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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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Photo(s) of the Week: Community Open House 2017

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Hands-on craft activities, a legion of wonderful volunteers, hundreds of eager visitors, and some beautiful spring weather all came together this past Saturday to make the 2017 Penland Community Open House a rousing success. Visitors tried their hands at perennial favorites like glassblowing and wheel throwing, as well as new additions like origami, sewn tote bags, and a letterpress scavenger hunt. We look forward to the open house every year as a way to welcome spring and bring together community members of all ages and skill levels. Thanks to all who participated for making it such a fun day!

In the photograph above, metals studio coordinator Ian Henderson guides two young visitors through the process of casting a spoon out of pewter. It took mere minutes to transform the hot, pourable metal into a spoon to take home and enjoy.

 

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Meanwhile, in the photo activity, Penland resident artist Mercedes Jelinek was busy taking hundreds of portraits of open house attendees. Everyone who sat for a portrait was able to take home their own black-and-white print.

 

learning to make a glass bead

Visitors to the flameworking studio got to work up close with torches and glass. Here, one attendee learns how to melt the colored glass and shape it around a metal rod to make a unique bead.

To see dozens more photos from the day’s activities, take a look at our complete album of Community Open House 2017 pictures. We hope they inspire you to join us for Community Day 2018!

 

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From iPhone to I, Photographer

Mercedes Jelinek teaching at Mitchell High

Mercedes Jelinek explains to her Art 1 students how to edit images on their phones.

 

“Photography is not like painting. There is a creative fraction of a second when you are taking a picture. Your eye must see a composition or an expression that life itself offers you, and you must know with intuition when to click the camera. That is the moment the photographer is creative.”

—Henri Cartier-Bresson, 1957

 

Although darkroom photography is no longer part of many high school art programs, photography itself is more prevalent than ever. These days, most high school students walk around with camera phones in their back pockets, and snapping photos is almost second nature. As a visiting artist at Mitchell High School in Spruce Pine, NC, Mercedes Jelinek’s goal was to show students that these photos could be more than just a way to record and share—they could be a form of creative expression.

“Photos can mean a lot more than just representing likeness,” Mercedes tells her students at the beginning of class on a Wednesday morning. The students are seated in bright yellow chairs around a projector in Jennifer Robinson’s Art 1 class. On the screen, Mercedes is advancing through portraits they took of each other yesterday, each original photograph shown next to an edited version. “What makes this one so good?” she asks. Her students respond with their thoughts about composition, lighting, framing. Despite being taken with simple cellphone cameras, the photos do look good—really good. There’s personality coming through in each one.

 

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Three of the many portraits Mitchell High students took of each other during their photo classes with Mercedes. From left, images by Tanner, Kassie, and Billy.

 

As a resident artist here at Penland, Mercedes has years of professional photography experience—both film and digital—to share with her students. Her three-day visit to Mitchell High was part of the Professional Craft Study for High School Students, one of Penland’s Community Collaborations programs to bring creative experiences to students in the surrounding counties. During her lessons, Mercedes started with basics such as camera controls and simple editing, but her students were soon talking about how to interact with subjects to make them comfortable and relaxed and how to set up a shot to lead the viewer’s eye.

 

Mercedes photographs a student

During her class, Mercedes set up a photo booth to take portraits of all her students.

 

On her final day of teaching, Mercedes used the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson as an inspiration for her students. Cartier-Bresson is known for The Decisive Moment, a book of black-and-white street photography. “To me, photography is the simultaneous recognition, in a fraction of a second, of the significance of an event as well as of a precise organization of forms which give that event its proper expression,” he wrote.

In asking her students to take photographs of “decisive moments” as their final assignment, Mercedes enabled them to bring together the technical concepts they had practiced such as lighting and exposure time with their own view of the world. “Go set up the shot absolutely perfectly, then have somebody walk through it,” she instructed them. “You decide the perfect moment to take your shot.”

There was nothing uncommon about the laughter that followed, or the knots of two or three teens talking in groups, or the students wandering on the grassy stretch in front of the school. What was uncommon was the particular care and attention taken to document it all.

—Sarah Parkinson

 

black and white photographs by Mitchell High students

A few of the “decisive moment” photographs taken during Mercedes’s class. Clockwise from top left, images by Rylie, Madison, and Devlin.

 

See more photographs from Mitchell High School Art 1 students on the MHS Art Instagram.

All of Penland’s Community Collaborations programs are funded by grants and donations. The Professional Craft Study for High School Students is able to bring artists like Mercedes to Mitchell High School thanks to the generous support of the Samuel L. Phillips Family Foundation Education Partnership Endowment.

 

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Photo(s) of the Week: Community Open House 2016

The following blog post is a photo slideshow. We recommend viewing it in an Internet browser.

Learning to blow glass is one of the most popular open house activities.
This blob of hot glass became a juice glass after a few minutes' work.
In the letterpress studio, visitors printed masks on the Vandercook press.
Cutting out eye holes in a freshly-printed mask
If you see one of these creatures around, it's probably been to the letterpress studio!
In the clay studio, visitors learned to throw on the pottery wheel.
All sorts of fun clay creatures being made at the handbuilding tables.
Getting clay pointers from one of our great volunteers
Making a clay mask while wearing a letterpress mask
In the iron studio, everyone got to try their hand at forging a J hook.
These two are adding a decorative twist to finish off the hook.
Visitors to the Ridgeway building decorated paste papers.
Sometimes, fingers are the best brushes!
Hands-on fun!
Who wouldn't want to join in on some whistle mania?
Visitors to the wood studio made their own train whistles.
The whistle process involved some precise sawing and drilling.
These two young visitors made a whistle—and it works!
In the flameworking studio, visitors made glass beads.
Here's a mother-daughter flameworking duo.
Each bead is formed by melting colored glass onto a metal rod.
The photo studio was all about crazy portraits.
This visitor is getting her photo taken as a tiger.
Edwina poses with her gold-sequined portrait.
Resident artist Jaydan Moore demonstrated his printmaking process to visitors.
In the metals studio, visitors learned pewter casting.
After the pewter is melted, it's poured into this two-part mold.
Unmolding the pewter revealed a tiny hammer and anvil!
Visitors to textiles learned to weave at the looms.
Everyone went home with a rag-rug coaster they wove themselves.
Visitors to the school store got to embellish Penland postcards
Thanks to the 700+ people who came out to visit us for the Community Open House!
And a big thanks to all our volunteers and staff!

 

This year’s Penland Community Open House was another big success! Over 700 people from the Penland community came up to try their hand at a new craft. Artists young and old alike were busy forging in the iron studio, flameworking beads in the glass shop, making colorful portraits in the photo studio, creating wooden whistles, and lots more. We’re grateful to all volunteers for helping us to share this fun day with our community, and to all the visitors who join us with such enthusiasm.

 

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Art is activism: an interview with Ruganzu Bruno

 

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Last week I talked with visiting artist Ruganzu Bruno outside of Penland’s wood studio. It was Ruganzu’s second week at Penland—a time for making his own sculpture after a wild week of collaborative effort. During that first week, Ruganzu and volunteers handpicked by Penland and the McColl Center for Art + Innovation in Charlotte built an eco-friendly play area behind Penland’s Ridgeway building. The rapid evolution of the play area (which stars a soaring Luna Moth) can be viewed in the slideshow above.

Thanks to the efforts of Penland’s community collaborations team, Ruganzu and his volunteers attracted and involved the energies of many in the Penland community, including students in Penland’s Kids Camp. Their playground now includes the bamboo-frame Luna moth filled with recycled bottles and coffee cans and a new tire-swing structure.—Elaine Bleakney

 

How are you finding your time at Penland?

The space, the quiet, being away from the city and chaos—this is more like a world for artists, and I feel privileged to be here. Having come with students from Charlotte from different backgrounds for a week to work on an eco-playground was rewarding. We got here and we got moving and working together—and then the students found it hard to leave. The knowledge of people at Penland—everyone has so much knowledge and experience, it’s a rare feature.

 

How did you all decide on the works that would be part of the playground at Ridgeway?

It was a collective decision. I had visited Penland last December. I was making another playground plan in Charlotte for a neighborhood project called Brightwalk that had the same principles. In May I met again with parents and teaching artists, and they were so fond of the Luna moth that I switched my design, working in this idea. I consulted the kids in camp at Ridgeway too—they told us how they love to swing, and so we thought about how much of the playground we could create for swinging. I met Tom Dancer and Matt Anders—they knew all the types of wood and how lasting it was, even how old the wood was. So I call the new swings ‘The Dancer Swings’ after Tom: he’s the one who told me that locust wood might work instead of a chain I had designed for the tire swing. When he told me this I was thinking ‘Okay, how do I change my design?’ But in the end we discovered that the wood worked, and so there was new innovation.

 

How did you make the leap from studying painting, such a solitary act, to working collaboratively on public art?

I trained in painting and sculpture, and was finding collectors—it was selling. But it was not rewarding. Art needs to be in a community. Sometimes as artists we think that all we can do are pieces of aesthetic value for rooms, museums, galleries. For me, I got interested in environmental issues, especially in my country—Uganda is one of the countries affected most by climate change. It’s so hard because Uganda is so green; it’s hard to convince even a local person that we’re being affected. Most people don’t really care, so I was seeing art as an entry to activism. It also happened that when I was at university I saw that artists were communicating to other artists or to the people who collect art—the elite, people who have been to good schools—but it didn’t really go to a local person. So for me this was the realization.

 

What was your experience with art as a child like?

I grew up in a district of Uganda where the mountains and nature were all around. We had lots of potters—and that environment nurtured me. I had a really good artist mentor, teacher, and friend, so I started surviving on art. I grew up as an orphan. I was selling my small pieces, working on what I would call commercial art, and that was my background. I don’t know when it was I started drawing—I’m not one of those artists who can tell you that. For me, the economics in my district taught me about art because I could see that artists could actually make money. So I had a way of finding my feelings about my losses as an orphan and I knew that art would be my solace.

 

Is making art still a solace for you?

I think so. I think my need to make playgrounds relates to my childhood—there was something I was missing—it wasn’t play, it was more the economy, the need to have enough. I see a lot of kids in the U.S. with so much and they feel like they have no choices. I had so little and I saw that I had to choose what would make me happy.

I find in my work that I’m trying to address the consumerism. I’ll be doing a project in Denmark next year called What Is Eating You. I’ll be using some African rituals to show how we can solve issues. Back home, if I wrong you, it’s possible that we don’t rush to court, and we go to the chief. One of the tribes in Uganda actually uses food as conflict resolution. That’s what I’ll be doing in Denmark, in schools.

 

Thank you so much for being here with us.

I would love to come back. I want to try out everything here! I would love to see a Penland structure in Uganda, there would be so many people lining up to enter.

 

 

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Field Trip

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We spied a batch of sketchbooks sitting out in front of the Pines dining hall last week (not an unusual sight at Penland, but still, we wondered who belonged to them.)

After lunch the artists appeared: eighth graders from Harris Middle School, visiting Penland as a final field trip before summer vacation.

Some of the students showed us their sketches–Penland trees, artworks they had seen being made in the studios, buildings on campus, and a real or imagined owl–before heading off with Penland’s community collaborations director Stacey Lane and Leslie Dickerson, their teacher, for a walk to Cynthia Bringle’s studio.

 
 

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Community Open House

Our studios will be ready for action on Saturday, March 1, when we host our annual community open house. Everyone is welcome to take part in free activities in clay, iron, glass, metals, photography, printmaking and letterpress, textiles, and wood. There will be a special paste painting activity, as well as postcard-making in the school store. The Penland coffee house will be serving up special fare, and we’ll have information about our summer workshops and Kids Camp, too.

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More information about this year’s open house can be found here.
 
 

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