tenon or one that was cleverly routed into the arm of the Morris chair you are sitting in.

If you will be joining us at the Grove Park Inn next month, either as a conference attendee or just for the afternoon shows, you will be drawn by a special force to the Great Hall, flanked at either end by those famous twin fireplaces. But above you, separated by twelve inches of steel-reinforced concrete, is a special place many people never see: the Palm Court.

Accessed either by the stairs lined with their original Arts & Crafts tiles or by one of two elevators hidden inside the fireplace, the Palm Court (pictured, c. 1930) is a central atrium on the third floor. The original 142 guest rooms on the third through sixth floors open out onto the airy Palm Court, topped with a gigantic skylight more than fifty feet above you. There you can sit in one of the wicker rockers beneath the palm trees growing toward the skylight and feel what it would have been like to have come to the Grove Park Inn in 1913.

Years ago, in one of my brochures for the Arts & Crafts Conference, I wrote, “If you had come to the Grove Park Inn in 1913, you could have sat in Roycroft chairs, read beneath Roycroft lights, bought Newcomb, Roseville or Pisgah Forest pottery, and slept in an Arts & Crafts bed. If you come back today, you still can.”

It truly is a remarkable Little Journey.

Until next Monday,

Have a great week!

– Bruce