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Jay Fox places his work on the table: a hammer. A caulk gun. A much smaller print depicting a screw. The prints cover the table. Black lines and markings play against pale, considered colors. The tools without a box float in the flecked and thready shades of handmade paper. A carpenter’s tools, images of tools; why this kind of care for representing them?


jay-2The litho/relief prints, Jay tells us, were part of his MFA thesis exhibition at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, a show he put up while transitioning into his new role as Penland’s print, letterpress, paper, and books studio coordinator. The show, called “From the Ground Up,” turned the gallery into a transitional work space–fresh paint smell and all. Viewers encountered custom-sized drawers that Jay made to house the stacks of just over 300 tool prints. He set up an “honesty box” for anyone who wanted to buy, and he priced each image (printed on 50/50 cotton/abaca paper that Jay made himself) with the retail price of the tool the print depicted. The print’s sale, then, echoed the object’s actual purchase.



jay-6The tools in these prints belonged to Jay’s father, “and had been sitting around in Morganton since my dad died fourteen years ago,” Jay says. The prints are titled. “Shrapnel,” is the name of the screw. “Long Pull”–the caulk gun. “Pocket Full of Worry,” is a print of an unwrapped, unfinished roll of antacids. In the prints, a pause for each object’s singularity and an indifference to any narrative beyond what might be suggested in the titles. When I ask about  them, Jay doesn’t skip a beat. “I was thinking of the titles as somewhere between action and idea,” he says.


As one of the newest members of Penland’s band of artist-coordinators, Jay is happy to report that he has found in his role a reliable flow of print nerds. Bourbon nerds, too. Penland also marks Jay’s homecoming to North Carolina after his years of undergraduate and graduate work. “In Georgia [as an undergrad at SCAD] I was ‘the guy from the mountains.’ In Milwaukee, I was the Southerner that everyone came to look at, and I felt like it was my duty to portray it well,” he says in a half-jesting way.




Now, when he’s not tending to Penland Print, or getting hitched (Jay and his wife, Molly Evans, married last January), Jay brakes for curious road signs. He plans to work on a series of prints based on signs like the one on the plate above, spotted near his wife’s parents’ house in Georgia. “I love the homemade quality to this sign, says Jay. “I’m thinking about making work in the region I grew up in rather than making work about where I’m from.” Jay pauses. “That’s where I am with it, at least for now.”
Elaine Bleakney; photographs by Robin Dreyer


More about Jay Fox’s thesis show, “From the Ground Up,” on Printeresting.


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The Tinker

Ian Henderson, metals coordinatorTinker. “A usually itinerant mender of household utensils,” according to Webster’s.


The word first appeared in Middle English in the 14th century, gaining a negative connotation: the secondary definition of “tinker” is “an unskillful mender.”  As travelers, outliers, and knowledge-bearers, tinkers became  shadow figures—ones to beware. Ian Henderson, Penland’s metals studio coordinator, came across the word in a fantasy novel called The Name of the Wind. In the book, Ian remembers, it’s bad luck not to buy something from the tinker.


Penland’s tinker is skillful. (That’s an understatement.) And he’s not be feared. Unless you fear “preposterously laborious processes.”


Producing art work in step with a marketplace doesn’t shine for Ian. When he’s not working on something with one person in mind, Ian adventures in the Realm of the Absurd and Obsolete, “collecting ideas and techniques” rather than working within a goal of refining them.


Ian’s role at Penland provides space and support. Problems he encounters managing the studio dovetail with his own love of problem-solving. To talk with Ian about what he’s made and why is a bit like watching a stone skip across water– this, then this, then this–each work sets off sentences about the flash of invention, delivered in a joyful, skittery style.


“Everything I start I think it’s going to be My Thing, from the time I started Tom Spleth’s slipcasting concentration as a core student,” Ian jokes when we stop in to look at the things he made this winter. Penland’s tinker is someone who puts his whole boundless inquisitive self into what he creates, from an elaborate tile wall piece to a batch of kefir. Take a look.



A wall arrangement Ian made from his cement tiles, which he designed based on an Arab lattice pattern. The work can now be seen at the Penland Gallery pop-up space on campus.
Ian rubbed the tiles with linseed oil and turpentine. The tiles were meant to span a retaining wall in his brother's house--but the process became a bit too time consuming.
Air bubbles are the enemies of concrete, which Ian quickly discovered as he made the concrete for his tiles. Responding to the problem, he built this motorized vibrating table to shake the bubbles out of concrete in the molds. (Thanks, DIY YouTube videos.)
At the bench, a continuing collaboration between Ian and Audrey Bell--wearable enameled figures inspired by author Hilary Mantel's fiction about Cromwell's rise in 16th century England.
"I thought I was going to build a rail bike this winter," Ian says, showing us one of the folding knives he made for his nieces and nephews, luckiest nieces and nephews in the land.
When Ian learned that he would soon be moving to an A-frame house, he built a model for this pull-down stair, which he will make.
"I came to Penland as a core student when I was 31. I had so much time for being in discovery and problem-solving, which for me is where it's at."


Photographs by Robin Dreyer; writing by Elaine Bleakney


To view more of metalsmith, ceramicist, mixed-media artist, and tinker Ian Henderson’s work, visit Photograph of kefir not included.


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R.I.P., Professor Bobo

Bobby Hansson
Bobby Hansson
Bobby Hansson and Zac Lopez

Slideshow above, with pictures of Bobby Hansson by Dana Moore, Robin Dreyer, and Wes Stitt. Artwork by Bobby.


Here at Penland we will long remember Bobby Hansson (a.k.a. Professor Bobo) who died of Parkinson’s disease last week at a care facility in upstate New York. Bobby was a photographer, author, teacher, tin-can art genius, filmmaker, blacksmith, musician (of sorts), incomparable fashion maven, mail artist, renaissance man, teller of good stories and bad jokes, generous human being, and one of Penland’s great instructors.

Bobby was a photographer of craft and sculpture for thirty years, during which time he was the principal photographer for catalogs produced by the American Craft Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and he taught photography at the School of Visual Art. He started making sculpture, objects, furniture, and musical instruments from found objects in 1955. In 1996, he produced an excellent how-to book titled, The Fine Art of the Tin Can. It was a bestseller for Lark Books and a second, expanded edition was published in 2005.

Bobby started teaching tin-can-art workshops at Penland in 1997 and taught regularly until 2011. He also taught workshops at Arrowmont, Campbell Folk School, Haystack, Peters Valley, and Touchstone. His workshops were rollicking affairs that included metalsmithing techniques, design ideas, musical performances, long stories, piles of junk everywhere, and some of the most inventive work ever done by Penland students.

Bobby was a man of tattoos and loud (LOUD!) clothes. He was a continuous, walking performance. To call him a colorful character would be a serious understatement: nobody ever mistook him for anyone else. He was also a deeply creative person sincerely motivated by a desire to make something useful or interesting out of material that was being thrown away. We’ll miss him.

Bobby’s family has suggested that memorial donations be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

Here’s a short video about Bobby and his work with narration by his friend Tim McCreight. There are also lots of nice notes and pictures on Bobby’s Facebook page.

 -Robin Dreyer


From a letter to Bobby Hansson from Betty Oliver which appears at the end of Bobby’s  book:

Dear Bobby,
I was in a supermarket in Blacksburg, Virginia, thinking about your book, and what I might say about tin cans, when I saw a little boy carrying a big can of tomatoes for his father, who had just rounded the corner into the next section. Finding himself alone, the boy set the can on its side and
used his foot to roll it the rest of the way down the aisle. When he reached the end of the aisle, he picked up the can and disappeared around the corner.

How could I express our nearly worldwide impulse to create any better than this little boy’s spontaneous gesture of invention? From his hand to the floor, from the floor to his foot–in those instants, a can became a wheel.


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Fab Collab




Last summer, Melanie Finlayson took a break from her intense duties as Penland’s studio manager and traveled with fellow printmaker Lisa Blackburn to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts to make new work. They drove to Deer Isle, Maine from Penland–not an easy trip, but these two artists have been comfortable with each other for a long time. “Collaboration is very special to me,” Melanie says. “Ever since I was a child, making photographs and videos with my little sister, pairing has made sense.”


Pairing with Lisa Blackburn made almost instant sense for Melanie. Lisa helped Melanie step into her role as Penland’s letterpress and print studio coordinator, became her prime artistic collaborator, and also informed Melanie’s curations at Green Plum, Finlayson’s gallery-turned-pop-up venture. In the winter of 2013, the two artists challenged each other to make 300 monoprints in three weeks, completely covering the walls at a Green Plum exhibition they called “Inspiration by Chance.” Leading up to the show, the two artists worked across from each other in the studio, listening to podcasts, talking, printing and painting on top of the prints. The poet W.H. Auden said in an interview once that “when a collaboration works, the two people become a third person, who is different from either of them in isolation.” For Melanie Finlayson and Lisa Blackburn, this third person is boundless:


melanie-1melanie-2 melanie-3


At Haystack, Finlayson and Blackburn took their collaboration into the  “fab lab,” a space that allows artists to experiment with digital fabrication. Attracted to shape and movement of water and rocks in the local landscape, Melanie took photographs. The two artists selected images, hand drawing from them, and then uploaded the drawings to Illustrator.


“The goal,” says Finlayson, “was to see how to make machine drawings that were ours.”


Some of these drawings became directions for the CNC router in the lab to cut into birch plywood to make blocks for printing. Lisa and Melanie also tried another method: rasterizing the photographs, laser cutting on paper, and drawing on top. They also experimented with etching in plexiglass, free drawing with the router–as well as creating matrices inspired from compositions from nature they both found compelling. The experience resulted in rock drawings, new directions, and a reconsideration, for Melanie, of negative space in print.


Melanie’s office at Penland holds ample clues about her leanings as a collaborative artist. The space is meticulous. Stacks of boxes and items for the studios are arranged on one side. A row of binders above her desk is marked with instructions for others. Projectors and other equipment are stored for sign-out. It’s a tight ship she keeps in order to keep Penland’s studio life humming. In working with others daily, Melanie finds unexpected transit for her artistic life.


Collaborative print made in winter, 2014 by Melanie Finlayson and Lisa Blackburn. Image courtesy of the artists.

Collaborative print made in winter, 2014 by Melanie Finlayson and Lisa Blackburn. Image courtesy of the artists.


This winter, Melanie and Lisa returned to the studio to print matrices they created at Haystack. Melanie also worked on another collaboration, a collection of prints from etched steel plates that her friend, blacksmith Eric Ryser, sent her from his studio in Kansas. This slower collaboration-by-mail inspires Melanie, too. “I love to surprise him,” she says, about the prints she makes from his plates. “He’s a dude, he likes black, so it’s always fun to get color in there and hear back from him.” The hearing-back, the conversation made in creating with another person, is Melanie’s all.

Writing by Elaine Bleakney; photographs by Robin Dreyer





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Photo(s) of the Week: Dots and Lines

The studio of Penland School resident Micah Evans

This is what the studio of Penland resident artist Micah Evans looked like last week. Normally Micah works by himself, but he was hosting a collaborative work week with Japanese flameworkers Akihisa Izume (left) and Takao Miyake (center). This involved two torches brought from Japan and a lot of red and green hoses for propane and oxygen. Micah’s studio motto is “hustle!” and, despite the room being almost quiet (except for Phish playing at a low volume), it was clear that there was calm but intense hustle — and some high-level work — going on.


Akihisa Izumi at Penland School of Crafts

Akihisa and Takao were both working with a technique that involves making patterns on the top of a domed piece of glass tube and then transforming the top of the dome into a disk that encases the pattern between two layers of clear glass. Akihisa was using thin glass cane to make patterns of white lines.


Takao Miyake at Penland School of Crafts

Takao was creating designs by applying thousands of tiny, colored glass dots. Here he’s working on a piece that Akihisa had already partially covered with a twill-like pattern of diagonal lines.


Takao Miyake at Penland School of Crafts

This is the last step of the process, in which the patterned dome is shrunk, flattened, and encased in clear glass. Although I watched Takao do this, I have no idea how he made this happen.


Work by Takao Miyake and Micah Evans

The finished disks are generally made into into jewelry or large marbles. But this week, Micah was incorporating them into his existing glass designs. Here’s one of Takao’s disks that’s now part of a glass yo-yo. (This was all done freehand.)


Work by Akihisi Izumi and Micah Evans

This yo-yo was made around one of Akihisa’s pieces.


Work by Akihisi Izumi and Takao Miyake and Micah Evans

This is the collaborative disk that Takao is working on in the pictures above.


Micah Evans

As if that wasn’t enough, they made this off-the-hook  three-way collaboration — a large bottle that houses a chameleon skeleton sculpted by Akihisa and has a stopper topped with one of Takao’s disks. (This picture was swiped from Takao’s Instagram feed.)


Thanks to Micah, Takao, and Akihisa for letting me invade their quiet hustle and take these pictures (after I got my jaw off of my chest).  -Robin Dreyer


Micah Evans on Instagram: @micahglass
Takao Miyake on Instagram: @takaomiyake
Akihisa Izumi on Instagram: @a_k_i_o


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A Wood Studio Jam About Ellie Richards


Ellie Richards is up in the wood studio this winter, making tables.


She started with one, commissioned for the exhibition Dining and Discourse, curated by Kathryn Hall at the Houston Center for Contemporary Craft. One of the exhibition’s aims is to examine how the lavishness of our decorative arts past might surface in today’s “artisanal” and “farm-to-table” dining culture. With this in mind, Ellie designed her table. She painted bands of color on the apron and legs–the shape of the legs riffing on a Queen Anne cabriolet style. “I was thinking about the cover of an album by A Tribe Called Quest,” she says about the polychrome surface. “It had all kinds of geometric shapes working with and off each other.”



Ellie Richards’s “Polychrome Dining Table” in progress via Instagram


Cover image of A Tribe Called Quest’s album, released in 1990.


A Tribe Called Quest’s People’s Instinctive Travels & the Paths of Rhythm has the song “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo,” on it. In the song, Q-Tip tells an epic story of driving west out of Brooklyn with his friends in a Dodge Dart while his mom’s away on an ocean cruise. Out west, one friend drinks the fruit punch while our hero enjoys the enchiladas. Inevitably, all encounter a “beautiful wicked lady.” Q-Tip is mightily distracted. He loses his wallet. He’s got to go back.


When Ellie Richards went west after finishing undergraduate work in Ohio, it was to make sculpture in the graduate program at Arizona State University. She liked the quickness involved in sculpting–the impulse to create, fast. But she missed being in a woodshop, and sought out ways to become more facile at making furniture.


“I walked out of graduate school more of a construction worker than a woodworker,” Ellie admits. She went back east, looking for something she hadn’t forgotten (both her grandfather and great grandfather kept woodshops) and wanted to pick up again.


As Ellie talks about making a leg for a new table from a square, tapering and sawing new shapes along the path, she sounds like she’s exactly where she needs to be.


When Q-Tip repeats “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo,” you’ve got to pick it up.  Your ear, heart, in hook, in rhythm: “I gotta get it, I got-got ta get it.” A play on another hit written in Brookyln, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco,” “I Left My Wallet” is about getting your gold–whatever real thing you need most–and losing it, finding it, losing it again. Meanwhile, traveling with friends who love you is key.
























Ellie, on her own instinctive travel following graduate school, picked up residencies and studio assistant gigs at Peters Valley, Arrowmont, and Anderson Ranch–experiences that would bring her in direct relationship with her material and tools. Eventually, she landed a residency at the Appalachian Center for Craft. Now, as Penland’s wood studio coordinator, she’s managing a shop, and enjoying the collaboration to be found there. She’s making tables. She’s making totems. She’s getting her gold. “I’m still discovering what can be done with wood,” she says, showing us a new table she’s making with a curly maple top, and a few totems on a high shelf.




You could call Ellie Richards’s jam “Geometric Shapes Working Off Each Other.” You could call it an ongoing play between woodwork and sculpture. You could call it losing your wallet in El Segundo–and being game for losing it again.–Elaine Bleakney. Photographs by Robin Dreyer (except where noted above).



View more of Ellie’s work here and process shots for her Houston table here.

Listen to A Tribe Called Quest’s “I Left My Wallet in El Segundo” here.



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Photo of the Week: Make a Bowl from a Tree


Winter resident Wyatt Sievers with a large bowl he’s been working on in the wood studio. The bowl started as a section from a downed tree. Wyatt rough-turned the piece in his shop in Kentucky and brought it with him to finish the turning at Penland. Right now, he’s keeping in a plastic bag to slow the drying and keep cracking and checking to a minimum. There’s more sanding to be done, then finishing, and he’s thinking about covering the rim with copper leaf. Whatever he does, we know it’s going to look good.


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