Bob Brunk: Activist, Anthropologist, Auctioneer

Bob Brunk: Activist, Anthropologist, Auctioneer

Think. See. Feel.

The North Carolina Humanities Council marks its 40th anniversary in 2012. To celebrate that milestone, every month we will ask friends and partners to respond, within the context of the humanities, to these three single-word prompts:


To participate in THINK.SEE. FEEL., contact Donovan McKnight.

Bob Brunk

Robert Brunk is President of Brunk Auctions based in Asheville, North Carolina. Brunk Auctions serves an international clientele and specializes in fine and decorative arts including paintings, furniture, silver, jewelry, folk art, carpets, and related fields. He is the editor and publisher of two volumes, May We All Remember Well: A Journal of the History and Cultures of Western North Carolina, “Volume II” which was awarded the Thomas Wolfe Literary Award in 2003. He did graduate work at the University of Michigan and taught sociology and anthropology at UNC Asheville for five years. He also had a 12-year career as a wood worker and sculptor. He currently serves on the Advisory Board of the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and the Board of the Asheville Art Museum, Asheville, North Carolina. Brunk has been a trustee of the North Carolina Humanities Council since 2006.

THINK. SEE. FEEL. with Bob Brunk

In the 19th century, Cherokee basket weavers wove river cane baskets to be carried under an arm; gathering baskets they were called. In the early 20th century, in an accommodation to European taste, handles were added, and these baskets came to be called purses. This small example of change in a material object is, I think, symbolic of a constellation of shifts in the cultures in which we find ourselves.

Some days it seems as though the very ground is shifting beneath our feet. How we regard the earth, the words we use to define ourselves, how we look at objects, how we try to reach one another, the music we sing, what we ignore, what we see: all these are changing even as we stare at our computer screens and wonder if we should mourn or celebrate the changes whizzing by.

The humanities, I feel, give us tools to help us define ourselves, to better know where we came from, where we are now, and where we may be headed. For it is in our written and oral histories, poetry, music, literature, theatre, and dance, these ledgers of our individual and collective lives, where we will learn what questions to ask.

Brunk as Activist

In the mid 1960s, Brunk worked as a community organizer in Asheville, North Carolina. He worked for the local Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) in three segregated public housing projects. Tenants were seeking redress for poor maintenance and garbage pickup, undocumented charges for maintenance and utilities, and for leases which stated: I hereby expressly waive my right to any notice, hearing, or legal proceeding whatsoever if I am evicted.

Forty-three tenants went on a rent strike. After four months all grievances were resolved, and the striking tenants returned back rent which had been held in escrow. The HUD lease, used throughout the South, was revised to insure tenants’ rights. Brunk was relieved of his duties with the Poverty Program and began teaching sociology at UNC-Asheville.