Friday, February 26, 2010

Reflections on Asheville

by EJF, your full-service curator

Above:  The Grove Park Inn, completed 1913

Having just returned from the annual Arts and Crafts Conference at the Grove Park Inn, Asheville, NC, I'm happy to report that the American Arts and Crafts Revival is alive and well and percolating in bungalows, antiques galleries and the shops of contemporary craftsmen around the country.  Last weekend, over a thousand registered attendees enjoyed the hand-hammered, quartersawn immersion of this three-day summit, with nearly two thousand additional day visitors arriving for the Contemporary Craftsfirms, Books and Antiques Shows.  

The Martin House Restoration Corporation greeted visitors with "Elbert Hubbard and Frank Lloyd Wright:  Welcoming the World," a traveling road show in collaboration with the Roycroft Campus Corporation.  The display included an original "Tree of Life" window from the Martin House, documents pertaining to the relationship between Hubbard, Martin and Wright, and Roycroft publications, historic ephemera, and merchandise.  Conference-goers seemed to enjoy particularly the "Hubbard and Wright" theater, where hourly showings of WNED's "Frank Lloyd Wright's Buffalo" and "Elbert Hubbard:  An American Original" gave them a chance to sit, have some refreshments and take-in the compelling stories of Elbert Hubbard, Darwin D. Martin, Frank Lloyd Wright and the remarkable concentration of Arts and Crafts and Prairie-era cultural assets in Western New York - a well-kept secret no longer! 

On the more contemplative side, the Conference offered morning and evening seminars on Arts and Crafts topics ranging from art pottery glazes to rustic furniture.  Among the most interesting of these seminars for me was a session by Dr. Jonathan Clancy, the director of the American Fine and Decorative Art Program at Sotheby's Institute, that re-examined the Arts and Crafts Revival, some four decades old.  With a healthy (and heady) mix of humor and skepticism, Clancy confronted certain persistent myths about the movement - muddled streams of influence, utilization of machines (gasp!), the role of the craftsman or woman, etc. - in a way that ultimately added value to the audience's understanding of the Arts and Crafts as a movement and as a style.  I applaud such re-examinations and frank discussions (not Frank discussions) of an aesthetic and social movement that still has a great deal to offer scholars, collectors and casual decorators alike - a movement that holds up to such critical stress as well as a through-tenon Stickley chair. 

Now, as for the complex relationship between Frank Lloyd Wright's Prairie work and the Arts and Crafts Movement:  that's a conference unto itself...