Asheville experienced much growth in the 20th century, preserved in a wonderful architectural legacy (particularly arts and crafts and art deco). Since moving here in 2005, I’ve joined like-minded folks in exploring and appreciating this rich heritage.
But it was spending time in a Frank Lloyd Wright home in Chicago that awakened my interest in 20th-century design. While in college there, I did volunteer work for our alumni association. At that time, the alumni office was housed in the Robie House, an icon of modern residential architecture. Nearly 100 years old, the structure still looks contemporary today: long, horizontal elements that extend beyond the enclosures are intended to echo the Midwestern landscape. People from around the world would visit, and I often found myself giving informal tours.
Around the same time, a close friend from college was getting married in New York City. I had never been there, so I arrived a few days early to do some sightseeing. I was awestruck by the Chrysler Building: It wasn’t till years later that I learned it was quintessential art deco.
I’d always enjoyed seeing historic buildings, but going to school in Chicago made me appreciate styles beyond Victorian and beaux arts. I learned to appreciate the sinuous lines of art nouveau, the honest simplicity of arts and crafts, the exuberant geometry of art deco, the streamlining of art moderne and the clean lines of midcentury design. I became a docent for the Chicago Architectural Foundation, which boasts the largest network of volunteer architectural tour guides in the world. In time, I also became involved with the Chicago Art Deco Society, an active group whose members’ interests also included the period’s art, music, fashion and design.
When I moved here, I wanted to start a similar group. Thus was born the 20th Century Society of the Carolina Mountains, a nonprofit focusing on 20th-century art, architecture and design. We’re always looking for new members. And though we’re based in Asheville, we now have members in seven states and three foreign countries. Here are some of the things we’re hoping to do:
• Educational programs;
• Museum tours;
• Cataloging, photographing and investigating the history of important 20th-century landmarks in our region and sharing that information on our Web site;
• Periodic publications;
• Invitations to private homes to view their collections;
• Monthly art deco tours of downtown Asheville;
• Social functions to promote fellowship among people interested in 20th-century design.
From the beginning, we wanted to have an active travel program to enable members to experience examples of 20th-century design in other cities. Our highly acclaimed Cleveland trip in 2006 attracted people from as far away as London and Paris. This year, we’re planning a world-class tour of Chicago (see box, “Goin’ to Chicago”). To encourage Mountain Xpress readers to get to know our group, we’re offering them a $75 discount on the registration fee. We can also suggest hotels in Chicago.
[West Asheville resident Michael Beyer, M.D., is president of the 20th Century Society of the Carolina Mountains. He works as a family physician at Leicester Medical Clinic.]