Archive | Penland People RSS feed for this section

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.

 

Comments { 0 }

Someone is Drawing on the Meadow

evenmoremeadow-2

 

(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

 

meadow-5

Comments { 0 }

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.

 

grover-architecture

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.

 

grover-lightbox

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

 

 

bust of grover

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.

 

Comments { 0 }

Photo of the Week: At work in the clay studio

 

Nick Moen in Penland clay studio

Studio assistant Nick Moen in the clay studio, behind a wall of his own works-in-progress.

 

Comments { 0 }

A walk in the woods with Eleanor Annand

IsolateDetail_Web

Eleanor Annand, detail from “Isolate,” scribed and abraded drawing on paper (see below for image of the whole work).

 

An artist goes for a walk in the woods. One foot, and then another. It’s a form of precision. “You walk with a reasonable, natural rhythm; let it be natural, just as with the breath,” says the Buddhist meditation master and scholar Chögyam Trungpa, describing the practice of walking meditation. The artist walks. She observes her weight, her step, its repetition. She looks at the world around her and notices, also, the interior.

 

This is one way to think about artist Eleanor Annand’s recent body of work, completed at a time when she was researching meditation and walking—and taking many walks and hikes herself. A former Penland core fellow, Annand now lives in Asheville, North Carolina, and sustains a busy life as a full-time graphic designer. And so, to the dreamy image of an artist walking in the woods, we have to add another image to the story of Annand’s process: the artist wakes up early, goes down to her basement with her tea—and creates before the workday begins. “I don’t binge on creative time,” she says. “I prefer more of a slow and steady approach. A couple of quiet hours in the morning are ideal.”

 

Annand’s current work, on view until May 11 at the Penland Gallery, is made up of paintings on steel and works on paper. The steel pieces are coated with approximately four layers of enamel spray paint. The paper, coated with ten to twelve layers of paint on top of a layer of gesso. After the coated field is dry, Ele uses a scribe to make her low-relief mark. Marks, we should say—Annand’s works are often tidal surges of mark making (and abraded marks)–a discipline attached to the precise and generative act of seeing that can be experienced in meditation.

 

Isolate_Web

Eleanor Annand, “Isolate”

 

But Annand does not expect you to approach her painting and be enlightened. (Neither does she expect this as an end-result of her own process.) On this point she is clear-eyed. “I see most things in life as grey,” she says, “not black and white. These works aren’t about an incident but about the general emotion I carry from something.” Annand pauses and takes a sip of chai between thoughts. “There is not an answer in my work, but an acceptance. Not a wanting.”

 

How did Annand, trained in graphic design and letterpress, arrive at this steady point as an artist? Annand took her first workshop—in weaving—at Penland while still in college. Later, after working in graphic design for several years with clients like IBM, Annand took a break from professional life to get back into her hands by taking a fall 2009 workshop in Penland’s print studio. At this point, she applied for and received the two-year Penland core fellowship.

 

This was 2010. Annand’s first eight-week workshop as a core fellow was with printmaker Phil Sanders. “All of my work was figurative at the time,” she remembers. Sanders would open the workshop with an hour or two for individual drawing time, and he would orbit the room, witnessing. She recalls him pointing to a moment of abstraction in one of her figurative drawings, and saying something to the effect of ‘I think you’re more interested in what’s happening here.’ He was right—Annand’s work has moved, over the years, toward the abstract. “I still won’t commit myself to letting go of the figures,” she says. “I think that they are moving toward a different part of what I make, in illustration.”

 

To pay attention to what you’re doing—this is the most important thing I learned from Penland, adds Annand. To pay attention leads to true expression. Having a healthy sense of self-awareness has led me to make work I believe is authentic and honest.

 

Pyre_Web

Eleanor Annand, “Pyre,” painting on steel

 

Our conversation wanders back to walking, how the rhythm of walking sharpens and creates an attention to the rich periphery. She mentions her painting, “Pyre” (above).

 

“It’s not like I walked into the woods and found a pyre and decided to recreate it,” Annand smiles. “It’s about introspection, and making honest marks. I’m sure that something on my walks, some kind of distraction, helped bring the form inside.”–Elaine Bleakney

 

 

Comments { 0 }

Studio Visit: Will Lentz

willlentz

 

I’m up at the wood kiln if you guys want to meet…

said core fellow Will Lentz’s email. So we caught up with Will and the winter clay residents outside, joyfully unloading the kiln on a cold sunny day back in February. A long table was set out for the bounty.

Fast forward (about the length of three snows) when Will and I met to talk about the winter, which he spent–in part–working for former core fellow Jason Bige Burnett in Burnett’s Bakersville studio. Jason, Will noted, had been giving Will assignments, infusing Will’s winter with another space for intention and exploration. In particular, Will had been ruminating on box forms he’s been making–an opportunity for “release from the surface,” new design, and interconnectivity.
lentzBut Will’s winter wasn’t all about the box–he also dipped into vigorous making, testing out the possibility of producing a line of shapely ceramic mugs with a racer stripe. Café racers. As Will raced to unload the wood kiln, he chatted with the winter residents, thoroughly enjoying objects in the light.
 

Top photograph by Robin Dreyer. Photograph of mugs from Will Lentz’s Instagram account. Writing by Elaine Bleakney.

 

 

 

Comments { 0 }

Photo of the Week: Snow Leopard Parking

no parking sign at Penland

Today is the birthday of our food services manager, Richard Pleasants. Richard has a large fan club, which includes some extremely clever people. Two of them (code names DTB and IPH) were up late last night installing this sign on Richard’s customary parking place. The sign is made from steel and brass sheet metal. The spatula is forged steel. He is kind of like a snow leopard: lithe, white haired, and on task.

Comments { 0 }