Modernism Meets Mission in Smokey Mountains

One man is kneeling, another prone. Rising above the adults is a dark, trapezoidal towering monolith, like something out of a Stanley Kubrick film. Or David Bowie’s play on words title.

Hardly unexpected behavior in enigmatic film narratives or pop music lyrics fueled by recreational chemicals.

But at an internationally renowned vacation spa and upscale resort hotel?

The Grove Park Inn (GPI) in Asheville, NC, built in 1913, was originally outfitted entirely with mission style furniture, including work produced by East Aurora, NY’s Roycroft community. Today, it is an internationally acclaimed Smokey Mountain resort destination.

The two uncomfortably positioned men humbled themselves before a six-foot tall, quarter sawn oak tall case clock created by Roycrofters. One with an extension ruler, the other with tape measure in hand, are carefully taking the clock case’s measurements, and are perfectly oblivious to the strolling passersby; those walking likewise paid no attention to the furniture tailors.

This is normal.

GPI has hosted the national Arts & Crafts Conference since its inception in 1988. The 25th silver anniversary edition took place 17-19 February and drew 3,000 attendees.

Held the third weekend of each February, the Conference was initiated by Bruce Johnson, the author of several books about antiques and furniture restoration. He draws together more than 100 vendors, dozens of speakers and presenters, and organizes three event-packed days of Arts & Crafts activities.

The Conference is one part sales venue (antiques and, separately, modern craftsfirms) and one part education.

Though all of the featured talks and small group discussions focused on subjects pertinent to the 1900-1920 era, mid-century modern ceramics and even furniture found their way into at least a few vendor showcases.

Two bowls by Vivika and Otto Heino, for instance, were priced about $950 each. A number of Roseville’s “Futura” line (produced beginning in the late 20s) vases were available. And, here and there, various pieces of mid-century studio pottery by makers who, today, are unknown.

A late-1930s Frank Lloyd Wright office chair, steel with upholstered foam cushions, created for the Johnson Wax building was displayed by Treadway-Toomey Galleries. A related example, and a better photo than mine, owned by MoMA is shown here: http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=2971

Over the course of a quarter century, the Conference’s sales floor has evolved from one heavily populated by furniture (the various Stickleys, Roycroft, Limbert) to one tilted in the direction of ceramics.

This year, for the first time in my recollection, mid-century ceramics entered the Arts & Crafts marketplace at GPI.

It’s hard to find a more enthusiastic group of collectors and scholars than those attending this conference.

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