Seminars and craft shows take place in Arts & Crafts-movement hotspots around the country. The one not to miss is the largest: a three-day conference and simultaneous antiques and juried contemporary crafts and furnishings shows, held in the Blue Ridge Mountains.
This is the 31st year for the Conference, always held in February. At the shows, well over a hundred antiques vendors and contemporary craftspeople fill multiple rooms and line the corridors of one wing; you’ll see furniture, pottery, textiles, metalwork and jewelry, lighting, fine art . . . it goes on and on. Everything is of fine quality.
But what makes this conference so special is its focus on education—deep learning. Hands-on workshops cover such things as embroidery and printmaking. Lectures are offered, and small affinity groups meet (pottery collectors, say, or people researching native plants in Arts & Crafts-era gardens). Opportunities run almost around the clock. House tours and walking tours are arranged.
All this to say, you should plan ahead.
I met with Conference founder and indefatigable organizer Bruce Johnson, who gave me 10 tips for new attendees:
1. Get your I.D. After checking in, make your way to the Conference’s registration area to get a tote-bagful of information. Your badge is your ticket to all Conference events, so be sure to wear it.
2. Find your bearings. The last page of the 88-page Conference Catalog is a map of the 513-room Omni Grove Park Inn, which now has two big wings and many levels. You’ll need the map.
3. Learn about the Inn. On Friday, take one of the hourly, history-minded walking tours of the hotel, which starts at the north fireplace in the Great Hall. You’ll see original Roycroft furnishings and light fixtures, and learn about such famous guests as Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.
4. Take the hidden elevator. Encounter 1913 when you ride the old elevator inside the stone fireplace to the third-floor Palm Court of the original Inn.
5. Circle your favorites. Study the daily Small Group Discussions listed in the Catalog, selecting first and second picks for each session, and arrive ten minutes early to get a seat at the table.
6. Give in to the experience. Yes, you’ll want to visit the world-class spa, but know that you’re here for immersion. Morning and evening seminars start precisely on time; turn off your phone.
7. Come prepared with room dimensions, color samples, etc. if you’re here to find rugs, lighting, or furniture.
8. Bring cash and a checkbook. Not every exhibitor accepts credit cards.
9. Actually, come early. Consider arriving on Thursday to take a hands-on, pre-Conference workshop in the afternoon or on Friday morning.
10. Then stay late to explore Asheville, a top-ten destination city. Walk the downtown area and one of the bungalow neighborhoods; visit Biltmore, the Vanderbilt mansion; drive the Blue Ridge Parkway. More at arts-craftsconference.com
At the Inn and Downtown
The skylit subterranean spa—“43,000 square feet of peace and quiet”—has mineral pools, therapeutic waterfalls, a lap pool with underwater music, eucalyptus steam rooms, fireside lounges with healthy snack options . . . and a full complement of treatments including European facials, body wraps, and massage options. A couple of hours here will refresh over-stimulated Conference attendees and turn the weekend into a vacation. Note: Book your day pass and treatments weeks in advance: (800) 438-5800.
Several restaurants, casual eats to fine dining, are at the Inn and on the campus.
The Blue Ridge room, with sweeping mountain views, has a hearty Southern breakfast buffet and an excellent Friday-night seafood buffet (reservations required). Asheville has been called “Foodtopia” for its innovative cuisine and everything from down-home cafes to four-star restaurants with award-winning chefs. Browse online before your trip.
The Grove Park Inn and rooms in nearby hostelries sell out early, so do book well in advance. Consider three ways to attend the Conference:
Full Monty If you want the complete Arts & Crafts experience, including a room at the Inn and entry to the Shows, seminars, tours, and discussion groups, look at the Arts & Crafts Weekend Package: (828) 252-2711, omnihotels.com/hotels/asheville-grove-park
Conference Geek Those staying elsewhere but who want to enjoy three days of seminars and discussions, demonstrations and tours—along with entry to the Shows each afternoon—may purchase the three-day Seminar Package ($150) through the Conference office: (828) 628-1915.
Collector Those seeking only to browse and shop at the booths of 125 exhibitors selling furniture, pottery, metalware, jewelry, artwork, lighting, and textiles may buy a ticket at the door: $10 for all three days. Hours are Fri. 1–6 p.m., Sat. 12–6 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–4 p.m.
Asheville is a boomtown with great restaurants, clubs, music—and shopping. Among Conference attendees, two categories rise to the level of compulsion—pottery and shoes. Visit these places:
Grovewood Gallery One of several worthy stops in the historic weaving and woodworking complex of Biltmore Industries (just across from the Inn), the Gallery shows traditional and contemporary crafts by more than 500 artists. grovewood.com
Southern Highland Craft Guild The Folk Art Center is home to the Guild that dates to 1930. See the finest traditional and contemporary crafts of the Southern Appalachians, at 382 Blue Ridge Parkway in east Asheville, five minutes from downtown. southernhighlandguild.org
Tops for Shoes At tradition for over 50 years; big range of shoes for all ages. 27 No. Lexington Ave, downtown Asheville: topsforshoes.com
Discount Shoe Store You won’t believe it: 33,000 square feet of shoes in stacks! At 1266 Brevard Road in Asheville, 10 miles from the Inn: (828) 667-0085