A Very Short History of Penland School of Crafts
Founded in 1929 by Lucy Morgan, Penland School was originally an outgrowth of a craft-based economic development project she had started several years earlier. When Morgan retired in 1962, she was succeeded by Bill Brown who updated and expanded the school’s offerings, added longer fall and spring sessions, and created resident artist programs at the school. Today, Penland encompasses about 420 acres and 57 buildings, and more than 1,400 people come each year seeking instruction.
A Short History of Penland School of Crafts
Penland School of Crafts was started by a remarkable woman named Lucy Morgan–always known as Miss Lucy–who first came to Penland, North Carolina in 1920 as a teacher at the Appalachian School which occupied Horner Hall, Ridgeway, and several other buildings still in use today.
In 1923, she spent three months at Berea College learning to weave. When she returned to Penland she began the Penland Weavers, a cottage industry which provided local women with looms and materials and then marketed their handwoven goods.
In 1928, she persuaded noted weaving expert Edward F. Worst to visit Penland and work with the weavers. When he returned in 1929, several out-of-state students joined a group of local women for a one-week class and Penland School was born. Within a few years, Morgan added other crafts and began to raise funds and construct buildings.
Lucy Morgan was an enthusiastic promoter of her educational and production programs, and Penland School of Handicrafts acquired a national and even international reputation as a center for hands-on learning. By the time she retired in 1962, however, enrollments had declined and Penland was attracting very few younger students. The school needed some kind of a jolt.
That jolt came in the person of Penland’s second director, sculptor and design teacher Bill Brown. Brown shared Morgan’s devotion to experiential education, and he brought vision, new energy, and a network of connections in the emerging studio crafts movement. He put out a call for help and the artists who came to teach at Penland brought the school to new heights.
During his twenty-one year tenure, Brown added new media, such as iron and glass, began offering eight-week sessions called Concentrations, expanded the work-study scholarship program, and started the core fellowship and resident artist programs. The core fellowship program gives nine artists an opportuntity for two-years of full-time study at Penland. The resident artist program, which provides three years of low-cost housing and studio space, has nurtured the careers of many significant craftspeople and also helped create a vibrant craft community near the school.
In recent years, Penland has expanded its range of media, improved the physical plant, established a gallery and a community education program, and continued to offer innovative classes. Students come to Penland from all walks of life. Some see it as a productive retreat, some as a source of inspiration for their creative lives, and others as a network for the exchange of information. What brings them together is a love of materials and making, and the experience of working in a supportive community atmosphere.
Penland School began out of a strong belief in a few simple values which have guided it throughout its history. Lucy Morgan summarized these as “the joy of creative occupation and a certain togetherness-working with one another in creating the good and the beautiful.”