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Illuminating a Community

Jack Mackie posing with a handful of the week's glass orbs. At right is a close-up of the glass pieces layered inside one of the metal baskets that will adorn the installation.

Jack Mackie posing with a handful of the week’s glass orbs. At right is a close-up of the glass pieces layered inside one of the metal baskets that will adorn the Burnsville Gateway installation.

 

Jack Mackie does not identify as a glass artist, nor has he studied the art of blowing glass. But this January, he came to Penland for a week of winter residency in the hot glass studio with some big ideas. “I’m a public artist,” he explains. “The project is the medium, and I make the framework.”

The project that brought him to Penland is the Burnsville Gateway, a public art installation planned for the nearby town of Burnsville, NC as part of the North Carolina Arts Council’s SmART Initiative. The initiative aims to use art to build stronger communities and economies, and those goals have been at the forefront of Jack’s mind throughout the design phase. “There’s a deep tradition of craft here, of quilts, of weaving, of pottery, of baskets, and of glass,” he explains. “One of the things that I wanted to help illuminate through this project is the community of glass that is here, to give prominence to something so special about the area that is not always visible.”

 

group shot of the artists outside the studio

The Burnsville Gateway artists. From left: Kenny Pieper, Dave Wilson, Courtney Dodd, Rob Levin, Hayden Wilson, and Jack Mackie. Photo via Courtney Dodd.

 

To that end, Jack brought a team of skilled local glass artists with him to Penland: Courtney Dodd, Rob Levin, Kenny Pieper, Dave Wilson, and Hayden Wilson. Together, they worked to create the first glass prototypes for the Burnsville installation, filling the studio with between 800 and 1000 blown-glass pieces in the course of a week. “This artwork is being made by the people who live here,” Jack states. “I simply am providing—conceptually and literally—the frame that their glass artwork is going into.”

Jack’s vision for Burnsville is expansive and draws on the town’s artistic heritage, mountains, history, and designation as one of only a handful of “Dark Sky” communities in the country. At the center of his plans is the telescope, which he connects both to the town’s past (Burnsville’s founder, Otway Burns, was a naval hero who used a telescope in navigation) and its future (a large public telescope and observatory is being planned for the nearby Star Park). The central feature of Jack’s installation will be six giant “telescopes”—towering columns of illuminated metal and glass that stand at the entrances to the town, three on each side, viewable from the highway as visitors crest the hill.

 

rendering of the Burnsville Gateway installation

Sketch of the telescope columns and surrounding landscape architecture planned for one end of the Burnsville Gateway.

 

It was these telescopes that the team focused on during their week at Penland. Each one measures between twenty-four and thirty feet tall and features “baskets” of blown glass orbs held in by a sturdy wire mesh. At first, Jack envisioned each telescope as a different color, but a sunset one evening changed his mind. “I was driving, and I looked in my rearview mirror,” he tells me. “I saw the colors of the sunset and I thought, ‘That’s it!’” Now, the telescopes on the east entrance to town feature gradations of the yellows and pinks of sunrise, while the western telescopes boast the intense oranges and purples of early evening. From a distance, the reflective rainbow effect of all that glass is quite stunning. “It’s so much more than my color sketches,” Jack comments. “It’s light moving through color held in the medium of glass.”

Up close, the telescopes maintain their power to draw the viewer in. Rather than simply creating smooth, hollow globes, Jack’s team of glass artists created richly-textured shapes—some are ridged and round, while others are curved and spiraling or bulbous or decorated with diamond patterns or delicate bubbles beneath the surface. “I like that each one is different, that they’re tactile and engaging, that people can reach in and experience the glass,” Jack says. “In a society where more and more things are built uniformly and built by the billions, to have these handmade pieces as part of our civic public infrastructure was very attractive to me.”

 

glass artists at work

At left, Hayden Wilson, Rob Levin, and Kenny Pieper at work blowing forms. At right, Courtney Dodd finishing a piece before it goes into the annealer.

 

Over the next couple months, Jack and his team will be busy fabricating hundreds more glass orbs for the project, which will likely involve at least one more trip to Penland and possibly the participation of a few other local glass artists. “We couldn’t make this happen without the vision and ability of these artists and a place like Penland for people to come together to work,” Jack notes. “I want to give these artists ownership of the project and at the same time funnel money into the local community through their work.”

The Burnsville Gateway—complete with the six telescope columns, as well as artistic benches, walkways, and other streetscape elements—is set to be installed sometime in the second half of 2017. When it is finished, it will be a testament to the creativity, skill, and vitality of the Burnsville community and the artists who built it piece by piece. “That’s one of the things that public art can do,” Jack concludes. “It can make a place unique, draw out its special qualities, and illuminate them. In our case, it will literally illuminate the quality of the work and the lives that are here.”

 

For more information on the project, the process, and the artists behind it, we highly recommend watching these two videos by local videographer Chanse Simpson.

Part 1: Telescope Gateways into Burnsville, NC

Part 2: Telescope Gateways into Burnsville, NC

 

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Photo of the Week: A Clay Circus

Janice Farley and her elephant sculptures

Elephant ceramics by Janice Farley

Winter resident Janice Farley spent six weeks in the clay studio exploring both functional and sculptural forms. The unifying theme? Elephants. Above, Janice poses with a selection of her pieces, including statues of circus elephants ready to be placed on starred pedestals, an elaborate bowl with elephants in low relief, and a mug with an elephant trunk as the handle. Two notable pieces in the second picture include a large blue apothecary jar embellished with the silhouettes of elephants and an ornate champagne holder with pink elephants around the base and rim. Elephant-astic!

 

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Black-and-White Photorama with Robin Dreyer

Robin Dreyer, "Wave Runner," silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 inches.

Robin Dreyer, “Wave Runner,” silver gelatin print, 11 x 14 inches.

 

Photography is alive and well at Penland—all kinds of photography. Photography dates back to 1839 and, in the years since then, it has undergone repeated technical evolution, beginning with daguerreotypes and early paper processes and ending up with today’s digital technologies. Along the way, many fascinating and beautiful methods of image-making have come and not quite gone. Not quite, because artists and craftspeople are in the habit of taking an out-of-date technology (like the potter’s wheel or the letterpress) and adopting it for purely creative purposes.

This is exactly what’s happened in photography, and Penland’s photo workshops cover almost every kind of photography that has ever been practiced: salt printing, cyanotype, platinum, color processes, digital processes, and, of course, gelatin silver photography. What is gelatin silver, you might ask? That’s the technical name for black-and-white darkroom photography, which dominated both art and commercial photography during much of the twentieth century. It’s the kind of photography people used to do in their basements using their dad’s camera. It’s the kind of photography that used to be part of high school and college art programs. The profession of photojournalism and the photography collection of the Museum of Modern Art were built on gelatin silver photography.

If you’ve always wanted to explore the potential of these materials or you are nostalgic for that little darkroom you used to have in your bathroom, or if you are a photographer interested in trying out some different ways of working, we have a one-week workshop this spring that may just be for you: Black-and-White Photorama with Robin Dreyer March 27 – April 2.

 

black and white image of oak tree hung with prayer flags

Robin Dreyer, “Prayer Flags,” silver gelatin print, 10 x 10 inches.

 

Robin has been Penland’s communications manager for twenty years, and for much of that time he’s been the school’s main photographer. Although today he makes pictures for the school using digital cameras and a computer, he shot a lot of Penland’s earlier promotional photographs on black-and-white film and printed them in his darkroom. Black and white was his first photographic love, and he’s never lost that interest. His silver gelatin photographs have been shown in galleries in Asheville, Durham, Greensboro, Raleigh, Atlanta, and New York City. One of his prints won Best in Show at The Art of the Auction, a juried show/auction at the North Carolina Museum of Art. He’s taught two previous Penland workshops and is looking forward to sharing his enthusiasm for this still-great method of making pictures.

“It’s kind of cliché,” Robin says, “but darkroom photography can be magical. You imagine something as you take the picture, you have some meditative time processing the film, and somehow these strange, translucent, negative images appear on your film. Then you take that film into this room, dimly lit in orange, that has cool optical devices and trays full of liquids, and, after a little fussing, you stand and watch a picture emerge on an apparently blank piece of paper. Often it’s not quite what you were imagining when you pressed the shutter; sometimes it’s much better.”

 

black and white image of chickens in a tree

Robin Dreyer, “Dawn Patrol,” silver gelatin print.

 

“My idea for this class,” he continued, “is to streamline the technical parts as much as possible so we can focus on the excitement of creating gelatin silver pictures. We’ll make our own pinhole cameras from tin cans to get grounded in the basics of the process. We’ll use them to make paper negatives and positives. Then we’ll expose film negatives using large-format cameras and plastic cameras. Large-format cameras can be intimidating, but they aren’t that hard to use, and the results can be amazing. Plastic cameras are quite easy to use; they give you very little control, and the results tend to be surprising and sometimes great. So we’ll get negatives a few different ways.

“With those negatives, we’ll make beautiful prints using Penland’s excellent enlargers. At the end of the week, everyone will have a little portfolio of new images—maybe wonderful, maybe weird—along with a deeper understanding of photography, black and white materials, and the mysteries of light and time.”

More information about Black-and-White Photorama with Robin Dreyer (March 27 – April 2)

Register for Black-and-White Photorama

 

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The Potential Energy of One Week

samples of shibori-dyed fabrics

Paisley’s fabric samples from her week-long shibori workshop in October make up a rainbow of colors and patterns. (Photo: Paisley Holloway)

 

As a block of time, a week is most suited to building, developing, progressing. It is long enough to see forward movement, yet large progress tends to happen on the scale of months or years. Most weeks blend together with those on either side of them, more marked by variations to routine than by anything truly out of the ordinary.

But what about the rare, uncommon week? For Jackie Dering and Paisley Holloway, a 1-week workshop at Penland this fall was the ideal opportunity to step away from the general flow of life and immerse themselves in a week of something totally different. The result was more than just a set of new craft skills.

Jackie and Paisley work at Valdese Weavers, a North Carolina company that has created jacquard fabrics for over 100 years. When the opportunity arose for two of the company’s employees to take a Penland workshop thanks to the generous support of Penland friend Laura Levinson, Jackie says, “We both jumped at the chance!”

The workshop, taught in October by textile artist Carol LeBaron, focused on shibori techniques with acid dyes. “Carol really brought a new perspective to the class,” Paisley explained. “It wasn’t traditional shibori, and she really let us go wild with what kind of techniques we wanted to use.”

 

textile artist applying pattern to fabric

Instructor Carol LeBaron demonstrating a screened technique. (Photo: Jackie Dering)

 

At Valdese Weavers, Jackie works with patterns as a designer, and Paisley is a colorist. “It was funny,” Paisley tells me, “she and I went in different directions that were very related to our jobs, but we didn’t do it on purpose.” Paisley focused on the play of colors on fabric, experimenting with color mixing and overdyeing in her pieces. Jackie, meanwhile, found herself exploring patterns and design techniques. She tells me how she got excited about clothespins as a way to create resist patterns: “I thought I knew what they would look like before I prepared the fabric, but it came out totally different from what I expected. It was a cool, happy accident, and so exciting!”

Both Paisley and Jackie returned to Valdese Weavers the next week with lots of samples to pin on their walls. “I have some really cool patterns that I want to try as woven fabric,” Jackie says. Paisley adds, “I look at my pieces all the time for inspiration.”

 

Woman holding a clamped fabric; dyed fabric sample

Jackie with one of her intricately-clamped pieces ready for the dye pot. To the right is one of her finished pieces, the pattern created totally with clothespins. (Photos: left by Amanda Thatch, right by Jackie Dering)

 

A wealth of inspiration is a solid result from a week’s work, but I was surprised to hear just how much more both Jackie and Paisley got out of their workshop. Both of them commented on how creatively rejuvenated and refreshed they felt by Friday afternoon. “When you’re designing for a client every day, you can start to feel a little stagnant,” Jackie explained. “It was great to feel so engaged in something new and to know that I’m still a creative individual.”

The class quickly developed a sense of community, too. “There were so many people from different backgrounds who were there for different reasons,” notes Paisley. Jackie commented on how rare that feeling of rapid community can be. “By the end of the week, you feel like you’ve made all these friends. As you get farther along in your career, that doesn’t happen as much,” she explained. “For me, that was a really nice reminder, just feeling like ‘I’m still a human being; I can still make a new friend who’s older than me, who’s different than me.’”

It’s a tall order for one week to serve up personal connections, intense focus, new skills, freedom to experiment, and creative validation. But on those rare weeks when the pieces all come together, surely the only thing to do is to embrace it all.

—Sarah Parkinson

 

 

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Meet Penland’s 2016 Core Fellows!

Five new Core Fellows will be arriving at Penland in February, and we couldn’t be more excited to welcome them. They will be joining second-year fellows Elmar Fujita, Daniel Garver, Morgan Hill, and Bryan Parnham in the core house next year—and all of you in the studios!

 

Eleanor Anderson

portrait of Eleanor Anderson and 5 clay vessels

Eleanor graduated in 2012 with a BA in Studio Art from Colorado College in Colorado Springs. She has been a concentration student at Penland and an educational assistant at Arrowmont. Eleanor is a ceramics artist with interests also in textiles and printmaking. eleanoranderson.com

 

Thomas Campbell

brooch by Thomas Campbell, portrait of Thomas

Thomas graduated in 2008 with a BA in History and Africana Studies from Hendrix College in Conway, Arkansas. He has continued to pursue his interests in wood and metalworking at the University of Arkansas while working as a fabricator for his family’s steel business. Thomas will use his time at Penland to focus on making functional furniture and objects in metal and wood. thomascampbellcraft.com

 

Rachel Kedinger

Rachel Kedinger and her screwdriver

Rachel received her BFA in Jewelry and Metalsmithing from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2012. She has worked at the Smith Shop in Detroit, MI for the last two-and-a-half years as a metalworker, designer, and instructor. Rachel has been a frequent Penland student and was, most recently, the studio assistant for Seth Gould’s fall concentration. At Penland she will continue to hone her skills as a blacksmith and metalsmith, while exploring the addition of wood and ceramics to her designs.

 

Kyle Kulchar

furniture by Kyle Kulchar, portrait of Kyle

Kyle studied at Kendall College of Art and Design before coming to Penland to assist Ashley Eriksmoen’s class this past summer. He was a student in Sylvie Rosenthal’s fall concentration. As a core student, he will continue to pursue his interest in woodworking while incorporating forged ironwork and fine metalworking. kylekulcharcraft.wordpress.com

 

Alexandra McClay

portrait of Alexandra and plexiglass sculpture

Alexandra is a book artist with a BFA from the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning. Alexandra hopes to use the core fellowship to build skills to expand her conceptual bookmaking as she works towards being a studio artist and teacher. She has been a work-study student and a studio assistant in the Penland book studio, and has worked as an assistant for Penland instructors Dan and Vicki Essig. cargocollective.com/alexmcclay

 

We’ll miss Jamie Karolich, Joshua Kovarik, Meghan Martin, Emily Rogstad, and Tyler Stoll once they finish up their time as core fellows this winter, but we take solace in knowing that they’ll always be part of the Penland family. Come back often, y’all!

 

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An Artist on the Factory Floor

Tom Shields at Century Furniture

Tom Shields at Century with one of the tables he is working into a project. On the right is a stack of tables in progress on the factory floor.

 

During his time as a resident artist at Penland, Tom Shield’s studio was constantly filled with old, worn furniture. “I collect wood furniture from the trash and let it pile up in my studio until it slowly starts to work itself into groups,” he once explained. “In the course of a few weeks, I constantly move and cluster chairs around my studio in different bunches. Once the groups get narrowed I start letting them talk.” The sculptures that result from this process are marked not only by Tom’s hands, but by the hands of those who used the furniture before him over days and weeks and years.

As interesting as it can be, working with discarded furniture does have obvious limitations. “For me, it’s always been on my list of where I want to go as an artist to up the pedigree of my materials,” Tom told me recently. Thanks to a brand-new collaboration with Century Furniture, he now has the opportunity to do just that.

Tom is the inaugural artist-in-residence at Century’s case goods factory in Hickory, NC. Hickory has long been known as one of the furniture capitals of the world, and Century has established its own reputation as a producer of high-end, heirloom-quality furniture.

During his three-month residency, Tom has free reign over what he creates—and he also has free access to a whole new caliber of raw materials. “I get to use anything that’s a second,” he explains. That means dozens, if not hundreds, of brand new furniture pieces that are only slightly less than perfect. “I’m super thankful for the whole opportunity,” he says.

 

Tom Shield's table sculpture and detail

The beginning of Tom’s first project at Century. As he remarked, “Devil’s in the details.”

 

A quick scroll through Tom’s Instagram gallery shows that he’s already put the time and materials to good use. Since the residency began on October 4, Tom has been working on three different sculptures made from Century tables. Two are crafted from groupings of identical tables, while the third is made from a single piece. This one is a bit of a departure for Tom: he has cut the table in two, dropped one side down three-quarters of an inch, and shifted it over two inches. “Because the pieces are so new and so pristine, I barely have to change them at all to make them into something completely different,” Tom tells me. “Before, I felt like I needed to do more to put my hand in it and have the same impact.”

The new materials are not the only departure from Tom’s individual studio practice. As he describes it, “I’m making work right on the same floor as all the people who are making the furniture for Century.” A lot of those people have been in the furniture industry for thirty or forty years, and Tom wasn’t sure how he’d be received as the first studio artist in their midst. “It’s intense, and it’s definitely working under a microscope, but everybody has been super nice and really helpful,” he says. “I feel like half of my day is spent just talking to people, sharing ideas and approaches.” And, now that he’s getting comfortable with how everything works at Century, “I’m just going to start making crazier and crazier things,” he laughs.

 

Tom reimagined these Century tables as a stack.

From sketch to sculpture, Tom is transforming these five Century tables into a single piece.

 

As a woodworker who has spent so much time with old furniture, Tom is intimately aware of what can bring a piece to the end of its life: the disposable design, planned obsolescence, and shoddy craftsmanship that are so common in much of today’s mass market furniture. Being at Century has provided a reassuring look at the other end of the furniture spectrum. “Every piece of furniture is touched by so many hands and created with such individual care,” Tom states. “I think people have this misconception now that there are CNC machines and other tools and you just put a bunch of wood in one end and it comes out as a piece of furniture at the other end. That’s not the case at all. So many different people are involved in every aspect of creating a piece.”

In fact, Tom revealed that the high level of craftsmanship at Century has actually changed the way he works with furniture. As he describes, “Normally I take everything apart by just banging on the joints. But at Century, I can’t get pieces apart. I’m having to learn to do everything I’ve been doing with all the pieces completely intact. It’s a whole new challenge, but it’s been an amazing opportunity.”

The opportunity was made possible by Ande Maricich, an active friend and supporter of Penland’s. Ande has deep ties to the furniture industry, and her husband served as Century’s CEO for a while. “Ande is really invested in both the craft world and furniture manufacturing,” Tom remarks. She had been excited by the partnership of artists and manufacturing facilities in the Kohler Arts/Industry residency and wanted to create a similar partnership at Century. When she saw Tom’s furniture sculptures a few years ago at the Penland Benefit Auction, she talked to him about the possibility of a residency at Century. Now that it’s become a reality, Ande would like to expand the program to include other artists and other factories and further strengthen the reciprocal ties between art and industry.

Reflecting on those ties, Tom points out that both he and the Century employees he’s working alongside are making things by hand. “I’m an artist, but they’re all artisans working on the floor, too—what’s really the difference?” he asks.

—Sarah Parkinson

 

After completing his residency at Century in December, Tom will be at Penland for the spring as the studio assistant to Raivo Vihman’s timber framing concentration. He was also just selected for a Kohler Arts/Industry residency—congrats, Tom!

 

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Photo of the Week: Clay Studio Friends

Daniel Johnston and Bill Jones at Penland

On the left is North Carolina potter Daniel Johnston. On the right is Bill Jones. In the middle is a pot that Daniel made as a demonstration a couple of weeks ago for the two-month, fall clay concentration taught by Suze Lindsay and Kent McLaughlin. In 2011, Bill was a beginning student in Kent and Suze’s last concentration. He returned in 2012 for a concentration taught by Matt Kelleher. After that, he worked as Daniel’s apprentice for two years. This fall, he’s back in the Penland clay studio as Suze and Kent’s assistant. This is one way to become a potter.

 

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