Textile Labyrinth

Katie Wigglesworth at Penland School

Katie Wigglesworth walks slowly and purposefully around and through a series of loosely woven, veil-like panels suspended from the ceiling of Penland’s flex studio. As she walks, her heels click on the concrete floor and the textile walls she is walking through part slightly as she passes. Katie has just completed a textile installation she began at Penland during the 2016 winter residency. “This piece came from a need for calm,” she explains. “I was in a transition time in my life when I began weaving these panels. I started thinking of labyrinths and meditation walks as ways of centering yourself, and the idea grew out of that.”

In 2015 she found out about Penland’s winter residency program from pictures posted on Instagram by a friend of a friend. She applied and was accepted for two weeks of residency in 2016. Katie works for a textile artist in Los Angeles making weavings on a tapestry loom, and this is how she has made most of her own textile work. But the Penland studio would give her access to floor looms, so she decided it was time she learned how to use one.

Katie Wigglesworth at Penland SchoolKatie has a friend whose grandmother is a weaver and belongs to a weaving group that meets every Wednesday night at an adult education center in Covina, California. “They have a group space with 150 looms,” she said. “They call their Wednesday night sessions a ‘class’ and they’ve been going on for eighty years. I was the youngest person there.” The other weavers taught her the basics of the floor loom, and in the 2016 residency she began working on her current project.

The panels are unpatterened plainweave made from white tencel yarn. Katie works the loom with a light touch so the weft threads are not compressed and retain some waviness. Each panel is about three feet wide and eight feet tall. While they are technically simple, their shimmering, diaphanous quality combined with Katie’s imagination makes them capable of transforming space.

After her 2016 residency, Katie continued weaving on Wednesday nights and then – after she got a loom – in her own studio. She used five panels to create an installation in a small gallery show, and as they accumulated, she began to imagine them creating a floor to ceiling labyrinth. “I started looking around for a place where I could set it up long enough to look at it and document it, but space is hard to come by in LA. So I decided to apply for the Penland residency again and bring all the panels with me in the hope that there would be a space I could use here.”

 

Katie Wigglesworth at Penland School

 

In January, she flew back across the country with twenty-one panels in a suitcase and spent most of her two-week residency weaving ten more. At the end of the session, she was able to realize her idea in an undesignated space called the flex studio.

She installed the piece. It was beautiful. She photographed it. Other residents came to look at it and walk through it. She took it down. It all went into a suitcase and back to Los Angeles. Katie says she will probably keep weaving panels until she has a chance to create another installation – with the form likely to change depending on context. Which is to say it will doubtless be seen again.

 

 

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Mugs & Their Makers

Potters pose with over 200 mugs ready to be fired

Potters Jacob Herrmann and Heather McLelland of Devon Court Pottery pose earlier this week with about a third of the roughly 600 mugs they are making for the 2017 Penland Benefit Auction. Each mug had to be thrown, handled, stamped, initialed, bisque fired, glazed, and wadded before it made it to this table. Then they all got loaded into the kiln on the left for a salt-soda firing that will leave them washed in hues of orange, cream, rust, and more.

To make one of their mugs yours, join us at this summer’s auction for Coffee at the Barns on the morning of Saturday, August 12!

 

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Capturing Change in Cloth

woman holding a panel woven in black and white

Kim Mirus in the textiles studio with the second of her five woven panels depicting the retreat of Alaska’s Muir Glacier.

 

As someone who works on Penland’s digital media, there’s often a computer screen between me and the moment-to-moment happenings in the studios. I experience workshops vicariously through the posts of Penland students, instructors, and residents, and I usually know these people by their Instagram handles before I know their real names.

Until recently, I knew Penland student and winter resident Kim Mirus only through the gorgeous images she shares of her work. I marveled at her ability to capture quiet details at the loom and the way she transformed sunlight, shadow, and fiber into rich visual moments. But it wasn’t until I visited her in the textiles studio this winter that I understood that Kim’s weavings, just like her photographs, are characterized by a thoughtful treatment of materials and a keen attention to the world around her. Many of her pieces address social and environmental topics; recent themes include juvenile incarceration, the near extinction of the American bison, and climate change.

 

weavings

Left: Kim’s five woven panels laid out in the weaving studio. Right: a detail of the third panel showing what is left of Muir Glacier today.

 

Kim used her time as a winter resident this January to weave samples, dye fibers, and explore new ideas. When I visited, she showed me the series of five woven panels she had just completed. The first is a black field with a large area of white woven into it. The second is similar, but the white area has shrunken noticeably and fragmented apart. In the third, only a small fraction of the central white area remains. It’s barely a smudge on the fourth panel, and the fifth is a solid square of black. “It’s the Muir Glacier in Alaska,” Kim tells me. “This is the area it covered in the oldest photographs I could find, over 100 years ago,” she continues, pointing to the first panel. “And this is how much of the glacier is left today.” She points to the third panel, and the pattern from there is clear: accelerated warming hastening glacial retreat until soon, the entire Muir Glacier will exist only in our photographs and memories.

Kim refers to these pieces as “woven data” because, like graphs or charts, they are visual representations of information presented on cloth. “I want to get people thinking about these issues,” she explains, “and I find that weaving is a non-confrontational way to start conversations that can sometimes be uncomfortable or divisive.”

 

Two images of Muir Glacier taken 63 years apart

Two photographs taken from the same spot in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska. The left image was captured August 13, 1941, and the right image was taken August 31, 2004. Muir Glacier retreated over 4.4 miles between the two images. (Image credits: William O. Field, Bruce F. Molnia)

 

Kim’s Muir Glacier series is a beautiful example of how craft can be a powerful tool—not just for its beauty or for the skill inherent in its creation, but for its power to open up new lines of communication. Indeed, it was the graphic pattern and texture that drew me to her work, but it’s the receding glacier and our warming climate that I’m still thinking about two weeks later.

See more of Kim’s work on her website

Read about the USGS’s work to document glacial retreat in Alaska


— Sarah Parkinson

 

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Studio Practices: Penland 9

concrete tiles, clay vases, and photography

Works from “Studio Practices: Penland 9” by Ian Henderson, Susan Feagin, and Betsy DeWitt

 

Penland’s team of studio coordinators can generally be found working behind the scenes to support the hundreds of artists that come through our studios every year with their knowledge and skill. But they’re also accomplished artists in their own right, and we’re thrilled that their personal work is on display in the Main Gallery of the Turchin Center at Appalachian State University through June. Studio Practices: Penland 9 includes sculptural, functional, and two-dimensional pieces in a variety of media. The artists address a broad range of themes in their work, from secrecy and family memories to language and play. “Working together to support the practices of other artists at Penland has given the talented coordinators a remarkable synergy,” the show’s curator states. “Their artwork is individually strong and compatible with one another – creating a dynamic and moving installation.”

Studio Practices: Penland 9 features Daniel T. Beck (steel sculpture), Betsy DeWitt (photography), Susan Feagin (ceramics), Melanie Finlayson (printmaking), Jay Fox (paper and print), Nick Fruin (glass), Ian Henderson (concrete and metals), Ellie Richards (wood), and Amanda Thatch (textiles and drawing).

 

wood sculpture, steel and cement sculpture, weavings

Pieces by Ellie Richards, Daniel Beck, and Amanda Thatch

 

The show is on view Tuesday-Saturday through June 3, 2017. In addition to regular gallery hours, visitors are encouraged to explore the exhibition further through the following events:

Friday, February 3, 6-9 PM: “Fizzy First Friday” Reception
Come view Studio Practices: Penland 9 and the Turchin Center’s three other new exhibitions while enjoying snacks, drinks, and music.

Friday, April 7, 6-10 PM: Spring Exhibition Celebration
Explore the Turchin Center’s galleries and exhibitions, meet the artists, and have a cocktail or a snack.

Wednesday, April 12: TCVA Lecture Series: Penland Coordinators I
Hear Melanie Finlayson, Daniel T. Beck, Nick Fruin, Amanda Thatch, and Susan Feagin discuss their studio practices.

Wednesday, April 19: TCVA Lecture Series: Penland Coordinators II
Listen to Ian Henderson, Ellie Richards, Jay Fox, and Betsy DeWitt as they talk about their studios and work.

 

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The Craft School Experience: Outcomes and Revelations

Anyone who has spent time at Penland or a similar school will likely understand what the “Craft School Experience” is all about. But for everyone else, it can be difficult to put into words. Time living and working at a craft school is intense and uniquely focused. It’s a rare opportunity to be fully immersed in a place, a community, and a creative process, one that many find thought provoking, inspiring, and often transformational.

Penland has teamed up with four of our sister schools—Arrowmont (TN), Haystack (ME), Peters Valley (NJ), and Pilchuck (WA)—to celebrate craft and promote the immersive workshop experience our schools offer artists of all levels. This winter, we are thrilled to be working with the Craft in America Center in Los Angeles to put on the exhibition The Craft School Experience: Revelations and Outcomes. The show strives to capture the essence of the craft school experience by featuring the work of master teachers, resident artists, and students who have studied or taught at these craft schools alongside personal narratives, quotes, and videos. Penland instructors and residents including Cynthia Bringle, Nancy Callan, Susie Ganch, Marc Maiorana, and Jaydan Moore will be among those featured in the exhibition.

In conjunction with Revelations and Outcomes, Penland Director Jean McLaughlin will present a talk entitled “Make/Time: The Craft School Experience” at the Craft in America Center on Saturday, January 28 at 4 PM. She will draw on her eighteen years at Penland to share stories about the joys and impacts that schools like Penland, Arrowmont, Haystack, Peters Valley, and Pilchuck offer individuals and the broader craft community.

We hope that everyone who is able to attend the exhibition and/or Jean’s talk comes away with a deeper understanding of the power and inspiration that is the craft school experience. And when they’re ready to experience it for themselves, we’re here with workshops and open studio doors.

 

glass work and a student making a clay piece

Left to right: exhibition piece by Nancy Callan; a student working in clay at Haystack School; exhibition piece by Lino Tagliapietra.

 

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Table in a Day!

Penland’s Table in a Day participants with their (mostly) finished creations.

 

The process of designing and making an object can be a slow and laborious one. Good craft takes time. But once a year in the Penland wood studio, time is in very short supply. For the annual Table in a Day Challenge, now in its third year, wood studio residents have only one day to craft a table from start to finish. Pre-planning and sketching are allowed, but all the cutting and construction must happen between 9 AM and 9 PM.

This year, ten seasoned furniture designers rose to the challenge. Armed with donuts, pump-up tunes, and designs (or not), they quickly spread out around the studio and got to work cutting, planing, jointing, and gluing. Meanwhile, up in Baltimore, Penland session 7 instructor Sarah Marriage was taking part remotely, hard at work on her own speed-table.

 

man shaping a wooden table leg

Core fellow Kyle Kulchar shapes a leg for his table (the black one in the center, above).

 

With this much focus and intensity, pieces take shape quickly. By early afternoon, tabletops had been glued up, legs had been shaped, and the energy was palpable. A few hours later, the parts were starting to come together into three-dimensional forms that looked an awful lot like furniture. By 8:45 PM, the artists were in a final flurry of activity brushing paint, wiping finish, and laying the final boards into place. Somehow by 9 PM (or just a few minutes after), a collection of furniture stood where there had only been open floor at the beginning of the day.

 

two women woodworking

Left: Studio coordinator Ellie Richards adding color to her design. Right: Winter residency studio assistant Christina Boy finishing her table as it nears 9 o’clock.

 

As impressive as the participants’ speed and skill was the variety in the pieces they made. The tables ranged in scale from chihuahua-sized to large enough to seat six for dinner. Some highlighted the grain and natural color of the wood, while others employed bright paint and striking textures. Angela St. Vrain, a winter resident, used a piece of blown and slumped glass she’d made as a tabletop; studio coordinator Ellie Richards covered a whole face of her table with quotes she collected from protest posters at the Women’s Marches over the weekend. The legs on winter resident Zoe Alexa’s table were solidly joined at various non-right angles, and core fellow Elmar Fujita mixed and matched a pair of turned legs with two straight, square ones.

 

woman building a table

Core fellow Elmar Fujita attaching the legs to her Table in a Day creation.

 

All told, it was a day full up with some of the best the studio can bring: camaraderie, creativity, costumes, big skill, and lots of energy. Just don’t ask them to do it again tomorrow.

See more photos from Table in a Day in the slideshow below. (If you are reading this post as an email, we recommend viewing it on the blog.)

 

Intrepid woodworkers about to start at 8:59 AM.
Game faces
Four hours in and going strong!
Ellie inscribing quotes onto one face of her table.
Morgan putting together the pieces (in costume, of course).
Zoe had to work during the middle of the day, but she still made a mini table!
Bob at the table saw
Angela creating the glass and wood top for her table
Resident artist Annie Evelyn chose to make a 12-hour valet stand, which is sort of like a little table combined with a chair and a coat rack.
Yes, Elmar is rocking a wig.
Ellie with the finished word panel for the side of her table.
A 12-hour time limit doesn't mean you can skimp on sanding!
Paint paint paint
Finishing up in the final minutes.
The finished tables!
Not bad for 12 hours, eh?

 

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Photo of the Week: Here There Be Monsters

Adam Whitney is spending the month of January at Penland as a winter residency studio assistant in upper metals. His big project for that time is to make a pair of stirrup cups, the “parting cups” traditionally used to present mounted riders with wine or spirits before they left on a journey. Because stirrup cups were used on horseback instead of around a table, they didn’t need the flat base standard to almost all drinking vessels, and many were shaped like the heads of hounds, foxes, and other animals. Adam is crafting his in the shapes of mythical beasts.

The cups are inspired by fanciful renderings of sea monsters and other creatures on old maps and books. Adam started by making a model in copper, complete with curved teeth, horns, and a scaly chin. Next, he began the methodical work of transforming solid lumps of silver into cups, first by shaping and hollowing them with a hammer and then by adding details with finer tools like punches. The process is no small undertaking, but the results so far are a monstrous success.

 

 

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