For the H.J. Holtz & Son decorative arts team – Brian Smith, Logan Porter and Eli Smith – attending the annual International Decorative Artists League (IDAL) conference is a highlight of their year.

The annual gathering, which was held Oct. 14-19, 2019, in Charlotte, N.C., gives the craftspersons a chance to learn new techniques and connect with other artisans.

“It’s good to meet people in the same field as us – people from all over the country,” Porter says. Eli Smith adds: “It’s hard to find people who do what we do [locally].

The conference is structured to include classes as well as time for attendees to socialize and visit the vendor fair, where companies advertise new products and practices. Brian Smith –who recruited brother Eli to the firm – says attendees “flock” in the vendor hall, visiting and exploring.

In prior years, Holtz decorative artists have focused on faux painting – making a painted wall look like it’s covered in grass cloth, for example. This year, the three took a two-day class learning a new process in which epoxy is used to create a hard surface that can be made to resemble natural granite or a surface that is purely artistic.

With all three taking the same class, the team is able to rely on one another for ideas and trouble-shooting.

“It’s not a brand-new technique, but it’s something we weren’t familiar with,” Brian Smith says. “It helps the process along to have three people who know what to do.”

The team appreciates that they are sent on company time and paid as though they were working their regular jobs. Porter notes that most of the other attendees are company owners, not employees. “We’re one of the few company crews there,” he says. “It’s nice to have the opportunity to learn new things.”

Eli Smith, who joined the Holtz decorative arts team this year after spending time with the company as a painter, says the IDAL conference was an “art world” experience designed to spark creativity.

Even with busy days, Brian Smith says, the conference was like a shared “mini-vacation.”

“It’s pretty unique for [company president] Rick Holtz to be willing to send us out,” he says. “It really reinforces our team.”

“There’s no limit to how much profit they can make once we meet our [goal],” he said. “I’m a firm believer that our company, in the last five years, would not have done as well without this program.”