“Whenever I teach, or am a student at Penland,” says spring metals instructor Lola Brooks, “I always try to put as much into the scholarship auction as I can because of what it supports, and because I love the idea that people who could not otherwise afford my work can score a piece for less than it would cost in a gallery somewhere. I love that democratization of the goods.” Lola also enjoys modeling her own jewelry work for the auction crowd. “My class donated a charm bracelet; I had everyone make a charm. I made the chain and the clasp, and I put a charm on it, too. This has been such an amazing class; it was really transformative for a lot of people, including myself, and each charm on the bracelet became a metaphor for that student and their process. Each piece is also indicative of what they learned, of all the techniques that we covered. The bracelet kind of took on a life of it’s own. It tells the story of what went on in the class, in a really powerful way. I love that charm bracelet.” She shakes a large, eclectic chain of bangles out from under her shirtsleeve. “I’m wearing it now.”
At the end-of-session auction, Lola was modeling the bracelet as the auctioneers called it out. She took the microphone and gave a speech about her class. “I told the crowd that that the piece was a collaboration between all of us, and that in my 11 years of teaching this had been the most powerful, amazing group of students I’ve ever taught,” she recalls. And when the bidding started again, something surprising happened. “At some point,” Lola says with a grin, “I just stuck my hand up and bid. I wasn’t even really thinking about it. And I won the bracelet for $525. And then I panicked, because I don’t have $525.” Wood instructor Jacque Allen, who’d also been bidding for the bracelet, stepped in with an offer to buy it, so that Lola wouldn’t go broke paying for it, “and it would have been great for it to go home with her; she’s awesome, I love her, but I was devastated that I wouldn’t get to keep it, because it felt very important to me,” Lola says. Then one of Lola’s students, Veva Edelson, came to the rescue. “I was telling Veva how I felt really sentimental about it, about the connection I’ve built with each student in the class, and the entire experience that I’ve had here, and she took the cowboy hat off my my head and went around the room saying, “Please help Lola keep her charm bracelet,” and she raised enough that I could afford it. It was really amazing.”
Lola has taught at Penland a couple of times before, but this was her first experience with an eight-week course. “I would say that this class changed my life,” she opines. It blows my mind. People really changed over the course of these eight weeks. They all really gave themselves over to the process, each in a completely different way. I know, for myself, for my part of the transformation, that I will never be the same.”
“Most of the teaching I’ve done has been at the university level, and then I’ve taught a variety of workshops. And then Penland is… it sounds sort of funny to say, but Penland is such a special place. You come up on this mountain, and you’re immersed in this group of like 140 personalities, and it triggers stuff. It triggers all kinds of weird relationships. The fact that you can come here and it’s like you’re going to craft camp, and they feed you, and shelter you, and give you this opportunity to step out of the world and immerse yourself in a creative world, surrounded by people who are like-minded or passionate about working with their hands. It’s kind of hooked me in.”
With another shake of the wrist, she jingles her bracelet again and smiles.