Thousands of collectors and enthusiasts from all across the country and beyond will be gathering in Asheville to attend the 32nd National Arts and Crafts Conference and Show at Omni Grove Park Inn on Friday, Feb. 15 through Sunday, Feb. 17.
The Arts and Crafts Movement emerged in the late 19th century as a response to the superficially ornate Victorian ornamentation, and the impersonal, mechanical mass production of the Industrial Revolution.
Instead, the Arts and Crafts Movement placed a premium on products from homes to home furnishings created with the participation of the craftsman’s head, heart, and hands.
Favored were the humble materials of integrity such as ceramic tile, copper, wood, and glass. Over a hundred antique dealers and modern craftspeople will bring their wares, from pottery and jewelry to furniture, textiles, and wallpaper to what The New York Times calls “the most important weekend of the year for Arts & Crafts collectors.”
Bruce Johnson, director of the annual conference since its inception 32 years ago, spends the entire year with his staff working on all the details that will result in a seamless three-day event.
“The Arts and Crafts style has definitely proven itself to be a true and legitimate chapter in American decorative arts. There was a time years ago when furniture historians scoffed at Arts and Crafts. They didn’t even call it ‘Arts and Crafts.’ They called it ‘Mission Oak,’ and dismissed it as a passing fad,” Johnson said.
The continued popularity of the annual Arts and Crafts Conference at Grove Park Inn speaks volumes to the endurance of the Movement. It was really the dominating force of American decorative arts in the 20th century, and continues to hold its place now at almost a quarter of the way into 21st. “The fact that people from across the United States and Canada, and a few couples from England, will travel to Asheville in February, not to play golf, not to whitewater raft, not even to take part of the funky downtown Asheville scene, or to do the craft brewery tours, is strictly because they love the Arts and Crafts style.”
Johnson said it doesn’t hurt that we have the iconic 1913 Grove Park Inn, one of the finest examples of Arts and Crafts architecture in America, as a four star host of the event. “I always say that we are so fortunate to have an historic hotel with state-of-the-art audiovisual equipment, and computers for making reservations.” It’s not as though guests are made to suffer the frailties of 100 year old plumbing.
“It’s a truly historic facility with convention services that people have come to expect, and then you top it off with a genuinely enthusiastic staff. They love it when people come into their house and appreciate the antiques, the great fireplaces, and the Palm Court with its hand-stenciled balconies.”
Even though the event draws more than a thousand people from out of state, Johnson said most of the attendees come from the Asheville area. “We have to stress to people that the shows each afternoon are open to the general public, while seminars are tailored for conference attendees. Half the show features antiques from the early 20th century, and the other half spotlights brand new work designed in the spirit of the early 20th century works.”
Johnson likes to remind collectors that the Arts and Crafts Conference is the one time each year that they can actually meet the craftspeople that may be making things for them throughout the year. “This is their opportunity to meet them in person. They can talk to the tile makers, the pottery throwers, the metalsmiths, and the furniture makers.”
The Arts & Crafts Conference will be filled with back-to-back presentations, demonstrations, small group discussions, and chances to socialize with other devotees of all things Arts & Crafts.
Registered conference attendees will attend workshops on printmaking, coppersmithing, embroidery, and jewelry making. This year’s roster of seminars includes: “Gustav Stickley: The Branded Years, 1912-1916,” “From Hand to Hearth: Mosaic Fireplaces of the Arts & Crafts Era,” “Irving Gill: The Greatest Architect You Have Never Heard Of,” “Mary Chase Stratton and Pewabic Pottery,” and “From Ruskin to Roycroft: How John Ruskin Created the Arts and Crafts Movement.”
Arts and Crafts is really a major part of Asheville’s heritage because many of the houses in the Asheville area were constructed between 1895 and World War II when Arts and Crafts architecture was prevalent, and Asheville was experiencing unprecedented growth.
“So the reason we encourage local people to participate is because these are the furnishings that belong in so many of the houses and bungalows where people in Asheville live. Whether they’re looking for old rugs and furniture or new tiles and pottery, they can find it at the Arts and Crafts Conference,” Johnson said.
The shows are open to the public and take place from 1 to 6 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 15; noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 16; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 17. Admission is $10 for adults, and $5 for students. Outdoor parking is free as is three hours in the hotel garages. For more information visit www.