The Spirit of the Show

A Special Little Journeys by Kate Nixon


When Bruce and I shook hands this past January and signed my new role as conference director of the National Arts and Crafts Conference and Shows into effect, I was elated — and instantly, I felt like a new mother. As cliché as that might sound, it’s true. It’s a commitment that instantly comes with responsibilities that lasts an entire year only to start over after the weekend is done. As I had been witness to the year-long process of preparing for the show for more than four years, I never forget that the Arts and Crafts dealer shows – which will celebrate its 36th year at the Grove Park Inn – work like beloved and well-oiled machines.


Show shoppers admire antique prints in the 2022 National Arts and Crafts Antique Shows at the Grove Park Inn. Photo by Kate Nixon.

Shoppers admire the offerings from Joe Tunnell antiques and Emerson Manning antiques during the 2022 National Arts and Crafts Antiques Shows. Photo by Kate Nixon.

I am constantly aware of all that this job entails, so when I returned to the Southern Highland Craft Guild Show earlier this year and a large annual craft show called “The Big Crafty,” instead of enjoying the show like an attendee, I naturally kept my eye out for the staff and the organizers. The staff and organizers behinds the greatness of a show paddle like ducks –  smooth on the surface, chaotic energy underneath. As I looked around at families, students and tourists attending the show and the happy looks on their faces, I immediately thought back to the beauty of that long winding Friday afternoon line at the Grove Park Inn.  I will never forget the sight of that long winding line in February earlier this year of masked-up collectors, chatting with their neighbors, waiting to take the elevator down to that 8th floor of Vanderbilt and make a safe beeline for the first stop of their collector’s paradise. A line is just a line to someone just trying to get through, but to the staff and organizers who put in their hours of labor and keeping organized amidst the setup chaos before the door opens, the long and winding line of supporters and people ready to buy is everything.


Antique show manager Gus Adams enjoying a laugh before the opening of the National Arts and Crafts Antiques Show in 2020. Photo courtesy of Ray Stubblebine.

Slowly but surely an antiques booth is put together in the setup period of the show before the 2020 National Arts & Crafts Antique Shows begin. Photo courtesy of Ray Stubblebine.

Before last year’s show, I was able to see a few minutes here and there of the load in process. Think of the set up process like a well-preserved Roycrofter-crafted oaken tall case clock: beautiful on the outside and inside a complex grouping of gears and mechanics shifting to form a working and dependable clock. An organized and quick-moving line of furniture, ceramics, art glass, rugs, boxes and bins, etc is a beautiful thing, which makes me value my prepared show managers, porters, and the exhibitors who know how the move is done and who have this down to an art.

Show shoppers admire the print offerings from Steve Thomas during the 2017 National Arts and Crafts Antique Shows. Photo by Ray Stubblebine.

Seeing the exhibitors and their experienced helpers immediately unpacking each box, propping, hanging, placing their properly tagged pieces in a pattern pleasing to the eye. There’s a reason that I ask for layouts in advance. Every exhibitor sends a layout that I carefully craft into a large blueprint detailing the location of every pegboard, display case, and table so when the first setup day starts up, exhibitors can immediately start to design their space. Now when I go to any show, there’s always a part of me that imagines the chaos of the setup and even the travel to get to their booth, let alone the weather conditions.


The cover of the very first Conference Catalog in 1988.


But getting back to that clock simile. I’ve been reading and re-reading the first conference catalog from 1988. Anyone who has that catalog knows what’s on the cover: an oaken tall case clock made by the Roycrofters. It takes a lot of heart to kick something off for the first time, not knowing if it will succeed – heart that Bruce Johnson has in spades. I also give credit to the exhibitors who came that first show and the attendees who decided to make the trek to the Grove Park Inn. The energy of that first day from not only the organizers and show staff, but exhibitors, attendees, the seminar speakers, the tour leaders, and the employees of the Grove Park Inn all contribute to the spirit of the show. The spirit was overwhelming earlier this February, thanks to the spirit of the show staff, exhibitors, attendees, the folks who came with masks on to enjoy the show – and it’s a spirit I’m working to bring back in two months.

As the inscription says on that Roycrofters clock:

“Not enjoyment and not sorrow, Is our destined end or way – But to act that each tomorrow, Finds us farther than today.”