Archive | Penland People RSS feed for this section

Begin Again




Begin again. Two words woven into fabric. The weaver is Amanda Thatch. The words belong to her and, as with any communication, quit belonging to anyone the moment they are formed.


Amanda is alive to this fact. As one of Penland’s most voracious readers, she’s interested in language as its own material. In her recent work, words, prefixes, and suffixes surface in the fabric. Text in textile. It’s a linguist’s dream: “text” appears in English from French and Latin, and in “textus,” we have the printed word and its style; “texture” and “textile” deriving from the Latin “texere” (to weave). Writer and weaver have long been in etymological entanglement.




In Amanda’s textiles, textual elements blur and waver. She ties the warp threads to create the letters; they resist the dye. The result is clear and distorted. You can run your hand across the fabric but someday the suffixes above may be cut and displayed separately.


Last summer, Amanda played with ikat–tying the warps multiple times to make these pieces. She doesn’t have the heart to place them behind glass yet. Or iron them, for that matter. “I’m attracted to things that are problematic to presentation,” she says. “Books and textiles.” Works that need to be touched and have a history of being touched. An invisible history.


Begin again.


If I could begin this essay again, I’d start with the term “resist,” and how, in order to be visible, the words Amanda intends to make in fabric must hide from the dye. Then each thread is woven and, Amanda reminds me, thought about as a group performing the structure. The process takes forever, if by “forever” we mean more time than most things take. There’s something spectacular about the weaver in the age of the IPhone. Tedium and loneliness are givens; the loom’s technology provides for an embodied solitude. Hours of it. Alone with warp and weft.


“I don’t like it when I can’t touch the material directly, and I’m not interested when I can’t see the material transform,” says Amanda. “Or when, as with clay, substance goes through a hypermaterial change I can’t touch. I don’t want to give that control of material over to the kiln gods,” she says.


“For me,” Amanda says, “it’s all about the loom. Maybe I should have been an organist?” she quips.



“Only lonesomeness allows one to experience radical singularity, one’s greatest dignity and privilege,” writes novelist and essayist Marilynne Robinson, a writer important to Amanda. When I look at Amanda’s fabrics, spread across the table, I think of Robinson. It’s hard for me not to. In this short essay, my essay, Amanda Thatch and Marilynne Robinson text each other without using phones. One, in Iowa, writes a sentence in a book. The other takes her hands to a loom overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s winter. Both believe in the “radical singularity” to be experienced in art and solitude, in reading, in the act of thinking, writing, weaving.


Begin again.


Amanda, does the imprecision of language disturb you?


[Amanda laughs.]


“What’s disturbing to me is to be a singular consciousness,” she says. “I want a possibility of communication that’s complete. But it’s not possible. Apart from regular speech, I think there’s a role that art plays in bridging the gap.”–Elaine Bleakney


Amanda Thatch is a former core fellow and the Textiles, Painting & Drawing Studio coordinator at Penland. View more of her work here.


Photographs by Robin Dreyer.


Comments are closed

40 Candles


Photo above courtesy of Dan Price. Photos below by Elaine Bleakney.


This month, former core fellow Dan Price returned to Penland as a winter resident to make forty candles in the iron studio. Of course, we needed to know why.



Dan, would you tell us about the piece you’re making? 

It’s part of a series of sculptures I am making that involve contingencies. In the works, the components are all interconnected–tied together, stacked, leaning and interdependent–and the components are lifted from memorable moments in my life. This one is about my wild 40th birthday party.


How did Penland fit into your plans for making this piece? 

I actually do have a forge in Chicago, but no power hammer, so I needed to use the smithy at Penland to make the candles.



What are the next steps in your process with the sculpture? 

I am going to a manufacturer in Chicago to have a bunch of plate glass cut with a water jet cutter for the next part of the piece: a cake.


Okay, we have to ask: what was “wild” about your 40th birthday party?

It was two years ago. My neighbors roasted a lamb in the backyard. They built up a fire pit out of firebricks, and I made a steel spit in the smithy at school. We roasted the lamb and invited about 80 people. It was generally a kind of a wild party. The craziest guest shot off fireworks, throwing lit bottle rockets with her bare hands–that kind of thing. My brother was good enough to drive her home, and returned with a funny look. “Never again,” he said.


Dan Price lives and works in Chicago, where he is Chair and Assistant Professor of Sculpture at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Read more about Dan and his work here.


Comments are closed

April in Iron



April Franklin is back at Penland this winter, and for the first time, her job is simply to make what she likes. A former core fellow, April has previously appeared at Penland as a work-study student, a studio assistant, and an instructor. For the past week, she’s been a winter resident in the iron studio, making (among other things) two Damascus rings:




The rings, we’re happy to note, are for April’s marriage next fall to ceramic artist and frequent Penland instructor Kathy King. The couple makes their home in Watertown, Massachusetts, with April visiting Providence to forge and teach at the Steel Yard, while Kathy teaches at “that school in Cambridge.”

April and Kathy met during Penland’s spring concentration in 2012. During the concentration, Kathy (instructor in the clay studio) broke her hand and underwent surgery. All is well now, and the accident “slowed Kathy down for me,” said April, half-joking.

During our visit to the studio, April helped current core fellow Meghan Martin with some strategy for a buckle. She also took some time to give a knife-sharpening demonstration this week. April had a dose of dry wit for fellow blacksmiths who specialize, as she does, in knife-making. “Do not tell anyone that you know how to sharpen knives. People will show up with a bag of them.”

We’ll have more posts here about our winter residents in the coming weeks. In the meantime, you can keep up with the flurry of studio activity on our Instagram account.


Comments are closed

Something About Susan

Does anyone remember Jago? Handsome, brooding, and mysterious, Jago (pronounced HA-HO) was a Penland core student in the late nineties. He missed every changeover. Every meeting. He never appeared in the studios, as far as anyone knows.

Jago was the invisible hot mess invented by Susan Feagin and Kara Ikenberry during their core fellowship. He was, Susan recalls, a character in a romance novel that was read, out loud, during a Kathy King class. When Susan left Penland in 1998, Jago left too, probably in pursuit of an aging heiress in the south of France. Susan remained stateside, pursuing other inventions, mainly in clay.

As a core student, Susan fell for ceramics, printmaking, and Jago-fiction as independent media. After core, Susan moved to Athens, Georgia, working in production at the now defunct Athens Banner-Herald. For the next four years she served as the newspaper’s last paste-up artist before continuing her clay (and screenprinting on clay) activities in graduate school at the University of Florida.



Screens by Susan Feagin in the Penland clay studio. Photograph by Robin Dreyer


Paste-up artists are now extinct. For those of you who don’t remember life before desktop publishing, allow us to explain: at the Banner-Herald Susan set type in columns by hand, adhering the columns to photo paper. The completed camera-ready pages were then photographed to make negatives that were then used to make plates for printing. Susan spent hours inside of rigid borders, looking at text in terms of column inches–adding, removing, and also sizing photographs. It was collage on a deadline. Not a job for the likes of Jago.

But the paste-up experience suited Susan fine, and her taste for text as a shiftable visual element can be found on the pots she makes today.



A Susan Feagin creation. Photograph by Robin Dreyer


Recently, Susan made a few screens from a manuscript, a history of great moments in aviation that her dad, an aeronautical engineer, wrote for teens and never published. She will print selections from his typed pages on clay, handbuilding a vessel with his text layered in.

susan“It’s more liberating for me than working at the wheel,” Susan says, “I’m free to explore as I go.” Susan makes colored slabs, draping them on molds to shape her asymmetrical works. Surfaces are spaces where text or prints along avenues of underglaze can appear, and when the clay hardens, there are strips for sgraffito.

A flimsy romantic fiction like Jago probably wouldn’t get Susan’s choices, in life or art. But Rabulette and Maynard, Susan’s friends in Penland’s clay studio operation, do. Rabulette, a stuffed bunny rescued by Susan from a departed copyeditor’s file cabinet back at the Banner-Herald, is a somewhat high-strung conceptual artist assisted by the small and dedicated plush bison, Maynard. (For those of you who haven’t met these two tiny beings, they are real, and thanks to Susan, real presences at Penland.)



Rabulette and Maynard on vacation. Photograph blatantly stolen from Jane Crowe on Facebook.


“I adore Susan,” Rabulette says. “For Susan, pattern is a place where invention happens. But you should really ask Maynard to fill in for you all the details, as it’s time for my lunch.”

This winter, Susan will let go of surface control a bit–firing colored porcelain vessels in the salt kiln with Penland winter resident Janice Farley. She will also take a short break from her coordinator duties at Penland to teach, in late January, a screenprinting on clay workshop at Clay Works in Charlotte.–Elaine Bleakney


To watch Susan Feagin demonstrate screenprinting on clay, please take some time with two videos by John Britt here.


Comments are closed

Photo of the week: Flashdance, 1984



Our archivist, Carey Hedlund, has been settling into the Penland archives this winter, finding gems like this photograph taken by Dan Bailey during the fall of 1984. The photograph was later used for a Penland catalog, and Dan left a note: “It was taken at night and each window was a separate flash exposure. Probably took a couple of hours to do.”

Each week, Carey sends us a photograph from the archive to post on the Penland Instagram account as part of #tbt or “throwback Thursday” (one of those new-fangled Internet hashtag phenomena you may already know about). Scroll through our Instagram feed here to see more of Carey’s selections.

“Somehow, window-dancing struck me as a lovely way to ring in the new year,” Carey notes about Dan’s picture.


Comments are closed

Knock, Knock

Bryan Parnham, Penland student and soon-to-be core fellow, has been knocking on the doors of a few Penlanders, talking with them about the objects they love, and documenting the conversations on his blog. The conversations are unedited, raw material from the houses and hearts of his subjects. Inspired by a series that ran in the Wall Street Journal, Bryan asks his subjects to talk about seven objects they love.

chattglassesA recent two-part post on Bryan’s blog features glass artist David Chatt. It includes this photograph of a shelf-lined window in David’s kitchen occupied with glasses made by Pablo Soto, Mike Krupiarz, Sam Stang, Ethan Stern, Kaeko Maehata, and others. Looking at the window through Bryan’s camera, reading David’s voice transcribed, one gets a sense of how David’s drinking glass collection represents a moveable community of fellow artists, guests who’ve been invited to leave a shape, a bright ghost. Bryan quotes David talking about a glass by Kaeko Maehata:

“This is my Kae glass and I would say that it’s my favorite. She made me a collection of glasses and she made them for my hand. I am a person who is extraordinarily proportioned and so I like things that fit me. I like things that are made for me by people that I love that are useful in my everyday world.”

Bryan’s blog has the totally unassuming label “What’s a Better Word for a Blog?” In a recent email, Bryan wrote to me about his interviews. “This project is meant to question the significance of objects and how an individual uses them to navigate their lives. Also, it’s an excuse to get to know some really interesting people better.”

So far, Bryan has sat with interesting people like Chatt, Elisa Di Feo and David Eichelberger. To me, Bryan’s impulse to interview others he admires is a reminder: if there’s no sign that reads BEWARE, knock on the door rather than strolling on. We are all collectors. Our collections, pared down to the most meaningful, contain stories, a storyteller, and an opportunity. One only need try.–Elaine Bleakney



Comments are closed

One Image, One Story

I had the pleasure of working with the Penland core fellows this fall. We met one night each week in the living room of Morgan, the home they share on campus. The purpose of our seminar was to explore writing. They wrote a letter to a stranger. They wrote stories about objects. They wrote about themselves. They wrote (and rewrote) their artist statements. Our final writing exercise involved creating a slideshow using just one image. I pitched it to them like this: ‘If you could tell a story about yourself or your work using one image, which would you choose?’ There was one more rule: the stories they wrote had to start with a sentence that began: ‘I love…’ Here is how some of them fielded the assignment.–Elaine Bleakney




I love my eyes.

This is a not a picture of my eyes. This is a picture of the way I see.

I see the world in compositions, framed forms and patterns and textures. I find solace, wonder, and inspiration in the unceasing beauty of the world.  There is nothing more rejuvenating for me than to spend time reconnecting to the delights of seeing.

I try to share the way I see through my work.  It feels like a small but important gesture to be able to translate the beauty that is inherent all around us into objects and spaces.  My view is but one of ten thousand ways of seeing the world, and feels at the same time deeply personal and deeply connected.
Angela Eastman






I love making things using my hands. The act of making has always excited me; I have always felt an inherent need to be making. Not only do I love to make things by hand but I enjoy seeing others make, create, and exist in a world where the handmade is valued. I feel the world we live in is devaluing the handmade in its attempt to make things easier, faster, and more efficient so that we can “do more.” Within this we are losing our valuing of the small scale and “slow” production of goods, music, poetry, theater, and self-expression. I worry this trend will continue. Having a specific set of hand skills is crucial to my happiness. I love being able to share these skills with others, passing along a tradition of making in a world where making is no longer a necessity but a choice. It is important to remember these things as we proceed.
Jamie Karolich





Joshua Kovarik 
[To view drawings by Josh, click on the image above.]




45 Moscow Woods Road


I love this place.

This is the home that I grew up in, but this is not the only reason that I love it.

I love the knowledge that over this house’s lifetime I was just one of the many children who got to climb that tree, and swing from that branch.

I love seeing the history, and knowing that I am a part of something deeper and older.

I love the feeling of your bones settling when you’ve found this place.

A restlessness you don’t notice until it’s gone.
Emily Rogstad





I love scars. I have a lot: on my feet, my legs, back, face, arms, and more on and around my hands than anywhere else.  My hands see a lot of action.

I was given a writing prompt once that began, “My hands _______.”  I responded by describing the things that have happened to my hands as a maker. My hands have been cut, scraped, burned, broken, and scarred.

The scar in this photo is from a surgery I had after over a year of working in the studio with a fractured wrist.  The scar reminds me of the consequence of pushing through discomfort and pain. It reminds me to be aware and protective of my body. It’s my body’s memory of that time.

There is no recollection of a story more genuine than one your body doesn’t allow you to forget.
Will Lentz






I Love Taking Chances

The woman in the center of this image is me, twenty-two years old in Seattle for the first time. I was asked to roadie for some close friends on their six-week tour taking them to the West Coast; prior to this I had never been past Nebraska. I had quit my job, left my college classes behind, jumped in a van, and set forth for an adventure. I saw the Atlantic Ocean for the first time, rode a ferry, raged in L.A., and met some truly, incredible people. On the left is my dearest friend Lexi. On my other shoulder is Jakes. Jakes would become the reason that Lexi, our friend Pete, and I would move to Seattle three months later. Lexi and Jakes were, and continue to be, a force to be reckoned with.

As I move toward the end of my core fellowship at Penland, I’ve been thinking a lot about change and how often it involves a certain amount of risk. If I hadn’t moved to Seattle, I wouldn’t have taken a night class and met my instructor Sarah Loertscher, who introduced me to Penland. I wouldn’t have had this incredible chance.
Sarah Rachel Brown





I love my hands.

As a child, I remember the day that my mother called me and my brother and sister into the kitchen. She rolled blue ink onto our hands and set a piece of paper in front of each of us. Pressing down onto that crisp white paper, we left behind the imprint of our fingers outstretched and the small space unchanged by the slight rise of our palms. To us at the time, it was just a matter of having blue hands for the rest of the day. However, she had also done this when we were babies, and to her it was a quiet documentation of our growth. I found them years later and remember the feeling of disbelief that these small blue handprints belonged to me.

If anyone has ever asked you, “What part of yourself could you never live without?” I would never want to imagine losing my hands. They are the interpreters of my life. Through touching, handling and feeling, they assess, reevaluate, maintain and discard. In my life as a maker my hands are the biggest tool at my disposal. Like work horses silently enduring the constant summoning of my mind, they are the steadfast companions accomplishing my tasks.

I learn best by watching, taking in information and knowledge with my eyes. My hands decipher what I see and remember these moments of instruction. Since I began blacksmithing I have continually been surprised that they seemingly have always known what to do. Although my hands started out small, they are significant. In their wrinkles and scars is the story of my life. This history moves through them in all the work that I create.
Meghan Martin


Image of Meghan’s hands by Penland resident artist Mercedes Jelinek.


Comments are closed