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“It’s a Boot Life” with Lisa Sorrell

Bespoke cowboy boot maker Lisa Sorrell, who taught Working with Leather in the textiles studio last month, has made a video (#59 in her ongoing series “It’s a Boot Life“) about her Penland experience:

 

 

In this 10-minute webisode, Lisa shows off work by her Penland students, takes a glassblowing lesson with hotshop instructor Nancy Callan, and teaches you how to trim a leather insole. Enjoy!
 
 

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Char Walker Releases a Hawk

On April 24, we had a visit from Nina Fischesser, director of the Blue Ridge Wildlife Institute at Lees-McRae College. Nina was accompanied by her student Shannon Grangier, three red-tailed hawks, a barn owl, and Char Walker, who is a volunteer at the institute, a glassblower, and a veteran of twenty Penland glass Concentration workshops.

They were at Penland because Nina thought it was an ideal place to release Gunshot, a red-tailed hawk that was rehabilitated at the institute after being injured by shotgun pellets. She invited Char to do that actual release. (See video above.)

 

red-tailed hawks at penland school

The other hawks that came along are the institute’s “ambassadors.” These are birds who would not survive in the wild. They are trained to be calm around groups of people and are shown to visitors and at public events as a way of promoting wildlife conservation and the work of the institute. Here we see Shannon on the right with a red-tailed hawk and Nina on the left with a leucistic red-tailed hawk. Leucism is a genetic condition in which parts or all of an animal’s body surface lack cells capable of producing any type of pigment.

 

char walker with barn owl at penland school

Here’s Char with a barn owl.

 

hawk release at penland school

The event was attended by students, staff, and neighbors. As we were walking off the knoll, everyone kept repeating some version of, “Wow, we were here for that.”

 

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Photo(s) of the Week: Upholstered Furniture

working in the Penland wood studio

Core fellows Meghan Martin and Elmar Fujita during the last few days of Annie Evelyn‘s workshop on upholstered furniture.

 

upholstered furniture at Penland

Here are their finished chairs at show-and-tell.

 

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Cooking Out, Minoan Style

jerolyn morrison minoan dinner at penland

Jerolyn Morrison

 

A few weeks ago, students in Penland’s spring session had a special meal that included lentils, chick peas, and other dishes cooked using methods reconstructed through artifacts from the late Minoan civilization of 1200 – 1500 B.C.E. The dishes were cooked over glowing coals in earthenware pots made by students in Cynthia Bringle’s spring workshop. The project was led by Jerolyn Morrison, who was a guest teacher for two weeks.

Jerolyn’s history with Penland goes back to 1996, when she came as a student just after finishing her B.A. in ceramics at Baylor University. She spent most of the next four years at the school, serving variously as studio assistant, coffee house manager, breakfast cook, and volunteer coordinator for the auction. During this time, she says, she became interested in the “life of the object.” This interest led her to a Masters in anthropology, a Fulbright for study in Greece, and, most recently, a Ph.D in archeology from the University of Leicester in England.

 

jerolyn morrison minoan dinner at Penland

Taste testing

 

The teaching and cooking she did this spring at Penland were based on her Ph.D. project, which involved reproducing both Minoan cookpots and cooking. Drawing on 100 years of archeology, she began reproducing the cookpots using the local clay in Crete. Then, working from studies of charred food remains, burnt seeds, and residue extracted from 3,000-year-old pots, she assembled what she refers to as the Minoan grocery list. “The clay, the pots, the wood that was burned, the food that was being cooked: once you have this,” she said, “then it’s interpretive.” Which is to say, there’s no way to know exactly how Minoan food tasted. She also had to learn, through experimentation, how to cook in the three-legged earthenware pots. Present day residents of Crete, she explained, still cook on open fires, but they have forgotten how to cook in ceramic pots.

Having completed her Ph.D., Jerolyn continues to live part of the year in Crete where she runs a business called Minoan Tastes that caters special events using the pots, techniques, and recipes she developed through this work. A cookbook is in process. “It mixes anthropology and archeology in a way that’s informative rather than academic,” she said.

 

jerolyn morrison minoan dinner at Penland

Flatbread over the coals

 

Her recent stint at Penland was literally a dream come true. “I had this dream, an actual dream,” she said, “ that I was doing this at Penland. So I called Cynthia Bringle to ask her if there was any way I could make this happen. She was, at that moment, planning her spring workshop and invited me to join her for a few weeks.”

“It was great,” she said. “We got to talk about archeology and pottery as we were working. The rest of the workshop was throwing and these pots are all made with handbuilding techniques, so it expanded the scope of the class that way.”

 

jerolyn morrison minoan dinner at penland

There were benefits for Jerolyn as well. She appreciated that her Penland students did not stick to reproducing traditional Minoan cookware. “They decorated the pots, which the Minoans didn’t do,” she explained. “And they had no cultural constraints about what the pots should be. It was freeing, and I’d like to work a little more like that. This was a gift they gave back to me.”

 

jerolyn morrison minoan dinner at penland

And there was consensus that the dinner was delicious.

-Robin Dreyer

 

jerolyn morrison minoan dinner at penland

Cynthia Bringle, Jerolyn, and the whole class.

 

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“I moved the image until something made me stop.”

Betsy DeWitt has an image.

 

The image, an idea, pulls her slowly through weeks, sometimes months. Eventually, she takes a photograph of a house, and makes a digital negative. There’s no rush to Betsy’s process. By the time we visit, she’s made some tests of white-gum prints featuring the “becoming-dilapidated” dwelling–white-on-white prints. She’s making one now. We watch her reach into a box-like space lined with black trash bags. She reaches in as if to pull out a bird, a rabbit, something alive–a wood case. She unlatches the case, lifts the print.

 

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“Photography, for me, is a back door to chemistry and to printmaking,” says Betsy as she washes the print in water. The orangey rust color, Betsy explains, is the potassium dichromate she’s applied. It will soak out eventually, leaving white pigment in the hardening gum arabic. This is nineteenth-century magic, and Penland’s photography studio is a technical juke joint packed with the stuff of present and past: small dark bottles, baths, brushes, large-format cameras, every kind of camera, a pod of Macs, printers, white spaces for setting up, wires and wires, sweet class portraits on the walls, dags and cyanotypes, strands of tiny rooms, stacks, cupboards, and a shifty, haunted-house hallway into the big dark. Betsy manages it all.

 

In one of the small back rooms, Betsy shows us more of her work:

 

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“I didn’t know what I was looking for,” says Betsy about making these small, intimate portholes. “I was thinking–I have been thinking–about memory and family. I don’t know all the stories in these photographs. But as I framed them, the images began to talk to each other.”

 

The images, Betsy explains, were made by looking into a microscope through the viewfinder of a digital camera. “I moved the image until something made me stop,” Betsy says. When a halting feeling arrived, she took a photograph. Here’s her set-up:

 

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“Warmth” is a word that artist Amanda Lee uses to describe Betsy DeWitt’s work. You might not expect how right this word is, seeing the set-up, above. But Betsy’s work glows. She turns on the digital camera to show us her process with the microscope. As she moves a scanned photograph with her hand, dropping us into the family album, another kind of intelligence, a story about an artist’s intelligence, begins. Watch:

 

 

Writing by Elaine Bleakney; photographs and video by Robin Dreyer

 

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Follow Betsy DeWitt on Instagram here and at Penland Photo. Did you know that Betsy also serves as Penland’s programs coordinator? Tis true.

 

 

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Photo of the Week: Zones and Tones

Dan Estabrook at Penland School of Crafts

Instructor Dan Estabrook and student Cynthia Cukiernik discussing the fine points of exposing black-and-white film. (On a fine spring day.)

 

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Homemade

jay

 

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.

 

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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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