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Elizabeth Aralia: Artist, Penland Student, Penland Supporter

Although Elizabeth Aralia has been an artist most of her life, she didn’t start coming to Penland until she was fifty: the year her son turned ten. “I came in 1998 for a class with Nick Cave and it was transformative,” she said. “I said to myself, ‘I’m going to come back here every year.’ And so far I have.” Elizabeth and her husband, photographer Nick Graetz, had moved to North Carolina about ten years before that, and Elizabeth says that she heard about Penland “in the air.”

 

Image of Elizabeth Aralia wearing a handmade purple top

Elizabeth Aralia interacting with an art installation based on a ping-pong table. The garment she is wearing is of her own design. Photo by Nick Graetz.

 

Born in Detroit, she got an English degree at Indiana University and then went on to study art at the College of Creative Studies at the University of Santa Barbara in California. “It was a fascinating place,” she said. “The teachers there were all artists, and they just taught whatever they wanted. There was no set curriculum.” After finishing that program, she headed for New York. “I ran out of money near my mother’s house in Indiana, so I stayed there. I got this grant from the NEA where they paid you to do your art and to work with kids in the schools. During that time, I met and married my husband, and eventually we settled in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.”

Elizabeth works in textiles, painting, assemblage, and collage. One of her best-known projects is a tarot deck created through carefully-constructed collage. “I’ve been doing collage since 1978,” she said. “I don’t do it using a computer. I like to use things that there’s only one of; it’s more of a commitment.” Recent Penland workshops have reignited her interest in painting and introduced her to encaustic, which she has been integrating into her work.

 

Collaged image of a tarot card using a variety of found imagery

“Wheel of Fortune,” one of Elizabeth’s series of tarot card collages. Photo by Elizabeth Aralia.

 

In addition to her years of taking Penland workshops, Elizabeth and Nick have been generous annual supporters of the school, and they have recently created a scholarship in honor of Elizabeth’s late sister, Lynn Kerr Azzam. “She’s my half sister and we wouldn’t have known her except for the Internet. We only met her two years ago. We were together a few times and then she suddenly died. I didn’t know her well, but I felt very close to her. I wanted to do something for Penland in her name.”

“My husband and I give to a lot of things,” she continued. “We pick things that are close to our hearts, and Penland is at the top of my list. I want to give people the help I didn’t get when I was struggling financially and needed support as an artist. I imagine what it would have been like if someone had given me time at Penland back then.”

“Penland is magnetic and people who have the right metal get stuck.” Elizabeth said. “It draws me back every year. When the catalog comes, I get excited, and when I first drive in, I just think, ‘There it is.’”  –Robin Dreyer

 

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Inside 8 Weeks of Penland Letterpress

students printing on Penland's letterpress equipment

Penland letterpress photo by Lauren Faulkenberry

 

Spring and fall are intense times at Penland. Students and instructors spend eight full weeks here, fully immersed in deep creative exploration in their studios. For many, these concentrations can be rigorous and sleep-depriving, but also enlightening, recharging, andultimatelytransformative.

Lauren Faulkenberry, who taught the spring concentration “Letterpress Books: Guts to Glory,” shared her thoughts in her blog about the “wild ride” that was eight weeks at Penland:

“To sum up: I had fantastic students. They made amazing things. We had a slew of letterpress adventures in the form of tiny books, broadsides, and ephemera that ran the gamut from poignant to wickedly funny and downright dirty. There was pressure printing, block carving, impromptu screen printing, and enough experimentation to warrant calling the studio a laboratory. Art. Science. Madness. Delight.”

 

Letterpress-printed poster advertising a studio open house

Open house poster photo by Lauren Faulkenberry

 

Lauren also describes one of the primary challenges of Penland concentrations: that constant tug-of-war between intense creative work and the rest needed to refuel our creative engines:

“It’s not easy teaching every day for eight weeks, even in a place that feels like paradise. I was often just too tired to work on my own projects after dinner each night, but it was hard to make myself leave the studio. There’s something about being surrounded by creative people in a flurry of breakthroughs and troubleshooting that makes it hard to walk away.”

Now that those eight weeks are over, Lauren reflected on what she took away from her eight weeks here at Penland. As many people do, she found it was much more than simply new techniques or a piece of work to be proud of:

“After a long cold winter, my students and my new friends breathed some life back into me. I won’t lieit was hard leaving there and coming back to the ‘real world’… But I’ve got a notebook full of ideas and a high-five poster that will remind me to keep doing that thing I love, and that path will most certainly cross the ones of all those great folks on the mountain that reminded me of why we do these things that keep calling us to do them.”

 

To read more about the moments that really stuck out in her eight-week class, see Lauren’s complete blog post here.

 

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Stuart Kestenbaum on the Craft School Experience

portrait of Stuart Kestenbaum

Photo by Gabe Souza

 

Congratulations to Stuart Kestenbaum, who completed 27 years as the director of our sister school Haystack Mountain School of Crafts at the end of May. And congratulations to everyone at Penland, who will have the pleasure of Stuart’s company for two weeks later this summer craft_school_experiencewhen he will be a participant in the Andrew Glasgow Writing Residency.

Stuart will also continue to be involved with the Craft School Experience, which is a consortium of five schools working together to promote craft workshop education. Stuart wrote a short article for the consortium’s website talking about his time at Haystack and his belief in the power and importance of this kind of immersive craft education. You can read the article here.

 

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Photo of the Week: Kiln Break

Michael Kieghery at Penland

Internationally-known ceramic and performance artist Michael Kieghery taking a break in the Penland wood kiln. Michael was part of a special summer session that was taught entirely by artists from Australian National University.

“What’s it like in there, Michael?”
“It’s wonderful! I have a beautiful view of the mountains, it’s cool, and nobody cares if I smoke.”

 

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Ribbon Cutting!

ribbon cutting at Penland

On June 4, Penland had a ribbon-cutting ceremony for the newly-opened Samuel L. Phillips Family Foundation Studio, which is the building that now houses our book arts and drawing/painting studios. Among the many folks cutting the ribbon were representatives of the Penland board, the Penland staff, G.E.M. Constructors (who built the building), the committee of artists who consulted on the studio spaces, and the Phillips Family.

 

 

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Rebuilding the “Julia”

“Penland has plenty of kilns sitting outside the ceramic studio – and the kilns have names. There’s Lucille, for one. There’s Jin Jin for another. Then there’s the Julia kiln. “Julia” is named after my wife Julia Terr, a former student and teaching assistant at Penland. She died in 2009.

“The original Julia kiln was built with the help of the Julia Terr Fund for Ceramic Arts which was formed to help support non-profit clay communities to underwrite the building or purchase of kilns. When word spread on social media that the Julia kiln at Penland was being rebuilt, I received messages from friends and total strangers describing to me the pots they took from the shelves of Julia over the past four years. The Julia kiln fired hundreds and hundreds of pots during its time, pots that got cleaned up, packed up and taken home to keep as reminders of knowledge gleamed in workshops. A friend told me she owns a bowl from the Julia kiln that has served her granola and yogurt every morning for the past two years.

 

JuliaKiln

 

After repeated firings, the Julia kiln required repairs; our fund stepped in to help. In April, I traveled to Penland to assist kiln-builder and potter Will Baker to construct “Julia 2.” As I handed bricks to Will, the floor and the walls of the new kiln began to appear, rising up off the kiln pad as if it were the most natural thing in the world. In a flash, I pictured the interior of the new Julia kiln, and how it would house and fire another generation of Penland pots.  I could almost imagine the hundreds of cups, mugs and bowls and the people behind theses pots. The feeling was remarkable to experience, to visualize this new kiln as a tool for future potters at Penland and all the potential this new possibility encompasses for an artistic community. To me, kilns feel like instruments of hope: a glance inside a kiln and one can only imagine what will result, what shapes and forms will materialize as the temperature rises, what beautiful pots will finally emerge from the miracle of the heat.

“The kilns at Penland touch the lives of so many pots and, by extension, so many people. A new kiln called Julia 2 will impact more lives in the years to come. “Julia 2″ had its first firing in the Cynthia Bringle’s spring clay concentration in April 2015.”

–Vince Montague
vincemontague.com

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Working in Three Dimensions

Alex Stasko in the Penland clay studio

Student Alex Stasko working on a clay self-portrait in a first-session workshop taught by Pattie Chalmers. (Photo by Robin Dreyer)

 

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