Archive | June, 2017

Paulus Berensohn

 

Paulus Berenshohn photo by Dan Bailey

Paulus Berensohn on the back deck of his house during “Splash.” Photo by Dan Bailey.

 

“Do something. Start with pleasure. Make a list of all the things that are pleasurable in your life and then make an art form out of one of them. And if you’re courageous, make a list of all the things that are difficult in your life and make an art form out of one of them.” -Paulus Berensohn, speaking in the film To Spring from the Hand

 

On the afternoon of Sunday, June 18, 2017, a group of friends gathered at the Carolina Memorial Sanctuary, a green burial site near Asheville, North Carolina, to say a final farewell to artist and teacher Paulus Berensohn. In a clearing on the wooded site, a grave had been hand-dug by Jonah Stanford who, when he was a teenager, was the first of several dozen young people to adopt Paulus as “fairy godfather.” A small crowd waited by the grave and then, through the woods came the sound of a fiddle and an accordion leading a group who were bearing Paulus’s blanket-wrapped body in a sling while several more people carried a cardboard coffin that had been completely covered, by Paulus and a number of his friends, with a collage of drawings, pictures, paper, and poems.

The body and the box were laid gently on the ground. Paulus’s friend Debra Fraiser welcomed everyone, and then someone rang a little bell, which was the bell from the screen door of Paulus’s house, just down the road from Penland School. Every day at 5:00 PM, Paulus welcomed visitors for “Splash,” which meant engaging conversation and a small glass of scotch mixed with fruit juice. Debra explained that some of Paulus’s most frequent visitors would be speaking, each of them introduced by the bell. This led to twenty minutes or so filled mostly with the reading of poems.

Paulus was a great lover of poetry. He had many poems memorized and enjoyed reciting them (often with a bit of embellishment) in his soft, slightly-smoky voice accompanied by expansive gestures with his hands and arms that left no doubt that he was and would always be a dancer. He had beautiful handwriting and often copied poems into the handmade, Coptic-bound journals that were an integral part of his wide-ranging artistic practice. Although he was made famous by his book Finding One’s Way with Clay, and he was a beloved teacher of clay workshops, for many years he had also taught workshops in the making and keeping of journals. To encourage the practice of copying poems, he would dictate them while his students wrote them into their own books.

Paulus Berensohn photograph by Dan Bailey

Dancing in the Ridgeway building, 1980s. Photo by Dan Bailey

Paulus grew up with a desire to dance, and as a young man he studied at Julliard and Bennington, trained with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, and then danced professionally in New York City. But then at a gathering outside of the city he saw the potter Karen Karnes working in her studio. “It had a big window. I stood there and watched Karen from the back, sitting on her old Italian kick wheel,” he said in a 2009 interview. “The first thing I saw her do was to pull up a cylinder of clay and at the same time lengthen her spine. And then—this was what got me—she reached for her sponge in the slip bucket, picked up the sponge, without taking her eyes off the cylinder, and squeezed some slip onto her work. The gesture of sightlessly reaching with her hand was elegant and inevitable. I thought, that’s a dance to learn.”

Through Karnes, he met M.C. Richards and followed her to a pottery workshop she was teaching at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine. He fell in love with clay, and left the world of professional dance behind him, although dancing continued to be part of his daily life. He began teaching pottery almost immediately, and in 1969 one of his fellow Haystack students, Cynthia Bringle, invited him to teach a workshop with her at Penland. Around this same time, he had started experimenting with pinching and other handbuilding techniques. In deference to Cynthia’s great skill at the wheel, he taught pinching in their workshop and that technique came to define his relationship with clay.

Bill Brown, Penland’s director at the time, invited Paulus to return as a teacher and then to stay for a one-year residency. During that year he wrote a long letter to his former students at the Wallingford Potters Guild about pinching and the use of colored clay. This text became the basis for the book Finding One’s Way with Clay, one of the most influential craft books of the 20th century. In addition to detailed instructions and photographs by True Kelly (who still lives near Penland), it includes descriptions of his teaching exercises and suggests a meditative, introspective approach to making. First published in 1972, it is still in print.

 

In the Penland weaving studio, 1970s. Photo by True Kelly.

Paulus became a great teacher of workshops, and through them he touched thousands of lives. He taught at Penland and Haystack and other venues in the U.S., the U.K, and Australia. He also spoke to dozens of groups in workshops taught by his friends. In his teaching and in his life, he came to embody a few strong messages: that creative work, or “behaving artistically” as he often put it, has an intrinsic value to the maker and to the world; that art need not be connected with commerce; and that the “craft arts” (again, his term), because of their connection to primary materials, can help to heal the earth.

 

Paulus Berensohn photo by Ann Hawthorne

In the Penland clay studio, 1999. Photo by Ann Hawthorne

In recognition of his teaching, he was made an honorary fellow of the American Craft Council, he was given an honorary membership in the National Council on Education in the Ceramic Arts (NCECA), he received a Distinguished Educator’s Award from the James Renwick Alliance, and he was Penland’s 2016 Outstanding Artist Educator.

 

Talking to a student group in the Penland printmaking studio, 2012. Photo by Robin Dreyer

Sometime in the 1980s he settled near Penland School and lived there until his death. He loved the school, which he once referred to as “a kind of monastery on behalf of the human hand.” He taught workshops regularly and for several years he served as the school’s program director. He often spoke and recited poetry at the gatherings that open each Penland session. Although he did not sell his work, he gave it generously to the Penland auctions (and to the auctions of other organizations). He was an informal advisor to several Penland directors, and, through his close friend and student Meg Peterson, he was a great influence on the programs Penland runs in the local school system, many of which involve handmade journals. He was an active supporter of various community groups. He nurtured and encouraged young artists and the children of many of his friends. And he welcomed scores of those friends to his door.

Over the years his artwork expanded to include drawings, needlework, paste paper painting, monoprinting, cut and woven photographs, and, of course, his marvelous journals. He felt that mending should be an art form, and his beautiful thrift store clothes were often enhanced with carefully stitched patches. Although he had a well-known suspicion of electronic technology, he loved the color printer, which he used in producing the cards he sent by the hundreds on Valentine’s Day and the solstice (which he liked to call “soulstice”).

 

Journals by Paulus Berensohn

Journals. Photo by Dan Bailey

Paulus died on June 16 in a hospice facility in Asheville about a week after he had a major stroke. His health has been steadily declining and a group of close friends had been keeping an eye on him and taking care of his food and other needs. Nevertheless, he continued to have visitors and to show up at community gatherings, gallery openings, and the Penland coffee shop. Nobody who saw him in the month before his death or who sat with his body after he died failed to notice that his ponytail had given way to a short haircut and that his white hair was mostly dyed bright blue.

After the graveside poetry was finished, Paulus’s friends gently placed his body in the cardboard casket and lowered it into the ground. People took turns tossing a little dirt into the grave, which then gave way to shoveling until they had made a mulch-covered mound under the trees.

 

June 18, 2017. Photo by Robin Dreyer

In addition to introducing each of the speakers that afternoon, Debra Frasier said a few words of her own about the meaning of Paulus’s life—and about that blue hair. She had been listening to the book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, which says that wild barley and flax had a seed pod that burst in order to spread its seed as widely as possible. The domestication process involved collecting and replanting the few seed pods that did not burst—the tame ones. Then Debra explained that a month before his death, Paulus cut his hair short and asked to have it dyed blue because, he said, “I want to look wild going into death.”

“Paulus was an undomesticated wild plant,” she continued. “His seed pod was from one of the wild stalks: it burst into the air, and wildly spread those seeds—into the heart of every one of us standing here. Each of us now carries the wild seed. And this is now our job: we are to carry the wild seed forward and grow it again, in all our lives. Paulus gave each of us something wild, something at the edge of ourselves, to carry forward. What will that be? What will you do with it? That is the question.”

-Robin Dreyer

 

Paulus Berensohn, “Hand on the Heart of the World,” pen, colored pencil, clay, 29 x 32 inches, 2012. Photo by David Ramsey

 

There will be a celebration of Paulus’s life at Penland on July 22. The details are on this page, which may be updated periodically between now and the event.

 

More about Paulus

Here is a great tribute to Paulus from Debra Frasier and Dan Bailey that was presented at the 2016 Penland benefit auction as part of honoring Paulus as Outstanding Artist Educator.

 

Here is the trailer for the film To Spring from the Hand. This film, made by Paulus’s long-time friend the late Neil Lawrence, covers many aspects of Paulus’s life and does a beautiful job of presenting his ideas about art and life. The website for the film is gone, but there are some copies of the DVD (also copies of Finding Once’s Way with Clay) available from the Penland supply store (828-765-2359, ext. 1321). Neil also posted four short pieces on YouTube.

Articles published about Paulus after his death:
New York Times
NCECA
The Mitchell News Journal

Paulus’s friend Caverly Morgan, a Buddhist teacher who was an important part of his last days and the events that followed, posted these thoughts.

The Archive of American Art has an extensive oral history interview conducted by Mark Shapiro in 2009.

Garth Clark wrote this short piece about meeting Paulus in 2015.

Here are links to several Paulus videos from the Fetzer Institute
Why We Create

Bookmaking

The Power of Listening

An Artful Approach to Listening

 

 

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Photo of the Week: Another Penland Romance

Richard Margolis and Sherry Phillips

Sherry Phillips and Richard Margolis met at Penland 30 years ago. Sherry was taking a textiles workshop and Richard was teaching a photography workshop. A long-term romance ensued. They stopped in for a visit this week and celebrated their 30th anniversary while they were here. Vive l’amour!

 

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Photo of the Week: The Women of Iron

three women working at the anvil

Ann Klicka, Rebekah Frank, and Meghan Martin working together to taper a steel component for a large sculpture Ann is making.

 

The beautiful work coming out of the studio would be reason enough for a blog post, but something even more momentous is happening in session 1 iron: instructor Rebekah Frank, assistant Ann Klicka, and coordinator Meghan Martin are combining forces for some serious female blacksmithing power. While accomplished female instructors and female students of all levels are a common sight in the iron studio, it’s the first time in Penland’s history that the iron instructor, studio assistant, and studio coordinator have all been women. It seemed like an event worthy of recognition (and some serious camera cheesin’).

 

three women pose for a silly picture in the iron studio

 

And no, iron coordinator Daniel Beck hasn’t gone anywhere—he’s just across the driveway this session as a student in Kaitlyn Becker and Daniel Clayman’s Moldmaking for Art and Science workshop!

 

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Contemporary Ceramics at the Penland Gallery

Ceramic work by Shalene Valenzuela, Jeremy R. Brooks, and Roberto Lugo.

Works from “Within the Margins.” From left to right: “Ironing Things Out: Various Notions” by Shalene Valenzuela, “(Altered) Young Man’s Fancy” by Jeremy R. Brooks, and “Basquiat and Celia Teapot” by Roberto Lugo.

 

The Penland Gallery presents Within the Margins: Contemporary Ceramics, an exhibition curated by Steven Young Lee, in the John and Robyn Horn Gallery. Seventeen artists are represented in the exhibition with mostly narrative ceramic sculpture in a wide range of forms and styles. The exhibition runs from May 30 through July 16 with a gallery talk at 3:30 PM on Saturday, June 3 and a reception to follow from 4:30 to 6:30 PM.

The group of artists is quite varied in terms of their cultural backgrounds and personal histories, and this is reflected in the content of the work. Shalene Valenzuela, for example, says of her bright-colored earthenware and porcelain sculptures: “My narratives explore topics ranging from fairytales, urban mythologies, consumer culture, societal expectations, etiquette, and coming-of-age issues.” Sculptor Sunkoo Yuh makes complex pieces that are often groupings of forms including plants, animals, fish, and human figures. He describes his process this way: “I draw images intuitively and spontaneously with ink and brush. I study my drawings and select a few to transform into three-dimensional clay sculptures. My work expresses my inner emotions, communications about life, and directly draws from mundane experiences.”

Curator Steven Young Lee is the resident artist director of the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana. He has lectured extensively in North America and Asia including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. His work was recently featured as part of “Visions and Revisions: Renwick Invitational 2016” at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

In describing his intent for the exhibition, Lee said, “The exhibition includes artists who, while residing within one set of perceived margins or another, are working from within to expand or redefine those boundaries, ultimately shifting the lines of ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, cultural identity, or material association. Each artist is articulating a world view, and the most important aspect of their work is the sincerity of their investigation and quality of their execution. The title, Within the Margins, recognizes that while boundaries do exist, the mere fact of their existence invites—if not demands—that they be confronted, challenged and reshaped.”

 

Three ceramic plates featuring the letters E, F, and G

E, F, and G plates by Holly Walker from “Abecedarium | Envisioned.”

 

Also on view, in the Focus Gallery, is a small-format exhibition of functional ceramics by Holly Walker. She specializes in handbuilt earthenware and approaches the surfaces of her pots as a painter, brushing colored slips over the clay surface and then layering them with multiple glazes. This exhibition is titled Abecedarium/Envisioned because it includes an installation of twenty-six plates whose designs are inspired by the letters of the alphabet. The gallery talk at 3:30 on Saturday, June 3 will include remarks from both Steven Young Lee and Holly Walker.

The Visitors Center Gallery has an ongoing display of objects that illuminate the history of Penland School, while the Lucy Morgan Gallery presents a selection of work by dozens of Penland-affiliated artists. On display outside the Penland Gallery is a monumental steel sculpture by Hoss Haley and two new stone installations by Carl Peverall.

The Penland Gallery and Visitors Center is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 AM-5:00 PM and Sunday, Noon-5:00 PM; it is closed on Mondays. For more information call 828-765-6211 or visit penland.org/gallery.

 

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A Truly Collaborative Piece

Students and others involved with the project pose with the completed wolf mural

Mayland Early College High School principal Stacie Burleson, artist Rhea Ormond, Penland Community Collaborations manager Stacey Lane, and students Lily Adams, Amber Vance, and Katie McMahan pose with the finished wolf mural.

 

Most people know Penland for our workshops and residency programs. To many, our name calls to mind late nights in the studio and views out over the knoll. But the kids who grow up in the surrounding counties get to know a different side of Penland through our Community Collaborations Program, which seeks to provide our local community, and especially school children, with meaningful opportunities for creative exploration.

One recent Community Collaborations project was a joint effort with the Mayland Early College High School and the Rural Education Partnership to create a pair of murals that will be displayed on the Mayland Community College campus in Mitchell County. Penland’s Community Collaborations manager Stacey Lane recruited local mural artist Rhea Ormond to lead a small team of interested students to bring the murals to life.

For six weeks, Rhea met with Lily Adams, Amber Vance, and Katie McMahan, three Mayland Early College students, every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. The group set to work on two ambitious murals, both roughly 4 x 8 feet. One, which will be displayed in a big hallway where students congregate between classes, was inspired by local vegetation and the school’s timber wolf mascot. It shows a large wolf on a wooded path lined with trees, trillium, ladyslipper, and other Blue Ridge plants, all impressively rendered by these budding artists. “The wolf’s name is Barkley!” Lily announced excitedly to anyone who came to view their work.

 

 

The other mural, which will adorn the walls of the cafeteria, puts lunchtime front and center. A giant sandwich floats on a bright blue background, surrounded by a slew of toppings from cucumbers and tomato to bacon and mustard. The students joked about different names for their piece—”Space Sub” and “Sandwich in the Sky” were two favorite options.

“I really wanted the kids to come up with their own ideas for the murals,” Rhea explained. “They took on this ambitious project and ran with it.” All three students are hoping to pursue careers in the arts when they finish school, which made the mural project particularly exciting for them.

When I came to take photographs, their pride in the results was written all over their faces.

— Sarah Parkinson

 

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