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City Lights Bookstore posted an event

Carolina Writers at Home: Kathryn Byer & Thomas Rain Crowe at City Lights Bookstore

November 6, 2015 from 6:30pm to 8pm
Kathryn Byer and Thomas Rain Crowe have been included in a collection of true stories showcasing the houses where some of the most notable Southern authors have forged their writing lives. They both will be at City Lights Bookstore on Friday, November 6th at 6:30 p.m. to sign copies ofCarolina Writers at Home.  The homes in these twenty-five essays range from the classic bungalow and mid-century modern ranch house to wilder locales: a church, a trailer, and a sparsely-inhabited barrier island.…See More
31 minutes ago
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

The Land Still Speaks film and Culture Vulture fest, Oct 30

Culture festival features film about mountain eldertsfrom press releaseThe Center for Cultural Preservation presents a film festival that highlights mountain heritage, Jewish heritage and African-American heritage on October 30th at the Thomas Auditorium at Blue Ridge Community College.   The festival will feature three films, including the world premiere of a new film, The Land Still Speaks to Us which includes the voices of mountain elders throughout WNC.  There will also be music by local…See More
Mark de Castrique posted an event

Malaprop's Bookstore at Malaprop's

November 9, 2015 from 7pm to 8pm
Presenting new Sam Blackman mystery A SPECTER OF JUSTICESee More
Oct 3
Rob Neufeld's discussion was featured

A Chronology of Asheville and WNC Events in History

                                   IMPORTANT DATES IN ASHEVILLE HISTORY                                                                 by Rob Neufeld 1000: The Cherokee, who’d introduced maize agriculture to the region, began cultivating beans. 1540: Hernando De Soto led troops to East Tennessee through either the Hickory Nut or Swannanoa Gap, finding gold and copper and inspiring a succession of Spanish miners. 1663: Charles II bestows territory between the 31st and 36th parallels in America…See More
Oct 3
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Root-diggers of Appalachia

People in the Lost Provinces were herb-gatherersby Rob NeufeldPHOTO CAPTION: Three herbal products offered by S.B. Penick’s, once the world’s largest herb distributor, its largest warehouse located in Asheville.             “Last week, during a research trip to the ‘Lost Provinces,’” Luke Manget said about the landscape…See More
Oct 3
Mark de Castrique posted a video

A Specter of Justice Preview

A Preview of the new Sam Blackman mystery to be released November 3, 2015
Oct 1
Rob Neufeld's discussion was featured

"Us versus Them" does not help fight against racism; worsens sectionalism

“Us versus them” is not good historyby Rob Neufeld             Writing about history and the complex lives that play out within it does not sell as well as team spirit, especially in this age of clicks and likes.            I recently confronted this truth when I wrote my article last week about the minds of our leaders in 1851. The word “slavery” was added to the headline to alert people to its relevance.  Seeing that term connected people to a cause they felt strongly about, particularly in…See More
Sep 27
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Player of Games and the Millennial Mind

Player of Games reveals today’s game-changing mentalityby Rob Neufeld             There is something big happening in Millennial Generation literature, and I thought I’d try to get a handle on it.            To give an idea of one aspect of current thinking: I was at a gathering recently, plenty of youngsters, and I…See More
Sep 27
Julia Nunnally Duncan posted an event

Julia Nunnally Duncan Book Signing at MACA Building

October 10, 2015 from 9am to 1pm
Julia Nunnally Duncan will sign her books at the McDowell Arts Council Association (MACA) Booth at the annual Mountain Glory Festival on Saturday, October 10 from 9-1.See More
Sep 22
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Sep 22
Ann Miller Woodford shared their photo on Facebook
Sep 21
Ann Miller Woodford posted a photo

Deacon Chrisenberry -Berry- Howell (1855-1938) on horseback. From the collection of Purel Miller (2)

My maternal great grandfather, Chrisenberry Howell, who was called "Berry" Howell in Swain County. From the Purel Miller collection. Submitted by Ann Miller Woodford
Sep 21
James D. Loy posted a blog post

The skull merchant, the dead ape, and the narcoleptic mortician

Hello "The Read on WNC" readers:     I'm posting this note to announce the publication of vol. 3 in my "Loy's Loonies" series.  This one is called The Mortician's Road Trip and it's a bit more of a mystery than my earlier books. Here's a teaser for the story.     Upstate New Yorker Baz Rathbone makes ends meet by selling human skulls. By contract, he should cremate them, but he doesn’t. His little business comes to the attention of the FBI when a woman spots her late husband’s skull being used…See More
Sep 20
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Sep 19
Rob Neufeld posted discussions
Sep 19
Ann Miller Woodford replied to Rob Neufeld's discussion Terra Incognita: An Annotated Bibliography of the Great Smoky Mountains
"That East Tennessee Christian Association of Friends comment, especially bothered me, but it clarifies the view some folks from outside the region have about us even to this day.   … average intelligence...below that of colored…"
Sep 8

Craftsmanship and craftiness emerge in Bruce Johnson’s world

by Rob Neufeld


            Bruce Johnson celebrates his passions—Asheville, the Arts & Crafts movement, history and literature; and the universe that comes to light from his efforts has become a huge draw.

            This coming weekend, the National Arts and Crafts Conference, which Johnson founded in 1988, presents a one-of-a-kind display of objects and an array of aficionados at the Grove Park Inn.

            In time for the occasion, Johnson has published his 16th book, “Tales of the Grove Park Inn”; and, for the Grove Park Inn centennial, he has revised and reissued “Built for the Ages: A History of the Grove Park Inn.”


Pragmatic romantic


            Johnson devotes a chapter of  “Tales” to Elbert Hubbard, whose Roycroft Furniture Shop provided the inn with thousands of furnishings, helping to make it the number one Arts & Crafts location in the world.

            Hubbard’s “skills as a marketing genius and talented copywriter,” Johnson writes, “had carried him to the top management level of the nationally known Larkin Soap Company.   Then, at age 36 and nearing the peak of his corporate career, Hubbard had done what millions only dream of doing…He quit.”

            Hubbard started following his passion—hand-printing beautiful books in the manner of William Morris, the pioneer English writer, designer, and printer.  Soon, his business skills re-flowered, and Hubbard became a manufacturer as well as apostle of the Arts & Crafts style, which features simplicity of design, craftsmanship, and durability.

            Johnson started his career as a high school literature and history teacher in Iowa.  His graduation to writer and Arts & Crafts expert grew from his love of making history interesting; and from early experiences in New Windsor, Illinois, a prairie town near Davenport, Iowa.

            His maternal grandmother, Violet Hickok, took her eldest grandson with her to yard sales to develop a respect for fine objects and sturdy craftsmanship.  Johnson recalled, in a recent interview, a formative experience from when he’d been in high school.

            “My grandmother called me up one day and said, ‘I want you to come out to the farm.’  I went out there, and she had dragged out of her basement this antique maple bed.  It was dark and grimy, and she said, ‘We’re going to refinish this bed for you.

            “I remember that day,” Johnson continued, “when we rolled up our sleeves and got out the steel wool and denatured alcohol…I will never forget that afternoon in her driveway.  She and I stripped and refinished what we used to call a cannonball maple bed.  Even though it was not Arts & Crafts, I never let that maple bed go.  I always hung onto it, and today that bed is my son’s bed.  I passed it along to him.  It is a symbol of my grandmother’s love for antiques and family heirlooms.”


The human condition


            Johnson also credits his grandmother as a storyteller.  In the classroom, Johnson as teacher strove to turn the dust of the past into revived life—through stories.

            “You quickly learn,” Johnson commented, “that you have to make history interesting.  The two things that (do that) are unanswered mysteries and personalities.”

            In his 2011 mystery novel, “An Unexpected Guest,” he turned the well-known ghost story about the Pink Lady at the Grove Park Inn into an exploration of the personality of the inn’s overseer, Fred Seely.

            In “Tales,” he composes chapters that relate the saga of Fred Seely, Edwin Wiley Grove, and the Grove Park Inn; and others that reveal the dreams, flaws, and fates of famous individuals associated with the inn.

            For instance, F. Scott Fitzgerald, who stayed there for a couple of years, while both he and Zelda, ensconced at Highland Hospital, struggled with their personal crashes.

            Johnson’s research is far-reaching and thorough.  He doesn’t provide footnotes, but he includes references within his narration, and if you care to search out the original documents with keyword searches, you can.

            I knew of Fitzgerald’s mention of Asheville in “The Great Gatsby.”  I did not know, until reading “Tales,” of its mention in his short story, “The Ice Palace.”

            Johnson pulls up the journal of Laura Guthrie, Fitzgerald’s secretary during those GPI years, and quotes her.

            “He lives the most unnatural life of any man I know,” Guthrie observed.  “He lives on beer, as high as 37 bottles in one day…He smokes all the time, too, Sano cigarettes, by preference, as he thinks they do not hurt him.”  When she fed him soup, he only consumed the broth, and left the vegetables.


Business people


            The tales do not immerse you and keep you under like novels, but they do provide material for several novels.  Johnson, in his pursuit of mystery, does not shy from controversy.

            Seely and Grove were complex, visionary, ambitious, and disciplined battlers.  One of Johnson’s chapters is titled, “A Family Feud.”

            In an early chapter, Johnson tells how Grove had traveled to Detroit to see if Parke, Davis & Company could help him turn his quinine medicine into pills.  The head of the tablet department there was Fred Seely, age 26, who let Grove know that Parke, Davis did not own the patent on the tablet-making machine.

            Soon enough, Seely was working for Grove, using their own tablet machines, which Seely had improved with a pill counter; and Seely was engaged to Grove’s daughter, Evelyn.

            William Warren, Park, Davis President took out a warrant for Seely’s arrest.  Grove had Seely return to Asheville to make a sworn statement under oath.  “Meanwhile,” Johnson writes, “Grove took an overnight train to Detroit, where he confronted William Warren and, in the presence of two stenographers, grilled the supervisor until Warren admitted that his accusations had been based solely on reports from other employees.”


The beautiful book


            Johnson has self-published his book of tales.  He’s got the name recognition to make that work.  For his recent coffee table book, “Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Furniture,” he collaborated with Popular Woodworking Books, designer Brian Roeth, photographer Al Parrish, and illustrator Kevin Pierce.

            It’s a model of design and content.

            There’s a lot of history about Arts & Craft.  The photos are composed for maximum information and allure.  The drawings present plans that woodworkers and cabinetmakers can follow.

            “The wonderful thing about Arts & Crafts furniture,” Jonson noted, “is that it doesn’t require expensive machinery; or a lot of intricate carving.  It’s very achievable by even the novice woodworker.”

            The Arts & Crafts style lives, not only with those who buy and sell antiques, and those who make accurate reproductions; but also with those—such as Brian Brace in Black Mountain and Rob Kleber, creator of new panels for the GPI’s Great Room columns—who respect the style in new forms.

            The Arts & Crafts Conference is the art form’s phenomenal showcase.



The Arts & Crafts Conference


Times of the conference: 1 to 6 p.m., Fri.; noon to 6 p.m., Sat; and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sun. at the Grove Park Inn


Number to call: 628-1915


Charge for parking outside: 0


Number of people who attend: 3,000


Number of exhibitors: 125—50 antique dealers, 50 contemporary craftspeople, and 25 booksellers


Percentage of items for sale: 100%


Lowest price item: decorative tile, a few dollars


Highest price item:  last year, a $36,000 Frank Lloyd Wright desk


Time that Bruce Johnson wakes up to get to work each day: 5 a.m.






Tales of the Grove Park Inn by Bruce E. Johnson (Knock on Wood Publication trade paper, 2013, 374 pages)

Built for the Ages: A History of the Grove Park Inn by Bruce E. Johnson, revised edition (Grove Park Inn hardcover, many photos on photo-quality paper, 2013, 128 pages)

Grove Park Inn Arts & Crafts Furniture by Bruce E, Johnson (Popular Woodworking Books large format hardcover with glossy paper, 2009, 175 pages, $35).

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