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Penlanders: Amanda Murdaugh

Amanda Murdaugh wasn’t thinking about taking a class at Penland this spring until her mother, who was planning to enroll in Janice Farley & Jane Peiser’s ceramics workshop, Festive & Functional Colored Porcelain, suggested that she join her. Amanda said she would if she could get into her first-choice class, Miss Betty’s Red Hot Variety Show, an iron course taught by Elizabeth Brim. When her application for a work-study scholarship in that workshop was accepted, she signed up.

It’s Amanda’s fifth class (three concentrations and two summer sessions) at Penland, and her first in a studio other than metals. So far, she’s come as a work-study student every time; this spring she’s assisting the weekend prep cooks in the kitchen. “I like the work-study program,” she says, “I’m used to it. It’s hard to imagine doing something else. I’d feel guilty, almost, being here and not helping at this point.” Her drive to help out behind the scenes as well as working in the studio may come in part from volunteering at the annual benefit auction for several years before she took her first class. This began as a family affair – her mother has been taking classes at Penland since the 1970s and is herself a long-time auction volunteer; Amanda started coming with her about seven years ago. After a couple of auctions, she began enrolling in classes as well.

“The first time was on a lark,” she recalls, “I was at the auction, and they had spaces open. I only had three days worth of clothing, because I just came for the auction. At the last minute, I was like, “Okay!” so I pulled my luggage out of the car, and I stayed, and that was my first class here.” The year was 2005, and the class was Alternative Anodizing, a workshop taught by Thomas S. Madden in the metals studio. It focused on using anodized aluminum in small-scale metalwork, and appealed to Amanda’s growing interest in jewelry.

A native of Charleston, SC, Amanda had lived in New York City for a couple of years around 2004, working as an intern in the studio of a fashion designer. Though she still remains interested in fashion design, it was during this time that she started making jewelry, which has been her primary medium for creative output since, picking up leftover bits of material around the studio and beginning to shape them into body adornments. “He was a fetish designer,” she says with a grin, “so there was a lot of leather. I started working with the scraps. That’s where I discovered jewelry.”

Asked why she’s changed media in her choice of class this time, she explains that there are other ideas she wants to explore right now, physically larger projects including an iron room-dividing screen. “Jewelry can be limiting,” she says, “often in a good way, but limiting. I wanted to try something different.”

Back at home in Charleston, Amanda works as a bartender, “on and off,” as she puts it. “It pays the bills, but I’m not sure I have the temperament for it. I can have it for a while,” she reflects,” but not forever.” When she finishes her class in May, she’s planning to rent a studio space and begin pursuing jewelry-making more seriously. That’s why she keeps coming back for classes at Penland, she says. She has a a lot of passionate interests – psychology, neurobiology, fashion and costume design, animal behavior – but hasn’t yet made a career of any of them, and studying jewelry has been in part a way of testing to see if that could be her true vocation.

We hope she keeps coming back, whether it turns out to be or not.

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