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Photo of the Week: Dit-Dah

rachael garceau installation at Penland

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.

-Robin Dreyer

 

 

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The Penland Hummingbird Cocktail

Woodman-Pieper auction piece

As everyone probably knows by now, this fantastic cocktail service by Julia Woodman with goblets by Kenny Pieper is the featured artwork for this summer’s annual benefit auction. This put cocktails on our minds.

Our friend Nate Allen (chef and co-owner of Knife and Fork restaurant in Spruce Pine) is a cocktail aficionado, so we asked him to create a special drink for the auction. He came up with the Penland Hummingbird–a refreshing mixture of North Carolina’s own Cardinal gin, Luxardo maraschino, lemon juice, and an infusion of locally-gathered bee balm flowers (beloved by bees and hummingbirds). We’ll serve the drink at the auction and Cardinal is generously donating the gin.

 

So, for your entertainment, here is a video of Nate making the cocktail at his newly opened Spoon bar using Julia’s shaker and Kenny’s glasses. The recipe is at the end of the video.

If you would like to see more (and sillier) videos of Nate making cocktails, he made a series of them a few years back.

If you would like more information about the Penland auction, it’s here, and the whole auction catalog is now available here.

 

 

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Papermaking at Penland in June

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Hellen Colman, a student in Aimee Lee’s Eastern papermaking workshop this June, sent us a trove of photographs about her experience. We love watching how June at Penland–in the studio and out–bloomed in Hellen’s camera.

(This slideshow will play automatically or press the arrow to scroll ahead.)

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Snapshots from a Penland tour

It's important to stay hydrated on a Penland tour. After stopping at the Penland coffee shop, we head up to the Drawing & Painting studio, where instructor Michael Dixon's students are working on self portraits.
Mikaela Darnell draws herself with her left hand. All the students in this workshop are drawing themselves with their non-dominant hand as a morning exercise.
Next door, in the Books studio, studio assistant Cheryl Prose pops out to show us the vats, fibers, and watery containers used in Eastern papermaking.
Check out the goo! (We check out the full spread of beautiful hardware and materials too.)
On the porch of the glass studio, our intrepid Penland tour guide, Val Schnaufer, prepares us for the awesomeness that is the hot shop.
Behold the awesomeness.
At this point, the other members of this tour (student-artists from Carolina Friends School in Durham, NC) are growing weary of my camera. And rightly so. But look! Instructor Katie Hudnall stops to talk with us about how her students are working intuitively with wood.
From the Wood studio we walk to Photography (where we disappear in the darkroom) and then over to Print, where instructor Kristin Martinic dazzles us with her work--prints inspired by swimming and swimming pools.
She is fun.
We peek into the Penland clay studios. Out back, Joe Pintz demonstrates a mold-making technique to his class, which we only catch a glimpse of because DEMOS ARE SACRED and Penland tours totally respect this.
Meanwhile, we climb the wood steps of Lily Loom House to visit Nick DeFord's embroidery-on-paper workshop. The students stitch and chat about local thrift shops, a potential Asheville trip, and how to find Black Mountain College.
Their table is a mountain of inspiration.
 It's hard to end a Penland tour. Thank you to our wonderful guide Val, the Penland Gallery staff, Amelia Shull, and the young artists from Carolina Friends School for visiting and letting us tag along.

 

Interested in taking a Penland tour? Tours are free and start at the Penland Gallery and Visitors Center every Tuesday and Thursday, March through early December, 10:30 am and 1:30 pm. Reservations are required. Please call the gallery at (828) 765-6211 to schedule a tour.

 
 

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Ruth Easterbrook’s New Love

 

ruth easterbrook in the penland clay studio

 

Ruth Easterbrook was a work-study student in the spring 2014 concentration session. She fulfilled part of her work-study obligation by doing research for the Penland communications office (the folks who bring you this blog). Sometime near the end of the session, she needed a break from looking things up, so we asked her to write us a story about her time at Penland. Here it is–straight from the Penland clay studio.

Being here, at Penland School of Crafts for eight weeks, I feel like the luckiest person. I am surrounded by beautiful hills, talented people, and find myself in one of the most inspiring classes I have taken. I am in the clay concentration taught by David Eichelberger, which has forever expanded my perspective on handbuilding. In the past I have taken many classes that focus on using the wheel and throwing uniform practical shapes. By removing the wheel, the entire process is slowed down and there is a new attention to the surface and form that creates a perfect combination for wonderful things to emerge. And that is exactly what has been taking place for me and all the unusually talented people who surround me in my class.

Looking back at the first day of our time here, it all began with simple pinch pots like the ones elementary school kids make. We were each given a lump of clay to pinch into a cup-like form. Working with the clay in this way, pinching it between your fingers to slowly open and thin out the walls, there is a wonderful expression of the individual in the touch. This same individual presence has continued as the weeks have gone by. A class like this doesn’t come around very often: there is a playful, hardworking and supportive environment that spurs on the making in a way that is an honor to be part of.

 

ruth easterbrook butter dish

One of the butter dishes of Ruth’s dreams.

 

I have completely fallen in love with pinching, using it as a tool to form walls, and create textures that leave evidence of the hand. We have also been building our own molds, which enables an endless number of options for shapes and sizes. With these new tools I have been able to solve a few problems I have run into in the past. For example, I have always wanted to make butter dishes, but I found making them on the wheel unsatisfying. I now have the tools to make the butter dishes of my dreams.

I am always surprised at how long and short the time feels here on the hill. I have done months worth of learning and growing but it only feels like yesterday that I arrived. I left my routine, home and job to be here and make the leap toward taking myself more seriously as an artist. I have surrounded myself with people who are equally trying to find their way. I find it comforting that I am not alone in the unknown that comes with trying to find your path as a young artist. I am also constantly inspired by Penland’s instructors, studio assistants, resident artists, and the potters of the area. They give me hope, courage, and living proof that what I want to accomplish is attainable.

As I prepare to leave the nest of Penland once again for the big real world, I would like to thank David and his assistants Molly Spadone and Nick Moen for their leadership and the fun environment that made this a class I wish could continue for another eight weeks. I would also like to thank every single person who was here at Penland for their inspiration and support. Not only do I feel that I can pinch clay better then ever before, but I also feel better prepared to embrace my future in the arts.

 

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Someone is Drawing on the Meadow

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(A short history of the mowed meandering path at Penland)

 

In 1999, Penland drafted a campus master plan. The plan included a boardwalk. The boardwalk would border Conley Ridge Road along the meadow, connecting the main campus to Horner, where students were then being housed.

Like many great ideas, it was an expensive one, and Penland’s boardwalk never braced the grassy circle dipping from the road, a field expanding and rising steadily into a perfect knoll—“the knoll,” as Penlanders call it—across the road from the Pines.

In the summer, the field becomes an intoxicating green bowl. On windy days, shadows fold out and flash before the green assembles in the sun again. Wind-waves. Daydreamer bait.

Maybe because the dream of a boardwalk had been hatched and deferred, an idea for some kind of path system took shape. Two very functional paths were mowed before summer sessions started: a straight-shot from the Pines over the knoll to the resident artist apartments, and another along Conley Ridge down to Horner and the Penland Gallery, which visitors could use to avoid walking with the cars:

 

An aerial view of the campus from over the meadow.

 

Not long after this 2010 aerial shot for the Penland catalog (above) was taken, Jean McLaughlin, Penland’s executive director, had an idea for a meandering path—a kind of line drawing on Penland’s most visible and public field.

“It’s not like we sent an artist out there with a plan,” she recalls. “The guy who mowed at the time was told go out, have fun, make a path.” Like the most crackerjack ideas, this one cost next to nothing and became a recurring signature in the Penland’ summer landscape.

 

 

For the past five years, Terry Boone has been the artist behind the paths. Like many unsung masters, he knows how to shut down a compliment. “I just start driving and let [the mower] go,” he says about his process.

“It’s different every year—crazy-crooked—but I’ll be around today if you want to talk more,” says Terry jovially before hanging up the phone.

Terry also mows lines to mark the part of the field used for septic, facilities director Dave Sommer explains. “And the path over the knoll has to be offset each year,” Dave adds, “so we don’t get a worn path.”

No worn or set paths, lines fresh and familiar, straight and spiraling–it all harmonizes with a salient point in the Penland master plan, written by architect and planner Abie Harris. In a list of guiding principles for Penland’s grounds and facilities, he wrote:
 

Preserve the reasonable disorder.

The Penland campus has grown in an organic fashion. Excessive order could be detrimental to the feeling of the place; planning should assume and tolerate a certain amount of creative chaos.

 

 

The open sloping green along Conley Ridge Road has assumed and tolerated—along with Terry Boone’s straight and “crazy-crooked” lines and a twice-a-year hay cutting—countless installations, structures, meditative walkers, llamas, bonfires, picnickers, stargazers, giant puppets, horses, gardeners, easels, dogs, balloon launchers, deer, lovers, fireworks, bunnies, revelers, a grass-braider, dancers, fireflies, and all manner of performing and off-duty daydreamers. “It almost hurts to see people hay it,” Dave Sommer says, looking out from the Pines portico at the view.

 
Elaine Bleakney, photographs by Robin Dreyer

 

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Grover Bows Out

Grover and truck

This man, known to everyone at Penland simply as Grover, has, for more than a decade, made the rounds of the campus in this truck three times a week collecting and sorting all of the school’s recyclables–bottles, cans, paper, cardboard, etc.

Grover spent his early childhood in Mitchell County, not far from the school. After living most of his life other places, he finally settled just a few miles from the house he lived in as a child. In addition to his recycling job, Grover made a special place for himself at Penland by creating hundreds of remarkable pieces of artwork–from painted cardboard, milk crates, plastic flamingos, cut-up books and magazines, and other found material–which he periodically combined into elaborate installations in the Dye Shed.

 

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Grover is fascinated by geography and his pieces frequently incorporate arcane geographical information. For a time he nurtured an obsession with klein bottles (a kind of volumetric mobius strip) and created memorable pieces based on that form.

He also plays guitar and was the instigator of many afternoon music sessions on the Dye Shed porch. “Back in the 60s,” he explained, “I was one of a billion people who learned to play the guitar. Now there’s just a few hundred thousand of us still playing.” Grover has been a genial presence at Penland; many on staff looked forward to his weekly visits as a source of unpredictable and fascinating conversation. His highly-developed deadpan means that talking to him often involves wondering which part of what he just said was serious–maybe some of it? maybe all of it? maybe none of it? It can be hard to say.

 

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In the hope of postponing some joint replacement surgery, Grover has finally decided to give up his Penland job. The recycling has been entrusted to our long-term neighbor Alan Tinney, but we know that we have not said goodbye to Grover. We’ll look forward to his visits and his next art installation.
-Robin Dreyer

 

 

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This cast-glass bust of Grover was made by studio coordinator Dean Allison. It was molded from life. This photograph was taken at a recent exhibition of work by Penland’s studio coordinators.

 

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