Archive | May, 2014

Ruth Easterbrook’s New Love

 

ruth easterbrook in the penland clay studio

 

Ruth Easterbrook was a work-study student in the spring 2014 concentration session. She fulfilled part of her work-study obligation by doing research for the Penland communications office (the folks who bring you this blog). Sometime near the end of the session, she needed a break from looking things up, so we asked her to write us a story about her time at Penland. Here it is–straight from the Penland clay studio.

Being here, at Penland School of Crafts for eight weeks, I feel like the luckiest person. I am surrounded by beautiful hills, talented people, and find myself in one of the most inspiring classes I have taken. I am in the clay concentration taught by David Eichelberger, which has forever expanded my perspective on handbuilding. In the past I have taken many classes that focus on using the wheel and throwing uniform practical shapes. By removing the wheel, the entire process is slowed down and there is a new attention to the surface and form that creates a perfect combination for wonderful things to emerge. And that is exactly what has been taking place for me and all the unusually talented people who surround me in my class.

Looking back at the first day of our time here, it all began with simple pinch pots like the ones elementary school kids make. We were each given a lump of clay to pinch into a cup-like form. Working with the clay in this way, pinching it between your fingers to slowly open and thin out the walls, there is a wonderful expression of the individual in the touch. This same individual presence has continued as the weeks have gone by. A class like this doesn’t come around very often: there is a playful, hardworking and supportive environment that spurs on the making in a way that is an honor to be part of.

 

ruth easterbrook butter dish

One of the butter dishes of Ruth’s dreams.

 

I have completely fallen in love with pinching, using it as a tool to form walls, and create textures that leave evidence of the hand. We have also been building our own molds, which enables an endless number of options for shapes and sizes. With these new tools I have been able to solve a few problems I have run into in the past. For example, I have always wanted to make butter dishes, but I found making them on the wheel unsatisfying. I now have the tools to make the butter dishes of my dreams.

I am always surprised at how long and short the time feels here on the hill. I have done months worth of learning and growing but it only feels like yesterday that I arrived. I left my routine, home and job to be here and make the leap toward taking myself more seriously as an artist. I have surrounded myself with people who are equally trying to find their way. I find it comforting that I am not alone in the unknown that comes with trying to find your path as a young artist. I am also constantly inspired by Penland’s instructors, studio assistants, resident artists, and the potters of the area. They give me hope, courage, and living proof that what I want to accomplish is attainable.

As I prepare to leave the nest of Penland once again for the big real world, I would like to thank David and his assistants Molly Spadone and Nick Moen for their leadership and the fun environment that made this a class I wish could continue for another eight weeks. I would also like to thank every single person who was here at Penland for their inspiration and support. Not only do I feel that I can pinch clay better then ever before, but I also feel better prepared to embrace my future in the arts.

 

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Someone is Drawing on the Meadow

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(A short history of the mowed meandering path at Penland)

 

In 1999, Penland drafted a campus master plan. The plan included a boardwalk. The boardwalk would border Conley Ridge Road along the meadow, connecting the main campus to Horner, where students were then being housed.

Like many great ideas, it was an expensive one, and Penland’s boardwalk never braced the grassy circle dipping from the road, a field expanding and rising steadily into a perfect knoll—“the knoll,” as Penlanders call it—across the road from the Pines.

In the summer, the field becomes an intoxicating green bowl. On windy days, shadows fold out and flash before the green assembles in the sun again. Wind-waves. Daydreamer bait.

Maybe because the dream of a boardwalk had been hatched and deferred, an idea for some kind of path system took shape. Two very functional paths were mowed before summer sessions started: a straight-shot from the Pines over the knoll to the resident artist apartments, and another along Conley Ridge down to Horner and the Penland Gallery, which visitors could use to avoid walking with the cars:

 

An aerial view of the campus from over the meadow.

 

Not long after this 2010 aerial shot for the Penland catalog (above) was taken, Jean McLaughlin, Penland’s executive director, had an idea for a meandering path—a kind of line drawing on Penland’s most visible and public field.

“It’s not like we sent an artist out there with a plan,” she recalls. “The guy who mowed at the time was told go out, have fun, make a path.” Like the most crackerjack ideas, this one cost next to nothing and became a recurring signature in the Penland’ summer landscape.

 

 

For the past five years, Terry Boone has been the artist behind the paths. Like many unsung masters, he knows how to shut down a compliment. “I just start driving and let [the mower] go,” he says about his process.

“It’s different every year—crazy-crooked—but I’ll be around today if you want to talk more,” says Terry jovially before hanging up the phone.

Terry also mows lines to mark the part of the field used for septic, facilities director Dave Sommer explains. “And the path over the knoll has to be offset each year,” Dave adds, “so we don’t get a worn path.”

No worn or set paths, lines fresh and familiar, straight and spiraling–it all harmonizes with a salient point in the Penland master plan, written by architect and planner Abie Harris. In a list of guiding principles for Penland’s grounds and facilities, he wrote:
 

Preserve the reasonable disorder.

The Penland campus has grown in an organic fashion. Excessive order could be detrimental to the feeling of the place; planning should assume and tolerate a certain amount of creative chaos.

 

 

The open sloping green along Conley Ridge Road has assumed and tolerated—along with Terry Boone’s straight and “crazy-crooked” lines and a twice-a-year hay cutting—countless installations, structures, meditative walkers, llamas, bonfires, picnickers, stargazers, giant puppets, horses, gardeners, easels, dogs, balloon launchers, deer, lovers, fireworks, bunnies, revelers, a grass-braider, dancers, fireflies, and all manner of performing and off-duty daydreamers. “It almost hurts to see people hay it,” Dave Sommer says, looking out from the Pines portico at the view.

 
Elaine Bleakney, photographs by Robin Dreyer

 

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Photo of the Week: Home Stretch in Metals

penland metals studio

April 28, week eight of the spring concentration. Things can get intense at the end of a long session.

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Joseph Pintz: Ceramics | May 23 – June 22, 2014

Joseph Pintz: Ceramics opens today at the Penland Gallery. “Stubborn physicality” is a phrase Pintz uses to describe his tableware. Recently, his surfaces have brought elements of the ethereal to this physicality, evoking arid skies and desert colors.

 

 

 

In an age of ever-increasing speed, the dinner table is the perfect place to savor – to spend time, to share food and vessels made with integrity and purpose. I sincerely hope that such sustenance allows us to develop a deeper relationship to making and to each other. —Joseph Pintz

 

 

All works included in Joseph Pintz: Ceramics are viewable and available for purchase online at the Penland Gallery.

 


 
 

Joseph Pintz’s functional and sculptural ceramic work explores the role that domestic objects play in fulfilling our physical and emotional needs. Inspired by his Midwestern roots, Pintz creates mundane forms based on utilitarian vessels and other implements associated with the hand. In the process, the dense meaning of these objects is transferred into clay. Pintz earned his BA in anthropology and urban studies at Northwestern University.  After receiving his MFA from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, he was a resident artist at the Archie Bray Foundation. He has received the NCECA Emerging Artist Award as well as the Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. He is  on research leave from the University of Missouri while working at the Roswell Artist-in-Residence program. He is teaching a handbuilding workshop in the Penland clay studio, May 25-June 6.

 
 

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Grover Bows Out

Grover and truck

This man, known to everyone at Penland simply as Grover, has, for more than a decade, made the rounds of the campus in this truck three times a week collecting and sorting all of the school’s recyclables–bottles, cans, paper, cardboard, etc.

Grover spent his early childhood in Mitchell County, not far from the school. After living most of his life other places, he finally settled just a few miles from the house he lived in as a child. In addition to his recycling job, Grover made a special place for himself at Penland by creating hundreds of remarkable pieces of artwork–from painted cardboard, milk crates, plastic flamingos, cut-up books and magazines, and other found material–which he periodically combined into elaborate installations in the Dye Shed.

 

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Grover is fascinated by geography and his pieces frequently incorporate arcane geographical information. For a time he nurtured an obsession with klein bottles (a kind of volumetric mobius strip) and created memorable pieces based on that form.

He also plays guitar and was the instigator of many afternoon music sessions on the Dye Shed porch. “Back in the 60s,” he explained, “I was one of a billion people who learned to play the guitar. Now there’s just a few hundred thousand of us still playing.” Grover has been a genial presence at Penland; many on staff looked forward to his weekly visits as a source of unpredictable and fascinating conversation. His highly-developed deadpan means that talking to him often involves wondering which part of what he just said was serious–maybe some of it? maybe all of it? maybe none of it? It can be hard to say.

 

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In the hope of postponing some joint replacement surgery, Grover has finally decided to give up his Penland job. The recycling has been entrusted to our long-term neighbor Alan Tinney, but we know that we have not said goodbye to Grover. We’ll look forward to his visits and his next art installation.
-Robin Dreyer

 

 

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This cast-glass bust of Grover was made by studio coordinator Dean Allison. It was molded from life. This photograph was taken at a recent exhibition of work by Penland’s studio coordinators.

 

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The Half-Remembered Object

 

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Michael Rossi, Mass Effect, 2013, forged steel, 5′  overall, longest 34″ Image from rossimetaldesign.com

 

I’m standing in the Penland Gallery, looking at the forged steel objects in Mike Rossi’s Mass Effect,—eleven of them—hanging. They look like tools. They’re tools? They’re rusted and somehow shifting in their surfaces—evoking human use in their gallery-ready context. Names for each object form in my mind: Key to the Secret Wall. Golden Hornshoe. Deep Pincer. Reading left to right, I flunk each thing with my imagined names, and wonder, if I could steal just one, which one would I slip into my bag?

 

[Ed. note: Penland School of Crafts does not condone stealing art or sentences about stealing art.]

 

“I wanted it to look like the nicest tool rack ever made,” says Rossi half-jokingly as we talk about Mass Effect. Each piece was forged out of his desire to push the boundaries of forging: the objects were made without grinding, filing or welding. Rossi used only a power hammer, the anvil, and a rod the size of the one resting on top of the upper right corner of the work—1 x 5 inches. (“Mass effect,” then, refers to each object being forged without a loss of material–each has the same mass and volume.) Within this premise, Rossi proceeded in an effort to work without certainty—to play call and response with steel.

 

This call and response, for Rossi, produces objects “half-remembered, half-forgotten, mash-ups of other objects I’ve seen.” There are references to forms he encountered in childhood—from books or from his youth in Michigan—“plumb bobs, garden tools, marine hardware.” It’s a bit like Proust’s adult narrator in Remembrance of Things Past, slipping into reverie when the form of the shell-shaped cookie from his childhood dissolves in his tea. Except, in this case, we have a blacksmith, working toward an endlessly dissolving form.

 

And standing in front of each object in Mass Effect, the viewer is invited into the forged space where things have been drawn from the unconscious. Remember being a child, thunderstruck by the appearance of some beautiful and mundane thing? Like the shapes, the rusted surfaces of the objects in Mass Effect (“planished,” Mike emails me later, “struck lightly to achieve a more uniform surface”) gesture toward the recurring astonishment of first perceptions—those moments when the child sees oneself suddenly apart from things in the world, and wants, more than anything, to catch the foreign object. Having time to dive into this way of making has helped Rossi sharpen his way of seeing for client-driven, architectural commissions. “I pay attention differently,” he says, “[making sculpture] increases my ability to observe the world.”

 

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Mike Rossi and students in his spring 2014 Concentration at Penland. Photo by Robin Dreyer.

 

The ways Rossi involves intuition, memory, and play into object making resonates with his teaching style, too, as the students in his Penland iron concentration this spring experienced firsthand. One of his workshop assignments involved forge objects for an EDC—an everyday carry—based on what each student would take in a small pack on her or his person in order to live. A survivalist’s game, but Rossi opened up the assignment, inviting his students to create an EDC for a fictional dream character if they chose, and several of them did.

 

“There are so many places to learn cutting, welding—but by learning forging, you get a versatility with the material,” Rossi says. “You engage with the material in a different way. I want my students to have this versatility and the knowledge that blacksmithing has a place in the world today.” ”We’re still in an iron age,” he adds. “It’s the silent foundation that underlies everything.”

 

We’re wrapping up our conversation. It’s morning in the Penland Coffee House, the place is filling up, Crystal’s throwing a booming hello out to someone she loves, and Rossi’s headed back up to the iron studio. I ask a throw-away question, “Anything else you’d like to add?” He looks at me evenly, earnestly. “I want to make thoughtful objects,” he says.–Elaine Bleakney

 
 

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Photo of the Week: At work in the clay studio

 

Nick Moen in Penland clay studio

Studio assistant Nick Moen in the clay studio, behind a wall of his own works-in-progress.

 

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