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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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“It’s a Boot Life” with Lisa Sorrell

Bespoke cowboy boot maker Lisa Sorrell, who taught Working with Leather in the textiles studio last month, has made a video (#59 in her ongoing series “It’s a Boot Life“) about her Penland experience:

 

 

In this 10-minute webisode, Lisa shows off work by her Penland students, takes a glassblowing lesson with hotshop instructor Nancy Callan, and teaches you how to trim a leather insole. Enjoy!
 
 

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Char Walker Releases a Hawk

On April 24, we had a visit from Nina Fischesser, director of the Blue Ridge Wildlife Institute at Lees-McRae College. Nina was accompanied by her student Shannon Grangier, three red-tailed hawks, a barn owl, and Char Walker, who is a volunteer at the institute, a glassblower, and a veteran of twenty Penland glass Concentration workshops.

They were at Penland because Nina thought it was an ideal place to release Gunshot, a red-tailed hawk that was rehabilitated at the institute after being injured by shotgun pellets. She invited Char to do that actual release. (See video above.)

 

red-tailed hawks at penland school

The other hawks that came along are the institute’s “ambassadors.” These are birds who would not survive in the wild. They are trained to be calm around groups of people and are shown to visitors and at public events as a way of promoting wildlife conservation and the work of the institute. Here we see Shannon on the right with a red-tailed hawk and Nina on the left with a leucistic red-tailed hawk. Leucism is a genetic condition in which parts or all of an animal’s body surface lack cells capable of producing any type of pigment.

 

char walker with barn owl at penland school

Here’s Char with a barn owl.

 

hawk release at penland school

The event was attended by students, staff, and neighbors. As we were walking off the knoll, everyone kept repeating some version of, “Wow, we were here for that.”

 

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Photo(s) of the Week: Upholstered Furniture

working in the Penland wood studio

Core fellows Meghan Martin and Elmar Fujita during the last few days of Annie Evelyn‘s workshop on upholstered furniture.

 

upholstered furniture at Penland

Here are their finished chairs at show-and-tell.

 

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Cooking Out, Minoan Style

jerolyn morrison minoan dinner at penland

Jerolyn Morrison

 

A few weeks ago, students in Penland’s spring session had a special meal that included lentils, chick peas, and other dishes cooked using methods reconstructed through artifacts from the late Minoan civilization of 1200 – 1500 B.C.E. The dishes were cooked over glowing coals in earthenware pots made by students in Cynthia Bringle’s spring workshop. The project was led by Jerolyn Morrison, who was a guest teacher for two weeks.

Jerolyn’s history with Penland goes back to 1996, when she came as a student just after finishing her B.A. in ceramics at Baylor University. She spent most of the next four years at the school, serving variously as studio assistant, coffee house manager, breakfast cook, and volunteer coordinator for the auction. During this time, she says, she became interested in the “life of the object.” This interest led her to a Masters in anthropology, a Fulbright for study in Greece, and, most recently, a Ph.D in archeology from the University of Leicester in England.

 

jerolyn morrison minoan dinner at Penland

Taste testing

 

The teaching and cooking she did this spring at Penland were based on her Ph.D. project, which involved reproducing both Minoan cookpots and cooking. Drawing on 100 years of archeology, she began reproducing the cookpots using the local clay in Crete. Then, working from studies of charred food remains, burnt seeds, and residue extracted from 3,000-year-old pots, she assembled what she refers to as the Minoan grocery list. “The clay, the pots, the wood that was burned, the food that was being cooked: once you have this,” she said, “then it’s interpretive.” Which is to say, there’s no way to know exactly how Minoan food tasted. She also had to learn, through experimentation, how to cook in the three-legged earthenware pots. Present day residents of Crete, she explained, still cook on open fires, but they have forgotten how to cook in ceramic pots.

Having completed her Ph.D., Jerolyn continues to live part of the year in Crete where she runs a business called Minoan Tastes that caters special events using the pots, techniques, and recipes she developed through this work. A cookbook is in process. “It mixes anthropology and archeology in a way that’s informative rather than academic,” she said.

 

jerolyn morrison minoan dinner at Penland

Flatbread over the coals

 

Her recent stint at Penland was literally a dream come true. “I had this dream, an actual dream,” she said, “ that I was doing this at Penland. So I called Cynthia Bringle to ask her if there was any way I could make this happen. She was, at that moment, planning her spring workshop and invited me to join her for a few weeks.”

“It was great,” she said. “We got to talk about archeology and pottery as we were working. The rest of the workshop was throwing and these pots are all made with handbuilding techniques, so it expanded the scope of the class that way.”

 

jerolyn morrison minoan dinner at penland

There were benefits for Jerolyn as well. She appreciated that her Penland students did not stick to reproducing traditional Minoan cookware. “They decorated the pots, which the Minoans didn’t do,” she explained. “And they had no cultural constraints about what the pots should be. It was freeing, and I’d like to work a little more like that. This was a gift they gave back to me.”

 

jerolyn morrison minoan dinner at penland

And there was consensus that the dinner was delicious.

-Robin Dreyer

 

jerolyn morrison minoan dinner at penland

Cynthia Bringle, Jerolyn, and the whole class.

 

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“I moved the image until something made me stop.”

Betsy DeWitt has an image.

 

The image, an idea, pulls her slowly through weeks, sometimes months. Eventually, she takes a photograph of a house, and makes a digital negative. There’s no rush to Betsy’s process. By the time we visit, she’s made some tests of white-gum prints featuring the “becoming-dilapidated” dwelling–white-on-white prints. She’s making one now. We watch her reach into a box-like space lined with black trash bags. She reaches in as if to pull out a bird, a rabbit, something alive–a wood case. She unlatches the case, lifts the print.

 

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“Photography, for me, is a back door to chemistry and to printmaking,” says Betsy as she washes the print in water. The orangey rust color, Betsy explains, is the potassium dichromate she’s applied. It will soak out eventually, leaving white pigment in the hardening gum arabic. This is nineteenth-century magic, and Penland’s photography studio is a technical juke joint packed with the stuff of present and past: small dark bottles, baths, brushes, large-format cameras, every kind of camera, a pod of Macs, printers, white spaces for setting up, wires and wires, sweet class portraits on the walls, dags and cyanotypes, strands of tiny rooms, stacks, cupboards, and a shifty, haunted-house hallway into the big dark. Betsy manages it all.

 

In one of the small back rooms, Betsy shows us more of her work:

 

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“I didn’t know what I was looking for,” says Betsy about making these small, intimate portholes. “I was thinking–I have been thinking–about memory and family. I don’t know all the stories in these photographs. But as I framed them, the images began to talk to each other.”

 

The images, Betsy explains, were made by looking into a microscope through the viewfinder of a digital camera. “I moved the image until something made me stop,” Betsy says. When a halting feeling arrived, she took a photograph. Here’s her set-up:

 

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“Warmth” is a word that artist Amanda Lee uses to describe Betsy DeWitt’s work. You might not expect how right this word is, seeing the set-up, above. But Betsy’s work glows. She turns on the digital camera to show us her process with the microscope. As she moves a scanned photograph with her hand, dropping us into the family album, another kind of intelligence, a story about an artist’s intelligence, begins. Watch:

 

 

Writing by Elaine Bleakney; photographs and video by Robin Dreyer

 

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Follow Betsy DeWitt on Instagram here and at Penland Photo. Did you know that Betsy also serves as Penland’s programs coordinator? Tis true.

 

 

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