This July, our friend and former core fellow Wes Stitt returned to Penland to create a few short videos for us. We gave him this task: go into the studios, find an interesting and willing subject, and ask the person to narrate her or his own experience of being in a Penland workshop. Wes created four visual stories, all gems, and we’re proud to premiere the first one today, featuring Penland student Maleeha El Sadr.
We’re also happy to debut the Penland Story Project, a place where readers can explore Penland through the voices of our students, instructors, visitors, and friends. If you’ve ever found yourself wondering what Penland is like from the perspective of another, or if you’ve ever tried to explain the Penland experience to someone who hasn’t been here, the Penland Story Project is fine place to start.
This August Elisa Di Feo taught Dinner Plans, a clay workshop where students created functional porcelain tableware with culinary expression in mind. The workshop culminated with a dinner at Spruce Pine’s Knife and Fork restaurant, where chef Nate Allen cooked and served a meal that the students had considered, designed, and constructed dinnerware to hold. The evening was documented by Dot Griffith, a student in Alida Fish and Jeannie Pearce’s photography workshop, and Dot shared the photographs above with us.
About the workshop, Elisa wrote:
Our class was so interesting because it allowed each individual to consider the meal designed by Nate, make dishes based on the techniques I presented (simple molds, simple surfaces), and then eat off the dishes. With the direct parameters of The Dinner in mind, it was easy to communicate personal ideas about pottery and eating with each other, while exploring and discovering some new possibilities. The best quote came from my student Irene while in the midst of glazing some pots. She said that she wanted them to be like “super nothing.” This idea of “super nothing,” I think, comes out of suggestions to keep it simple and considered in terms of surface designs and shapes.
Participants in the class included Robert Bell, Stormie Burns, Irene De Watteville, Benjamin Friedman, Betsy Gray, Ted Gross, Maggie Johns, Adria Katz, Marsha Kitowski, studio assistant Rob Kolhouse, Will Lentz, Ann Lynch, Jodie Masterman, Claire McCarty, Elizabeth Mueller-Roemer, Nina Otterness, Laura Schofield, and Sophie Southgate.
Textiles student Kim Mirus chisels a small channel to inlay silver wire after watching a demonstration in the technique by Kiyoko Fujie, at left. At right is metalsmith Hiroko Yamada, longtime Penland instructor and friend, who invited Kiyoko to Penland along with a group of female metalsmiths from Japan. (We’ll have more about Hiroko’s presence at Penland this summer in a future blog post.) Kiyoko is part of the first generation of female metalsmiths to apprentice with Japanese masters.
A new piece about Penland made for the series Around Carolina, produced for Time Warner Cable in North Carolina. It features short interviews with student Katie Fee, metalsmith Ndidi Ekubia, core fellow Angela Eastman, and deputy director Jerry Jackson–and many faces from our mid-July workshops. If you’ve never been to Penland before, this is a good appetizer. Thank you to Richard Green for stopping in to visit with us.
It’s the last day of the session and I need to find Orly Wexler in Upper Metals. When I get to the studio, Orly is gone. “She left at 5 am to catch her flight,” says the instructor, Lawrence Woodford. He sighs. “Her work was so beautiful.”
Dang. Two weeks at Penland can go quick–just when I get used to people being here, they’re off. Next on my list to track down for her story: Martha Todd in lower Clay.
Martha, recipient of a Penland fellowship through the Crafts Council UK, has been blogging about her Penland experience in Thaddeus Erdahl‘s workshop. I would like to meet and interview her for the blog before she leaves. On the porch of Lower Clay, the busts the class has made are out: cats, humans, animals grand and strange. I find Martha’s bust–a dog–but no Martha. Someone tells me that she’s headed toward the coffee house wearing a pink shirt.
When I get to the coffee house, there are three women with pink shirts. Dang again. Here’s an occupational hazard of working in the Penland communications office during the summer: the cast of students and instructors changes in a flash. Too many luminous people to chase. Too many names. They appear, make art, and then leave us. To complicate matters, people reappear with steady frequency. My brain hurts.
I approach a familiar woman in pink near the creamer and ask if she’s Martha Todd. “No,” she smiles warmly, “I’m Mary.” It isn’t until later that I realize she’s Mary Zicafoose, textiles instructor and maker of the brilliant-colored tapestries I saw, days ago, displayed in Lily Loom.
Mary, my bad.
I head to the wood studio for Show and Tell, a chance for all classes to display their work before heading home. The studio is packed. A sea of Penlanders crowds around tables. Shane Fero‘s flameworking students stand close to their dazzling pieces and organize trades. I sidle up to the table with forged steel works, and watch as a woman nearly stabs her arm on branches extending from an inflated steel form. Near a window, young James Haley escapes the dangers of crowds and art by playing with nesting cork forms made by someone in the cork design class. Hi, James.
I snap Elizabeth Brim‘s picture but it’s the wrong moment (another occupational hazard of my job: Pictures Taken at the Wrong Moment). Elizabeth is talking with a woman I’ve noticed all summer. She’s carrying Donna Tartt‘s The Secret History. “I’ll loan it to you when I’m done,” she says when I ask how she’s liking it. I should know her name. But at that moment Paulus Berensohn goes by, slow, like some unearthly snow king. And it’s true, you just want to watch him float.
I end up outside chatting with iron coordinator Daniel Beck and Adam Whitney. Adam looks very tired after captaining the metals workshop this session. He wants to fit in some of his own work before he heads back to Detroit. “You have Flutagon?” he asks Daniel, and I laugh because it’s true: the language of metals sounds like Klingon. “Yeah, you know, Flutagon, Atlantic 33,” says Daniel, jokingly, when I say that I’m about to totally tune out of their conversation.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about my job at Penland as “chasing Penland.” I chase people. I ask them what they do and listen. But in the summer, I’m more like a slipping glimpser. I take a last pass around Show and Tell. Shoemaker Malika Green in bright orange pants, saying goodbye. Nearby, a woman packs up the board game she made in Julie Chen‘s class. The table is thinning out. One of the remaining board games displayed is by studio assistant Isabel Duffy. “In process,” reads a sign. It’s impossible to tell what the game is, or if it’s even meant to be played, and one of the face-out cards reads:
If possible, forgive anyone who is upset that time alone is still necessary and desirable. After the long countdown and anticipation of return, intimacy is one of the things that cannot be pulled out and expected to unfold without creases.
It’s a shock to read this here, at Show and Tell: a quiet and difficult thought about one’s need to make art. Isabel’s words suddenly make the whole thing emotional: how fleeting Penland time is for our students and instructors, who have left their cities and homes and respective intimacies to come here and work like total maniacs.
Everyone starts to trickle toward the Pines for lunch. In a corner, instructor Evie Woltil Richner kneels with a portfolio of her prints. They spill out on the floor. I try to photograph what’s happening: Evie showing her prints to Tiffany Dill‘s young daughters, and asking them which ones they like. This one? Maybe this one? Interest is expressed. Evie stops. “I’ll trade you this for one of your drawings, okay?” The deal is sealed.
Yes, the world is not all magic and pure exchange. But sometimes it is.
This is artist, former core fellow, and now Penland yoga instructor Rachel Garceau, putting together a ceramic installation outside the Pines. Made from slipcast porcelain, the piece is modular and variable, and Rachel has installed several versions in different places. The pattern represents the dots and dashes of Morse code. In this case, she’s spelling the words, “I can’t just limit it to a note.”
This phrase was said to her by instructor Dolph Smith, who was telling her that he’d been asked to write a sentence or two about Penland. He had a lot to say on the subject, so instead he sent a page or two along with the explanation, “I can’t just limit it to a note.”
Among Dolph’s many skills and interests is Morse code. He was trained by the Army, which stationed him as a signal interceptor in Berlin during the early days of the cold war. “Morse code is almost like handwriting,” he explained, “so we could identify individual operators, write down what they were transmitting, and also triangulate their locations. It’s all very archaic by today’s standards but it was interesting work.”
So, in honor of their shared affection for Penland and Morse code, Rachel used Dolph’s words for this installation.
Here’s a recording of Dolph speaking the phrase in dits and dahs.
For those of you who are completely puzzled by all of this, here is an explanation of Morse code.
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