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Penlanders: Amir Friedman and Dana Benshalom

The Penland mission to connect individuals with opportunities for artistic growth knows no borders. We had the privilege of hosting many international students in our studios this summer, including the recipients of the Association of Israel’s Decorative Arts (AIDA) Scholarships: Amir Friedman and Dana Benshalom. Committed to fostering the development of contemporary decorative artists from Israel, AIDA connects these artists with an international audience of galleries, institutions, and collectors. With AIDA’s scholarship and travel grant support, we were honored to welcome Dana and Amir to study at Penland during a summer session of their choice.

Inspired by his experience as a chef, as well as ideas of kinetics, Amir’s work explores movement in ways that range from jewelry design to machine construction. He now lives and works in Israel as an awarding winning studio-based artist, teacher, and researcher focusing on small and limited edition designs. He joined us during session four in the metals studio for Jana Brevick’s class, Melt, to explore his growing interest in alloys.

“Since I was fourteen, I was cooking all the meals for the family. Eventually, I ended up in the kitchen. The first transition I made from the culinary arts was making handmade leather bags. I think that a lot of chefs have the bond or the connection with organic materials, like food, leather, and wood (I used to do a lot of woodworking). Another transition was from the leather bags into metalworking. Metals have different characteristics because of their hardness, but I feel like they are a lot more flexible as a material. You can make many more mistakes with a metal object than you can make with a piece of leather. I’m a process guy; I adore learning through the mistakes that I make.

“I chose this course at Penland because I was already trying to find different alloys in my own studio. I like to make my own custom alloys. I think it’s exactly like in the kitchen: you can start with a  flour that is already mixed with ingredients to make a cake, or you can start with raw ingredients and you have much more control of the result. You multiply the options. Making my own metal is really an eye-opener. This knowledge that I’ve received in only two weeks is taking me back to collections that I’ve already started.

“If it wasn’t for AIDA, I would not have found out about this place. I think that the goal of AIDA is to promote and to help Israeli artists and designers to encounter the world. You can read the textbooks forever, but I’m able to work with different artists face-to-face because of them. It’s irreplaceable…I will try to come back again…it’s always fun meeting other artisans, but it’s even more fun when they come from a different culture.”

Dana came to Penland during session six for Michael Radyk’s  textiles class, The Rug: Color, Surface, and Structure. Although she now lives and works in Jerusalem, Dana spent much of her life and studies in England with her parents, who are of Polish and Moroccan descent. She specialized in weave and silk print at Shenkar College of Design and Engineering, and now works in the textile industry in Israel as a designer.

“After two years of working in the textiles industry, I thought that I was going in the complete opposite direction of what I should be doing. I started textiles in the first place out of a passion for materials and working with your hands. So, looking at my experience at Penland now, it’s been a way to do this. I’m still working in the industry, but I’m going to redirect my path and do an MFA in experimental industrial design to continue my craft in a way that is still relevant to reality…being at Penland is a really nice transition into learning new techniques that will help me begin to focus more on what I want to do.

 “In Isreal, ‘textiles’ is not something that you hear a lot. You hear ‘product’ and ‘fashion,’ but that’s about it. This is what sparked my interest in the ‘textile’ craft when I was living and studying in England. When I went back to Israel knowing that textiles was what I wanted to do, there was only one school offering studies in the field. I went there with no question…For me, there’s something about textiles that communicate culture and history. It’s like a visual history that transcends words. I’m fascinated by the idea that even just looking at different patterns and colors can communicate this.

“During my studies I was really intrigued by the question of ‘what is an Israeli textile?’ The modern Israeli textile history only technically goes back 65 years, so the idea of a distinct textile that is a reflection of many different cultures that make up modern Israel is incredibly interesting to me. I like exploring questions like “what happens here that doesn’t happen anywhere else?” I am especially sensitive to these since I come from a very mixed family.

“Many thanks to AIDA; I feel extremely lucky to have been chosen. I also feel like my experience at Penland is really taking my work in a forward direction. Beyond this direct impact of the course, just being here (in one of the most beautiful places that I have ever seen) and listening to great art masters, watching them work, and being a part of a creative community that embraces arts and crafts has been an incredibly inspiring experience.”

                                                                               – Lauren Wilson

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