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Empty Bowls at the Penland Coffee House


The bowls were stacking up last week in anticipation of the Empty Bowls event at the Penland Coffee House.


Students in the clay concentration with Suze Lindsay and Kent McLaughlin are hosting an Empty Bowls event this week at the Penland Coffee House. Visitors can make a $20 donation to fight hunger, enjoy a simple lunch-time meal of soup prepared by the Penland kitchen, and take home a unique bowl made by a student in the class. The Empty Bowls meal will be available at the Penland Coffee House Monday, November 2 – Friday, November 6 from 11:00 AM to 4:00 PM.

The Empty Bowls Project was started twenty-five years ago by Lisa Blackburn and John Hartom, who live nearby in Yancey County. The success of the project spread rapidly, and today communities around the globe join the Empty Bowls Project by offering a simple soup meal served in donated handmade bowls as a reminder of all of the empty bowls in the world. The money raised from each event goes to a hunger-fighting organization chosen by the hosts. The Penland project’s proceeds will go to Mitchell County Shepherd’s Staff, a non-profit organization providing food and heating assistance to Mitchell county residents in need.

With all the rain we’re getting today, it’s a perfect day for some soup!


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Penland at SOFA Expo 2015

visitors looking at art on display

Come visit Penland at this year’s SOFA Expo in Chicago November 5-8! The event is an annual art fair that celebrates sculpture and functional art, complete with gallery exhibits, lectures, and special displays.


Penland staff will be part of two SOFA educational lectures:

The Penland School of Crafts Gallery & Visitors Center 2016 Expansion
Friday, November 5, 9:00am
Penland gallery director Kathryn Gremley and Penland executive director Jean McLaughlin will give a talk about the new Penland Gallery & Visitors Center. The discussion will feature artists Stoney Lamar and Kate Vogel and will cover the new programming possible in the gallery’s expanded space.

Art Quilts: A Contemporary Conversation
Friday, November 5, 10:30am
Penland’s Jean McLaughlin will be part of a panel discussion on trends in contemporary quilt making put on by the friends of Fiber Art International.


In addition to these lectures, we will have Penland friends staffing a Penland table to tell you about upcoming workshops and events on campus. We will also be represented alongside Arrowmont, Haystack, Pilchuck, and Peters Valley at a table for the Craft School Experience. Stop by to say hi!


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Core Show Slideshow

Left to right: Tyler Stoll, Meghan Martin, Joshua Kovarik, Elmar Fujita, Daniel Garver, Jamie Karolich, Bryan Parnham, Emily Rogstad, Morgan Hill

Left to right: Tyler Stoll, Meghan Martin, Joshua Kovarik, Elmar Fujita, Daniel Garver, Jamie Karolich, Bryan Parnham, Emily Rogstad, Morgan Hill


The annual October Core Show is a much-anticipated highlight of fall at Penland, and this year was no exception. Our nine core fellows came together to put on a stunning show of pieces from their workshops across the Penland studios. Titled Personal Effects, the show featured furniture, prints, photographs, weaving, ceramics, sculpture, jewelry, and much more. It was a great opportunity to see the cumulative talent of this group of young artists, and also to show our appreciation for these people who do so much at the very heart of the Penland community.

View lots more images in the Personal Effects slideshow.



Guests admiring work at the opening reception. The table in the front is by Elmar Fujita.


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One Weekend, Two Shows

Penland has not one but two groups of super-talented artists living and creating on campus: our resident artists and our core fellows. And next weekend, they will put on not one but two gorgeous shows to display their recent creations. Mark your calendar down for the evening of October 9, and mark down the afternoon of October 10 as well. Both openings will be well worth attending.


Core show poster


Personal Effects: Core Show 2015
Opening Reception October 9, 8:00-11:00pm, Northlight Hall

Personal Effects brings together pieces by Penland’s nine talented core fellows: Jamie Karolich, Joshua Kovarik, Meghan Martin, Emily Rogstad, Tyler Stoll, Elmar Fujita, Daniel Garver, Morgan Hill, and Bryan Parnham. The core fellows design and curate the show, and it’s a rare opportunity for them to display the sum of all the thinking, learning, and creating they do in their individual classes and studio practices.

If you can’t make the opening (or you just want a second look), the core show will also be open to the public from 12:00-6:00pm on October 10 and 11 and from 4:00-6:00pm on October 12 and 13.


promotional image for the upcoming resident artist show


The Barns: 2015
Opening Reception October 10, 4:30-6:30pm, Gallery North

The Barns: 2015 will be the first opportunity to see work from Penland’s current group of resident artists all together. Our newest residents Dean Allison, Maggie Finlayson, Seth Gould, and Tom Jaszczak will display their work alongside that of Annie Evelyn, Andrew Hayes, Mercedes Jelinek, and Jaydan Moore, who joined the program a year ago. The show will reflect the varied interests and talents of our residents, with works in cast glass, clay, metal, and photography alongside furniture, printmaking, and mixed media sculpture.

The Barns: 2015 will be on view this fall in Penland’s Gallery North from October 6 through November 15. Students and guests on campus are encouraged to stop by during their visits.


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The Return of the Rural Academy

Rural Academy Theater at Penland

Thanks again to the Rural Academy Theater for another evening of stories, music, dancing, and even a movie — all magically appearing from their horse-drawn theater wagon.


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50 Years of Glass at Penland

Though small in physical scale, a single innovation changed the course of glass making in America: in 1962 Harvey Littleton, with the help of Norm Schulman and Dominick Labino, built and demonstrated a studio-scale glass furnace at a workshop for university ceramics professors held at the Toledo Museum of Art. Prior to their demonstration, glasswork had been closely linked with production factories, and a studio glass practice was pretty much unheard of.

Two years later, a fortuitous meeting between Littleton and Penland director Bill Brown at the World Craft Conference, held at Columbia University in New York City, triggered another turning point. Once again, Littleton built and demonstrated a small glass furnace, and Bill Brown left that conference determined to build a glass studio at Penland School of Crafts. In 1965, Bill Boysen, a student of Littleton’s, arrived at Penland to build that studio, and hot glass at Penland became a reality. Penland’s first formal offering in glass was the following summer when Boysen taught two classes. Glass has been a vital component of Penland’s program ever since.


man blowing glass

Bill Boysen in the Penland glass studio in 1965. Photographer unknown, Penland Archives.


Cynthia Bringle, longtime Penland clay instructor and local resident, was here when Boysen arrived to build the studio. When asked what that felt like, she says, “Like many of the early studios, everyone was just doing what it took to make it work. Bill Boysen came down and did it. I just came down and helped!” She remembers early work made from melted glass marbles (one of the forms you could buy raw glass in back then). Clay and glass remained intertwined in the early years: Norm Schulman, local resident and Penland clay instructor, worked in both media and was an advisor for Littleton’s furnace design. When Richard Ritter was a resident artist in the 1970s, Bringle made ceramic collars for him to use for making glass murrinis, and she filled in as an impromptu gaffer.


woman in a glass shop

Cynthia Bringle working in the Penland glass studio in 1965. Photographer unknown, image courtesy of Kate Vogel.


Littleton’s technology and Brown’s vision for a glass program at Penland acted as a springboard for the studio glass movement. The technology was accessible, and Penland’s glass program became an influential hub. Penland’s resident artists program—a unique program offering long-term housing, studio space, and creative community to a group of craftspeople—was instituted by Brown in 1963. The first resident in glass, Mark Peiser, arrived in 1965. That program and Penland’s immersive learning environment, along with the progressively more sophisticated glass studios, made Penland a magnet that attracted a community of glass artists to the area surrounding the school. In the late 1970s Littleton retired from the University of Wisconsin in Madison and built a home and studio in Spruce Pine, North Carolina, close to Penland. He was part of Penland summers as a visiting scholar for eight years between 1976 and 1984.

Fifty years after the first glass studio at Penland was built, there are, according to glass artist Kate Vogel, approximately sixty active glass artists living and working in the surrounding community—about forty of whom work full time in glass. The Glass Art Society was founded at a gathering at Penland in 1971 and has held their annual conference here a number of times. The second Penland glass studio, the Bonnie Willis Ford Glass Studio, opened for classes in 1977. The current studio, the Bill Brown Glass Studio, was dedicated in 1995 during a Glass Arts Society conference. Many glass artists, from all over the U.S. and the world, have come to Penland to teach and to learn: in fifty years over 700 classes in glass have been offered, taught by almost 300 different instructors, and 27 resident artists in glass have worked in the glass studio at the Barns. In that time, Penland programs have stretched the boundaries of how glass can be worked at the studio scale, all the while fostering a global community of glass artists.

Carey Hedlund, Penland Archivist


Micah Evans working on a flameworked glass piece

Former resident artist Micah Evans working on a piece in the Penland glass studio in 2011. Photo by Robin Dreyer.



Byrd, Joan Falconer. Harvey K. Littleton: A Life in Glass. New York: Skira Rizzoli Publications Inc., 2011. Print.

Documentary by WGTE television, Toledo, OH: features film footage of the Toledo workshops and interviews with Littleton, Labino and Schulman:

Glass Arts Society website:

Penland School of Crafts, Jane Kessler Memorial Archives

Conversations with Kate Vogel and Cynthia Bringle, August 2015


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Stuart Kestenbaum: Tinker Poet

Stuart Kestenbaum spent two weeks at Penland in July as this year’s Andrew Glasgow Writing Resident. Stuart is the author of four books of poetry and a book of essays on craft and creativity. His work has been published in a number of magazines including Tikkun and The Sun and has been featured on Garrison Keillor’s The Writer’s Almanac. He sent us this account from his time at Penland. Scroll to the bottom to see a video of Stuart reading a couple of poems.


Stuart Kestenbaum at Penland

Stuart Kestenbaum reading a poem in the metals studio.


During my last week of the job I had held for 27 years, I received a call from Penland’s program director Leslie Noell asking me to be the Andrew Glasgow Visiting Writer at Penland for a two-week summer session. Sometimes before picking up a ringing phone I reflect for a moment that it could be either a wonderful opportunity or really bad news. Most times the call is far more mundane than that– a reminder of a dental appointment or a robo-call from a nonexistent bank. The call from Penland, though, was of the rare wonderful opportunity variety, particularly since the job I was leaving was as director of the Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, a program in Maine so similar in concept to Penland that we think of ourselves as sister schools. Penland inspired the founding of Haystack in 1950, and Bill Brown, who was assistant director at Haystack, became director of Penland in 1962. We’ve been sharing faculty and educational strategies for a long time.


At Penland I would be able to experience the powerful creative energy of a community of makers—much like what I’d lived with at Haystack—but without any of the responsibility. Someone else would be thinking about plumbing, food, kilns, and fundraising. And, while I always loved the group energy of each session at Haystack, there was rarely time for my own work; these two weeks at Penland would give me time to focus on my writing.


A number of the workshop leaders—Bob Ebendorf, Jason Pollen, and Patricia Wheeler—had all taught at Haystack, so I had connections with the studios from the very start of the session. At Haystack I would introduce evening program by reading other people’s poems, so Bob invited me into his workshop to read poems to his class in the mornings. He said that I was like a tinker, traveling to the studio with poetry. I responded by saying that I would be more like a tinker if people gave me words that I could turn into a poem—repairing them or giving them new life in a sense. I would be a tinker of words. This began a series of daily poems with words from Bob’s class and later words from Kip O’Krongly’s clay class too.


It was liberating for me to use words that weren’t of my own choosing and exciting for the people in the studios to see their own words transformed. Each morning I’d return with a poem from the day before—some a little crazier than others—but the writing had allowed me make discoveries. And isn’t that what we want from our making? To employ what skills we have to travel along an unknown path into a new place. Using other people’s words provided me some distance from my writing self and allowed me to go inside more deeply, or at least differently. When the clay group left me a list of sixteen words (marsupial, mountain, basket, cleft, immense, bacon, pattern, noodle, anxiety, rigor mortis, stoicism, applesauce, stressed, passion, silhouette, and bedfellows) here’s what I wrote.


Hermit’s Dream
Living on the mountaintop, I missed
coffee and bacon at first—who doesn’t?
and later began to dream of simple things like
applesauce and noodles, since I was living
on air. Passion takes many forms,
my master had always stressed.
Look for patterns he said.
Being and non-being are strange
bedfellows. One day anxiety left me, drifting
off and settling in a rock cleft far below.
When the light was right, I could watch
its silhouette moving wildly.
I learned the names of my fears
and put them in a basket. Each day I would
climb the ledges, remembering who I
had been, feeling like a marsupial carrying
all those personalities in my pouch.
Then there was nothing. But it’s not what we
fear. No rigor mortis. I was alive and
dancing in this immense emptiness that
is everything. Stoics were laughing. Birds
were singing. First morning.


It was a dynamic partnership with the studios that I would look forward to each day. I’d receive my list of words in the late afternoon and work on the poems at night, ready for delivery to the workshops in the morning. I had my materials and I had a deadline—two key components of any creative process—and people eager to listen to poetry. What more could a writer want?

–Stuart Kestenbaum, September 2015



Here’s an excerpt from Stuart’s reading at Penland.





Stuart’s only complaint about his time at Penland was that, for some reason, nobody was playing frisbee or volleyball that session. He left us this poetic visual comment.




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