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Spooks Branch, a human history story

Spooks Branch was a singular place in settlers’ loreby Rob NeufeldImportant editorial note:This is a significant historical story that is also, in parts, personal and controversial.  It is about a few families who settled a particular cove and played out their heroic and complex legacies in ways that interacted with place and time.  You don't read this kind of story much because people don't like to expose themselves or stir up trouble, even a little.  This caution makes history classes boring…See More
6 hours ago
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City Lights Bookstore posted events
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The Rise of Asheville by Marilyn Ball

History of the "Asheville 1000" and the 1970s renaissance                       Let’s not miss the history of Asheville’s renaissance, Marilyn Ball’s new book, “The Rise of Asheville,” advocates.            She’d come here in 1977, making her one of the advance guard of “artists, entrepreneurs, and off-the-grid…See More
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Century-ago woman's apple cake recipe

Mmm, them apples in Beaverdam coveIn 1972, Helen Nelon wrote about the traditions of old-time Spooks Branch, off Beaverdam Road.  Here's what she said about her use of apples in a cake.(The full story of Spooks Branch will appear soon.)There were apples for delicious cider cooled in the spring "dreem" (drain), apples for frying for cold winter days, and for special days there were dried apple sauce fruit cakes.These cakes were made of very thin, sweet dough with dried apple sauce spread between…See More
Nov 18
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Nov 16
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Dignity is the key to Richard Russo's inspiration

So funny, and yet so exposing--Richard Russo's geniusSnakes on the lane            In Richard Russo's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Empire Falls, the protagonist, Miles recalls the time his father, driving, had accelerated into a box on a highway.  “What if that box had been full of rocks?” Miles asks.  Unfazed, Max quizzes his son about what he would do about the box.  Max says he'd stop and look in it,  “What if it was full of rattlesnakes? “ his father asks.            The verbal match…See More
Nov 14
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Nov 12
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

Humanize the history--especially with Civil War--writes acclaimed author

Writer illuminates tangled web of Civil Warby Rob Neufeld             David Madden has written a book, “The Tangled Web of the Civil War and Reconstruction,” that deserves special attention.            First, there’s Madden’s background.  In 1992, he founded the U.S. Civil War Center in New…See More
Nov 12
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Nov 11
City Lights Bookstore posted events
Nov 10
Rob Neufeld posted a blog post

Coming attraction--Singleton at Malaprop's & City Lights for Calloustown

George Singleton's latest collection of stories, Calloustown...features the folk who try to survive in a place that has little to offer besides a Finger Museum and a taxidermy petting zoo,It's funny, but also tragic and angry.  The review, "Love-hate humor cries in Calloustown," appears in the Asheville Citizen-Times, Sunday, 11/15/2015.  Singleton's at Malaprop’s Bookstore, 7 p.m., Wed., Nov. 18; and at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, 3 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 21.Here's an excerpt from the…See More
Nov 10
Lockie Hunter posted an event

Juniper Bends Quarterly Reading at DownTown Books & News

November 13, 2015 from 7pm to 8pm
Our very special Autumnal edition starts at 7PM and is sure to be a lively and vibrant set, with featured writers Randi Janelle, Tina FireWolf, Logan Parker, and Annabelle Crowe. Two of our readers have new books out, and as always there is wine flowing by donation. Hosts Lockie Hunter and Caroline Wilson look forward to seeing you there----remember, your wellbeing depends upon it.See More
Nov 9
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Love and Mercy ~ Up On Roan Mountain

My family lived and loved up on Roan Mountain and in the surrounding mountain areas, and this is their story. It's woven into a tapestry that weaves down through the years, before the days of the Civil War and up to present day. They were…
Nov 9
Rob Neufeld posted a discussion

It's All Relative--50 WNC women write about family

Family life as perceived by 50 WNC authorsby Rob Neufeld             If you have biases against small press books or anthologies of local writers’ work, I recommend you lay them aside and take a look at “It’s All Relative” (Stone Ivy Press), 52 stories and poems by 50 WNC women authors writing about family.           …See More
Nov 6

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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