Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Grove Park Show 2012. By Bruce McLaren

Every year, when the winter wind funnels down from the North Pole, we decide to rent a truck, stack it chock-a-block with the finest handwoven creations to emerge from the mysterious and exotic east, and drive up into the even colder heights of the Appalachian Mountains. Westwards we climb, higher and higher, until we reach the snow-lined peaks around Asheville, surely one of the most visually striking towns in the Great Republic. There above Asheville we finally reach our destination - the lofty and illustrious Grove Park Inn!

The reason for this annual pilgrimage to the prestigious Inn is for the Arts & Crafts conference - the most important get together of Arts & Crafts design enthusiasts, collectors, antique dealers and contemporary craftsmen on the design calender. This year celebrated the 25th anniversary of the show, which has now achieved institution-like status.

The Appalachians around Asheville in Wintertime. Really quite grand stuff!

Asheville is definitely one of the highlights of the Carolinas. Fantastic architecture from the early 20th century punctures the skyline. And I'm not kidding - just check out the city hall and courthouse, and some of the bizarre Gothic cathedral steeple crowned apartments! Even the humble Baptist church has a pretty impressive and distinctive dome.

City Hall Detail

Asheville Courthouse and City Hall

The Baptist Church Dome

Down in the streets below is a fascinating blend of artistic types, hippies, chic uptown girls, old deco-loving boffins, antique shops, restaurants, pubs, clubs and coffee shops. Also on the upside, Andie McDowell lives there, which is most certainly a big plus. But on the downside there is an overabundance of facial hair being paraded around - on the blokes I mean! Cripes - I've never seen so many beards in my life!

Andie MacDowell. Good!

Excessive facial hair. Bad!

Anyhoo, standing sentinel above Asheville is the grand old Grove Park Inn, undoubtedly one of the most majestic period hotels on the continent. Constructed of cyclopaean rough masonry in the first decade of the 1900s, the hotel is a living time capsule of architectural and design elements of that period. It is therefore fitting that the most important show on the Arts & Crafts calender is held in those hallowed halls.

And what sacrosanct halls they are!

When you pass through the Grove Park doors you enter an absolutely cavernous lobby with soaring ceilings and a fireplace that you could walk into without bending over - at least, if flames don't bother you. Guests sit in rocking chairs before the fire, talking quietly, as icy winds blow over the vast mountainous panoramas outside the windows. With a good single malt in hand it is easy to be transported back in time, as all of the furnishings, chairs, lighting, carpets, stonework, you name it, are in the style of the period.

The Grove Park Inn. Not a bad spot eh?

The view off the terrace looking out over Asheville

Much of the residential district that lies below 'The Inn' is also of the same period and comprises some of the more stately and luxurious dwellings of the period. Asheville is, in many ways, one of the great Arts & Crafts towns. One may also like to note that the Biltmore Estate, built by the industrial tycoon George Vanderbilt in the late 1800s, and still today the largest privately owned home in the United States, is but a stone's throw away. So for Arts & Crafts lovers Asheville is a bit of a Shangri-La.

The Biltmore House. A nice little hideaway in the woods for an industrial tycoon...

Now I know that when most people hear the term 'Arts & Crafts' they think of Martha Stewart making a birdhouse out of toothpicks and bottle tops but in the 'design world' Arts & Crafts has a very different meaning.

The history of Arts & Crafts as a design movement is a fairly extensive subject and needs a blog all to itself. But for the sake of this piece let me simply say that the Arts & Crafts movement existed in the latter 1800s and early 1900s, beginning in England but spreading to America. The most important figure in the movement was the designer William Morris, but many other important designers include Charles Voysey and Archibald Knox.

The Arts & Crafts movement was fundamentally a reaction against the mechanization of the decorative arts that had occurred following the industrial revolution. People like William Morris wanted to see a return to the original arts of carpentry, stonework, furniture making, rug making, and so on.

Although the term Arts & Crafts does not figure so large as say, Art Deco, in the public consciousness, it was a movement of enormous significance. In fact, it is more than fair to say that if it weren't for the Arts & Crafts movement then the major design movement that evolved in the early 1900s - Art Nouveau and Art Deco - would never have come to be. Both Nouveau and Deco were inextricably linked with Arts & Crafts.

So, moving on.....

Every February, for three days, Arts & Crafts-ophiles gather to surround themselves with every possible manifestation of this design style that they love. One floor of the show is for the antique dealers, some of who come from as far away as London, to exhibit their wares, generally wow the public, and make some sales. In need of a $5000 Tiffany Lamp? How about a $4000 silver and enamel Voysey ashtray? And what house isn't complete without a $10000 Frank Lloyd Wright table?

My favorite antiques dealer is Titus and Omega from London, who have a collection of silver and blue and green enamel items that will blitz the senses. Check out this clock, for example...

Here is a link to their website. Check it out - they have a magnificent collection..

Another floor is dedicated to 'Contemporary Craftsmen', meaning, people like us - craftsmen who are hard at work today, keeping these design traditions alive. So there are many specialist carpenters, potters, metal-workers, fabric-makers and tile-workers there, all coming to show off, and, hopefully sell, their wares.

Let's start by talking about us. One of the things we specialize in at The Persian Carpet is a line of Arts & Crafts design rugs, all hand-woven, wool on cotton, just like the originals.

The first thing we do on arrival is join the mad scramble to get our truck unloaded at the dock - this is a work of art in itself that involves no small amount of jockeying for position and maneuvering. But once inside, we get straight to work at putting up an aluminium frame, hanging up the lighting, and getting the rugs out and in stacks. We always hang our latest designs in order to stun the customers - this year it was the Streathem Park Border and the Field Lillies.

When the show begins the following day we employ four students from nearby Warren Wilson College to help us flip the rugs - they are always good eggs!

Another angle
The booth ready for action

The good Steve Williams Esq. 

Yours truly primed and ready for action

Yours truly having Presidential handshake with show organizer
and Arts & Crafts aficionado, Bruce Johnson, flanked by PC
stalwarts Barak Rutledge and Steve Williams

Now as Billy Ocean used to (unfortunately) sing 'When the going gets tough, the tough get going', and that is how it is when the floodgates open and the crowds surge in. These videos give you a bit of a 'before and after' idea of how the booth looks when this happens...

Now, there are many other contemporary craftsmen who go to the show - too many to mention here - but over the past 18 years of attending we have got to know the other vendors pretty well. Here are a few of my personal favorites.

Pewabic Pottery out of Detroit do some great tile work. I couldn't resist this 'Tudor Rose' tile this year and now have one at home - anyone interested in the Wars of the Roses and the significance of this motif has to have one. If you don't know about this then go and get a book about it and read it!

Here is their website...

Pewabic Tudor Rose Tile

The Pewabic Booth

The Pewabic Booth

Another old favorite, and also someone we work with quite closely, is Paul from Archive Edition textiles...

We make three of the Archive Edition designs are they are extremely popular! Here is Paul manning the booth.

Now in my humble opinion I have always been a bit of a fan of the work of Robert Hause of Art of the Craft based in Wilmington NC. He is a master custom furniture maker! Check out his website...

Robert Hause of 'Art of the Craft'

In terms of tile work it is pretty difficult to beat Motawi out of Ann Arbor MI. I have to admit that I couldn't resist this FLW tile, which now is waiting to be hug up on a wall in my house.

This years purchase
Next years purchase.
Now THAT people, is a work of
Fine Art!

Here is their website...

The lovely ladies of Motawi at their booth

One of the more unique and certainly most unusual exhibits is the work of Evan Chambers out of Los Angeles. Evan makes undeniably the most funky objects in the whole show, such as one eyed opium gazing brass desk-lamps with chicken feet or octopus legs. It's all a bit like Jules Verne meets Arts & Crafts. He also does some ingenious work with glass. Here is his website - I strongly recommend you check it out - he is a true innovator.

Another real talent in the tile game is Linda Witkowski out of Indianapolis. Here she is with one of her really quite remarkable tile creations.

Linda Witkowski

One of the more flamboyant characters to grace the show is our neighbor Karen Hovde Interior Vision. Karen is a design specialist with a mind-boggling array of hats and the personality to match. Look her up for any of your design needs.

The one and only Karen Hovde!

And to wrap it all up allow me to present Mr. Paul Katrich of Katrich Luster Pottery. Paul is a craftsman of the highest order who holds the record for selling each of his unique vessels in a mere matter of hours during most shows.

His work is contemporary, but is firmly in the realm of the collectors cross-hairs. He is one of those few artists who actually can enjoy fame for their efforts before they are dead. well done Paul.

Here is his website...

And here is a very happy man!

Another sold out show!

And for now, dear reader, I must bid you adieu. Twas a good show all around and we are looking forward to next year!


  1. Sir - Love all the pics and descriptions. I've often wondered what these events are like. Now I have a visual. Cheers,

  2. Who'd've thunk it, Bruce the art connoisseur. Must pass this on to the lads in the Kurrajong Heights hotel!

  3. What a fantastic show! Thanks for showing us so many gorgeous studios where we can spend our money - I'll be looking more closely at Titus Omega and Motawi tileworks, what beautiful work! For your own carpets though, can you tell us a little about the process of designing the carpets - the inspiration for the designs, are the carpets then made to order? By who? Just curious about the work behind your own collection.

  4. Hi Ilka. These designs are reproductions of Late Victorian designs made by the likes of William Morris, Gavin Morton, Charles Voysey, Archibald Knox. Their designs were sold to the Silver Studio in London and made in Donegal. They were part of a movement to return to the original way of doing things after the mechanisation of the Industrial Revolution. All carpets up until this time were being machine Europe that is....