Archive | Penland People RSS feed for this section

An Artist on the Factory Floor

Tom Shields at Century Furniture

Tom Shields at Century with one of the tables he is working into a project. On the right is a stack of tables in progress on the factory floor.


During his time as a resident artist at Penland, Tom Shield’s studio was constantly filled with old, worn furniture. “I collect wood furniture from the trash and let it pile up in my studio until it slowly starts to work itself into groups,” he once explained. “In the course of a few weeks, I constantly move and cluster chairs around my studio in different bunches. Once the groups get narrowed I start letting them talk.” The sculptures that result from this process are marked not only by Tom’s hands, but by the hands of those who used the furniture before him over days and weeks and years.

As interesting as it can be, working with discarded furniture does have obvious limitations. “For me, it’s always been on my list of where I want to go as an artist to up the pedigree of my materials,” Tom told me recently. Thanks to a brand-new collaboration with Century Furniture, he now has the opportunity to do just that.

Tom is the inaugural artist-in-residence at Century’s case goods factory in Hickory, NC. Hickory has long been known as one of the furniture capitals of the world, and Century has established its own reputation as a producer of high-end, heirloom-quality furniture.

During his three-month residency, Tom has free reign over what he creates—and he also has free access to a whole new caliber of raw materials. “I get to use anything that’s a second,” he explains. That means dozens, if not hundreds, of brand new furniture pieces that are only slightly less than perfect. “I’m super thankful for the whole opportunity,” he says.


Tom Shield's table sculpture and detail

The beginning of Tom’s first project at Century. As he remarked, “Devil’s in the details.”


A quick scroll through Tom’s Instagram gallery shows that he’s already put the time and materials to good use. Since the residency began on October 4, Tom has been working on three different sculptures made from Century tables. Two are crafted from groupings of identical tables, while the third is made from a single piece. This one is a bit of a departure for Tom: he has cut the table in two, dropped one side down three-quarters of an inch, and shifted it over two inches. “Because the pieces are so new and so pristine, I barely have to change them at all to make them into something completely different,” Tom tells me. “Before, I felt like I needed to do more to put my hand in it and have the same impact.”

The new materials are not the only departure from Tom’s individual studio practice. As he describes it, “I’m making work right on the same floor as all the people who are making the furniture for Century.” A lot of those people have been in the furniture industry for thirty or forty years, and Tom wasn’t sure how he’d be received as the first studio artist in their midst. “It’s intense, and it’s definitely working under a microscope, but everybody has been super nice and really helpful,” he says. “I feel like half of my day is spent just talking to people, sharing ideas and approaches.” And, now that he’s getting comfortable with how everything works at Century, “I’m just going to start making crazier and crazier things,” he laughs.


Tom reimagined these Century tables as a stack.

From sketch to sculpture, Tom is transforming these five Century tables into a single piece.


As a woodworker who has spent so much time with old furniture, Tom is intimately aware of what can bring a piece to the end of its life: the disposable design, planned obsolescence, and shoddy craftsmanship that are so common in much of today’s mass market furniture. Being at Century has provided a reassuring look at the other end of the furniture spectrum. “Every piece of furniture is touched by so many hands and created with such individual care,” Tom states. “I think people have this misconception now that there are CNC machines and other tools and you just put a bunch of wood in one end and it comes out as a piece of furniture at the other end. That’s not the case at all. So many different people are involved in every aspect of creating a piece.”

In fact, Tom revealed that the high level of craftsmanship at Century has actually changed the way he works with furniture. As he describes, “Normally I take everything apart by just banging on the joints. But at Century, I can’t get pieces apart. I’m having to learn to do everything I’ve been doing with all the pieces completely intact. It’s a whole new challenge, but it’s been an amazing opportunity.”

The opportunity was made possible by Ande Maricich, an active friend and supporter of Penland’s. Ande has deep ties to the furniture industry, and her husband served as Century’s CEO for a while. “Ande is really invested in both the craft world and furniture manufacturing,” Tom remarks. She had been excited by the partnership of artists and manufacturing facilities in the Kohler Arts/Industry residency and wanted to create a similar partnership at Century. When she saw Tom’s furniture sculptures a few years ago at the Penland Benefit Auction, she talked to him about the possibility of a residency at Century. Now that it’s become a reality, Ande would like to expand the program to include other artists and other factories and further strengthen the reciprocal ties between art and industry.

Reflecting on those ties, Tom points out that both he and the Century employees he’s working alongside are making things by hand. “I’m an artist, but they’re all artisans working on the floor, too—what’s really the difference?” he asks.

—Sarah Parkinson


After completing his residency at Century in December, Tom will be at Penland for the spring as the studio assistant to Raivo Vihman’s timber framing concentration. He was also just selected for a Kohler Arts/Industry residency—congrats, Tom!


Comments are closed

Photo of the Week: Clay Studio Friends

Daniel Johnston and Bill Jones at Penland

On the left is North Carolina potter Daniel Johnston. On the right is Bill Jones. In the middle is a pot that Daniel made as a demonstration a couple of weeks ago for the two-month, fall clay concentration taught by Suze Lindsay and Kent McLaughlin. In 2011, Bill was a beginning student in Kent and Suze’s last concentration. He returned in 2012 for a concentration taught by Matt Kelleher. After that, he worked as Daniel’s apprentice for two years. This fall, he’s back in the Penland clay studio as Suze and Kent’s assistant. This is one way to become a potter.


Comments are closed

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.


Comments are closed

Penland’s Favorite Waffles

making waffles at a round table

Lucy Morgan prepares waffles at a table in the Pines, 1957 (unidentified photographer).


Lucy Calista Morgan, Penland’s founder, had a penchant for craft, international outreach, and waffles. In 1957 a group of international students stayed at Penland over the holiday season. They studied in the studios, enriched the season with dance and music performances from their own cultures, sang Christmas carols, and had snow ball fights. They were also introduced to the waffle.

Laurel Radley, Lucy Morgan’s great niece, shared some of Lucy’s favorite recipes with the archives. As she wrote, “Aunt Lucy loved waffles and had about a half-dozen recipes. I’m happy to have her waffle-iron and her recipes.” She also notes that the following recipe wasn’t credited to a source and explains, “Aunt Lucy of course had no occasion to cook really until she retired [from Penland]… I wonder if it wasn’t Henry. Who better to ask than the one who cultivated her favorite food tastes during her adult years?”

Henry Neal was Penland’s chef for over 20 years (c.1933-1955). Each summer he traveled by train from Chapel Hill, where he cooked for one of the University of North Carolina fraternities, to Marion, NC where Lucy would pick him up and drive him up to school.


a man baking

Henry Neal preparing a meal in the old Pines kitchen, 1949. Fadyk collection, Penland Archives.


So next time you fire up your waffle iron, try this recipe out with a nod to Lucy Morgan and Henry Neal!


Waffles for 6

1 ¾ cups white flour
¼ cup corn meal
½ tsp. soda
Pinch salt
4 tsp. baking powder
2 eggs, whites beaten stiff
¾ cup oil
1 cup buttermilk

Mix dry ingredients, then add all other ingredients but the egg whites and combine thoroughly. Fold batter into stiff egg whites and spoon into hot, oiled waffle-iron. Cook until steam rises and appears crisp and brown.


Carey Hedlund, Penland Archivist



Comments are closed

Drum Leaf Books with Rory Sparks, November 1-7, 2015

Rory working with a student

Rory working with a student during a workshop in the old Penland books studio in 2011.


Rory Sparks first learned bookbinding in college, right at the end of her senior year. “[I] realized that I had spent four years studying something that wasn’t my passion; that actually, bookbinding was my passion,” she recalls. “I think it comes from really enjoying craft and precision…It just really spoke to me.” From there, Rory studied in England and sought out traditional binders that she could learn from. Instead of getting a Masters degree, she decided to piece together her own education by traveling and studying with a variety of artists and binders and printers. “I’ve learned from so many different people. I kind of take what’s important to me from each one and build my own philosophy around what I do and how I do it.”

letterpress printed book by Rory Sparks

Rory Sparks, Drum Leaf Binding, letterpress printed paper, 7 x 5-1/2”

Twenty-something years later, Rory’s early passion for books has transformed into a deep well of knowledge, creativity, and enthusiasm for her field. She has spent time at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts and as a resident artist at the Oregon College of Art and Craft. She binds high-end books for collections and museums. She teaches courses and workshops to share her knowledge with students. And she founded Em-Space, a collective book and letterpress studio in Portland, Oregon that builds creative community and provides artists with access to tools like presses, foil stampers, and more.

Given her extensive background and excitement for teaching, we love having Rory here in the Penland studios. In 2013, she joined us as the master printer/bookbinder at the helm of our winter residency in print and letterpress. She came back in the spring of 2014 to lead a concentration that blurred the lines between letterpress and animation. And this November she’ll return to teach bookbinding, her original love. The class will focus on the versatile but exacting drum leaf binding structure, which makes a perfect canvas for the sort of imagery-heavy books that Rory gravitates towards in her own pieces. If you, too, want a new structure to show off your two-dimensional work, or you enjoy craft and precision, or you’d like to absorb knowledge from an expert binderthis week with Rory could be just the ticket. Register here for her drum leaf books class.


Drum Leaf Books

Rory Sparks
November 1-7, 2015

Explore the versatility of the drum leaf binding, an ideal format for 2D artists because it provides a page with unbroken imagery and no gutters. Each spread can be a print, painting, or photograph. This structure provides a simple, intuitive way of laying out a book, and it’s perfect for small editions. We’ll include several cover variations and many versions of stiff-leaf bindings and board books. Windows and wells will provide a wealth of opportunities for incorporating artwork and flat objects into these books. Come prepared to invent and push the boundaries of your book forms. All levels. Code F03B

Rory Sparks is a studio artist, edition binder, and printmaker. Her teaching includes the Oregon College of Art and Craft, the Pacific Northwest College of Art (Portland), and the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. She founded Em Space Book Arts Center (OR) and has been in exhibitions at the Tacoma Art Museum (WA) and the Portland Art Museum (OR).

Register here for Drum Leaf Books



Comments are closed

“A Zeal for the Creative Process”

portrait of Robert Bush


Robert Bush came to Penland this summer as a session four student in Jana Harper’s class “The What & the Why: Books as Idea Generators.” The class was part of a one-month sabbatical from his job as president of the Arts & Science Council in Charlotte, North Carolina. As a first-time Penland student, Robert arrived on campus with “a zeal for the creative process” but without much experience in the visual arts.

Writing about his experience later for the ASC blog, Robert reflected:

“I could recount the 12 hour days, ‘one word’ prompts each afternoon that required a book be made for a 10 a.m. group show and critique the next morning, the mistakes I made….let’s just say I now understand ‘make it work’ and I held my own. I totally stepped away from my job and the world (no TV, barely internet) for two weeks, immersed myself in an unfamiliar setting doing unfamiliar things. It was nothing I expected and everything I had hoped for.”

He finished his essay with a list of the giftsboth personal and professionalthat his time at Penland had given him. They’re a valuable reminder of the enriching role art can play in our lives and the importance of “being present and engaged in community.”

See the list and read Robert’s full post here on the ASC blog.


Comments are closed

Handbuilding Laboratory with Eric Knoche, November 1-7, 2015

Wood-fired clay sculptures by Eric Knoche

When viewing sculptor Eric Knoche’s work, it’s clear he has a facility with form. And when he describes his forms, it’s clear that he finds a lot of inspiration in the clay he works with. As he recently explained in an interview, “Clay is just such an amazing material, and you can work it so many ways; additive and subtractive processes work equally well, it is both demanding and forgiving, it can be softer than water and as hard as stone, as delicate as an eggshell and more durable than anything else humans have ever made. It changes from second to second as you work with it, which creates a feedback loop or a dialog. For me, the material itself is endlessly fascinating.”

Eric’s clay forms are deceptively simple. Squiggled lines and arcs gain volume and edges to become three-dimensional surfaces that draw the viewer in from multiple angles. His pieces suggest common objects and quick doodles at the same time as they evoke ancient architecture and the earth itself. Some are small enough to hold in a hand, while others stand as tall as person. “I think of my work as one installation stretching through time as space, each piece adding meaning to the others,” Eric writes in his artist statement. “I have been strongly influenced by languages I don’t understand and tools I don’t know how to use, male and female figures, machine parts, shelters, math equations, micro-facial movements, the Argentine tango, alphabets, the spine and other bones, the distortional nature of memory, the limits of ocular perception, plants, running water, and songbirds.”


Eric Knoche working on a clay sculpture

Eric at work on a piece in his Asheville studio. Photo by Frank J. Bott.


We are looking forward to bringing Eric to Penland this fall to teach a 1-week workshop November 1-7, 2015. The class will focus on using handbuilding techniques to realize sculptural goals, and we expect it to be jam-packed with insights. After all, Eric is the guy who likes to create clay pieces that are as large as he is to challenge himself technically. “I have no proprietary information,” he states. “I’ll tell anybody anything they want to know about anything I do.” In other words, this week will be pure gold for anyone interested in creating forms with clay. To reserve your spot, register here.


Handbuilding Laboratory

Eric Knoche
November 1-7, 2015
In this class we’ll blur the lines between pinching, coiling, slab work, and modeling in order to open up more possibilities in the world of handbuilt ceramics. Students will gain a deeper understanding of the clay itself as we establish a paradigm of creative problem solving and develop a personal set of integrated methods that most expeditiously accomplish each student’s artistic goals. We’ll look at various ways to successfully construct large work, intricate work, and multiple-piece sculptures using simple tools and processes such as tarpaper templates and clay armatures. All levels. Code F03CB

Studio artist; presenter at first European Woodfire Conference (Germany), guest lecturer at Australian National University; Ceramics Monthly emerging artist; exhibitions: Blue Spiral 1 (NC), Baltimore Clay Works, AKAR Design Gallery (IA), Mint Museum (NC), Hjorths Fabrik (Denmark), Gallerei Klosterformat (Germany); collections: Mint Museum (NC), Mission Hospital (NC).

Sign up for Handbuilding Laboratory.


To see more of Eric’s work and his process, watch this video about how he approaches his art.

Comments are closed