The Famous – And Elusive – “GPI Chair”
With the National Arts & Crafts Conference coming up in less than six months, I thought this Collector’s Guide article would be relevant to those readers with an eye for the furniture we love so much at the Conference. Just as a reminder, this year’s conference is on a Valentine’s Day weekend – the holiday itself falls on the Thursday right before our conference begins – and the demand for rooms is stronger than ever! Make sure you don’t wait to get your room at the Grove Park Inn, especially if you want to arrive for the pre-conference festivities including the Craftsman Farms Kick Off Party and the pre-conference workshops! Now a short history of those beloved chairs…
Original date of publication: December 17th, 2012. This article has been edited to include the message above and a new cover photo.
When Frederick Loring Seely, the son-in-law of Edwin Wiley Grove, who also served as contractor for the Grove Park Inn, was ready to select the furnishings for what would be called “the finest resort hotel in the world,” he bypassed both the Limbert Furniture Company (which had outfitted the Old Faithful Inn) and the Craftsman Workshops of Gustav Stickley, tapping, instead, the small Roycroft Furniture Shop.
Unable to fill Seely’s entire order in the allotted one year, the Roycrofters opted to furnish the Plantation Dining Room and some of the public areas, beginning with an order for 400 straight-backed oak dining chairs with stretched leather seats. Each chair bore two identification marks: the familiar Roycroft orb-and-cross carved into the side of the rear post, plus the initials “G P I” blazed prominently into the crest rail.
In 1919 Fred Seely placed an additional order with the Roycrofters: 350 pairs of demi-arms he had his workers at Biltmore Industries attach to the chairs from the dining room. Those in use in some of the offices and the basement recreation rooms (which formerly included a bowling alley and indoor swimming pool) were left in their original armless state.
The GPI chairs, as they are known to Roycroft collectors, were used at the hotel until 1955, when the majority were offered for five dollars apiece. Only about twenty GPI chairs now remain in the hotel’s collection, the rest having been sold to employees and local residents, as well as several to an Asheville nursing home and a bar on Eagle Street.
When word spread of the early Arts & Crafts Conferences, one enterprising Asheville antiques dealer rounded up as many GPI chairs as he could find, then set up a yard sale a few blocks from the hotel, selling chairs to Roycroft collectors on their way to the conference.
Determining how many of the original 400 chairs have survived would not be easy, for it was not until the 1980s that they were considered anything other than old hotel chairs. Never noted for their comfort, the hard leather seats have generally split by now. A 1913 GPI chair with its original finish would be as rare as one without the 1919 arms, for they were known to have been refinished during their service at the hotel.
Nevertheless, those chairs which have since been properly restored to their original appearance, haven’t suffered any major damage, and which still retain their original leather seats typically sell in the $2,500-$3,000 range.
(top) An original, but refinished GPI chair is seen on the left; on the right is a reproduction accurately crafted by Robert Hause of Art of the Craft (http://www.artofthecraft.com). (lower) The GPI letters on a restored original chair.