Devotees of the Arts & Crafts Movement will be flocking from across the country to Asheville next week for the 30th Arts & Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn.
Bruce Johnson has served as director of the annual event since its inception, and each year he adds something new. In addition to the antiques show and sale and the Contemporary Craftsfirms show and sale, this year’s event will feature seminars, small group discussions, craft demonstrations, workshops, and Grove Park Inn and Biltmore Industries walking tours.
The Preservation Society of Asheville and Buncombe County will conduct bus tours of historic Arts & Crafts homes, and the Asheville Art Museum will hold a special reception with a presentation about architect Richard Sharp Smith by Martha Fullington. Johnson said he heard about a local group of plein air artists called the Asheville Urban Landscape Painters, and invited them to be a part of this year’s Arts & Crafts Conference. “Weather permitting, people outdoors will be able to literally walk up and look over the shoulder of artists capturing the Grove Park Inn on paper or canvas,” Johnson said. The painters will then offer their works of art for sale.
In the early days of the Arts & Crafts Conference Johnson used to joke that there were more attendees from California than from North Carolina.
“Asheville and western North Carolina now recognize their Arts & Crafts heritage going all the way back to Brown Brothers Pottery, Brasstown Carvers at John C. Campbell Folk School, Biltmore Industries, and Penland School of Crafts. We’ve got such a foundation of Arts & Crafts in this area that what we’re doing is really just a continuation of what started over a hundred years ago. The Arts & Crafts Conference carries these traditions forward in much the same way as Handmade in America and the Center for Craft, Creativity & Design have done. We’re just one aspect of the Arts & Crafts movement that happens to take place at the Grove Park Inn, an iconic Arts & Crafts landmark.”
A perspicacious and discerning jury of one, Bruce Johnson himself hand selects about 50 vendors from all across the country for the antique show. These reputable businesses specialize in works from the Arts & Crafts period (1895–1940) such as those by Gustav Stickley, the Roycrofters, Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Limbert, Brookwood Pottery, and Grueby Pottery. “This group of dealers doesn’t change much from year to year, but the wonderful thing about them is that you can have the same dealer come for 30 years, but his booth is never the same from year to year.”
There are also about 50 Contemporary Craftsfirms that feature new work in the Arts & Crafts style. These exhibitors are kept separate so there will never be any confusion about merchandise being antique or new. “They never trot out last year’s designs because they always have repeat customers that return looking for their newest and best products.”
The thing the Contemporary Craftsfirms and the antique dealers have in common is that if you ask them about the all time best show they’ve ever exhibited at; generally speaking, they will say at one time or another it was at the Grove Park Inn. “Every dealer in the show will secretly have a special piece they’ve tucked away over the past year because they know it will draw people to their booth. They like the element of surprise in unveiling that primo piece of jewelry or a Frank Lloyd Wright chair. This works on both sides of the isles too. Our printmakers, potters and furniture makers all make sure they’re bringing something special and have to be very competitive in their pricing because they’re competing with everyone else in the show,” he said.
Johnson said when the conference arrives at a landmark anniversary such as the 20th or 30th year, one of the questions he’s asked is if he is going to retire. “We have 17 people this year that have been to all 30 of these conferences. With more than 100 exhibitors in the show, I can’t just tell these people I’m tired, so I’m going to quit. It’s too important to too many people for that.” Rest assured that hardcore Arts & Crafts enthusiasts can expect to see a substantial number of familiar faces.
To say that being the conference director keeps Johnson busy year round is an understatement. While some of the minutiae of being the show’s director may be less than thrilling, Johnson said he feels a rush whenever the phone rings. “I’m dealing with 2,000 people, and every person has at least one question. It may be someone from Salt Lake City, Tucson, Chicago, San Diego, or even England, and they say, ‘hey, this is my first time and I’m really excited about it.’ If you take care of the details then the big things all fall into place,” Johnson said.
Show hours for conference attendees and the general public will be 1 to 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 17, noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday. Admission is $10 for adults, $5 for students, and the ticket is good for all three days. Parking in the outdoor lots will be free, with three hour of free parking in the garages. For more information visit www.Arts-CraftsConference.com, or call 828 628-1915 with questions.
By Mark-Ellis Bennett