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Paulus Berensohn

 

Paulus Berenshohn photo by Dan Bailey

Paulus Berensohn on the back deck of his house during “Splash.” Photo by Dan Bailey.

 

“Do something. Start with pleasure. Make a list of all the things that are pleasurable in your life and then make an art form out of one of them. And if you’re courageous, make a list of all the things that are difficult in your life and make an art form out of one of them.” -Paulus Berensohn, speaking in the film To Spring from the Hand

 

On the afternoon of Sunday, June 18, 2017, a group of friends gathered at the Carolina Memorial Sanctuary, a green burial site near Asheville, North Carolina, to say a final farewell to artist and teacher Paulus Berensohn. In a clearing on the wooded site, a grave had been hand-dug by Jonah Stanford who, when he was a teenager, was the first of several dozen young people to adopt Paulus as “fairy godfather.” A small crowd waited by the grave and then, through the woods came the sound of a fiddle and an accordion leading a group who were bearing Paulus’s blanket-wrapped body in a sling while several more people carried a cardboard coffin that had been completely covered, by Paulus and a number of his friends, with a collage of drawings, pictures, paper, and poems.

The body and the box were laid gently on the ground. Paulus’s friend Debra Fraiser welcomed everyone, and then someone rang a little bell, which was the bell from the screen door of Paulus’s house, just down the road from Penland School. Every day at 5:00 PM, Paulus welcomed visitors for “Splash,” which meant engaging conversation and a small glass of scotch mixed with fruit juice. Debra explained that some of Paulus’s most frequent visitors would be speaking, each of them introduced by the bell. This led to twenty minutes or so filled mostly with the reading of poems.

Paulus was a great lover of poetry. He had many poems memorized and enjoyed reciting them (often with a bit of embellishment) in his soft, slightly-smoky voice accompanied by expansive gestures with his hands and arms that left no doubt that he was and would always be a dancer. He had beautiful handwriting and often copied poems into the handmade, Coptic-bound journals that were an integral part of his wide-ranging artistic practice. Although he was made famous by his book Finding One’s Way with Clay, and he was a beloved teacher of clay workshops, for many years he had also taught workshops in the making and keeping of journals. To encourage the practice of copying poems, he would dictate them while his students wrote them into their own books.

Paulus Berensohn photograph by Dan Bailey

Dancing in the Ridgeway building, 1980s. Photo by Dan Bailey

Paulus grew up with a desire to dance, and as a young man he studied at Julliard and Bennington, trained with Martha Graham and Merce Cunningham, and then danced professionally in New York City. But then at a gathering outside of the city he saw the potter Karen Karnes working in her studio. “It had a big window. I stood there and watched Karen from the back, sitting on her old Italian kick wheel,” he said in a 2009 interview. “The first thing I saw her do was to pull up a cylinder of clay and at the same time lengthen her spine. And then—this was what got me—she reached for her sponge in the slip bucket, picked up the sponge, without taking her eyes off the cylinder, and squeezed some slip onto her work. The gesture of sightlessly reaching with her hand was elegant and inevitable. I thought, that’s a dance to learn.”

Through Karnes, he met M.C. Richards and followed her to a pottery workshop she was teaching at Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine. He fell in love with clay, and left the world of professional dance behind him, although dancing continued to be part of his daily life. He began teaching pottery almost immediately, and in 1969 one of his fellow Haystack students, Cynthia Bringle, invited him to teach a workshop with her at Penland. Around this same time, he had started experimenting with pinching and other handbuilding techniques. In deference to Cynthia’s great skill at the wheel, he taught pinching in their workshop and that technique came to define his relationship with clay.

Bill Brown, Penland’s director at the time, invited Paulus to return as a teacher and then to stay for a one-year residency. During that year he wrote a long letter to his former students at the Wallingford Potters Guild about pinching and the use of colored clay. This text became the basis for the book Finding One’s Way with Clay, one of the most influential craft books of the 20th century. In addition to detailed instructions and photographs by True Kelly (who still lives near Penland), it includes descriptions of his teaching exercises and suggests a meditative, introspective approach to making. First published in 1972, it is still in print.

 

In the Penland weaving studio, 1970s. Photo by True Kelly.

Paulus became a great teacher of workshops, and through them he touched thousands of lives. He taught at Penland and Haystack and other venues in the U.S., the U.K, and Australia. He also spoke to dozens of groups in workshops taught by his friends. In his teaching and in his life, he came to embody a few strong messages: that creative work, or “behaving artistically” as he often put it, has an intrinsic value to the maker and to the world; that art need not be connected with commerce; and that the “craft arts” (again, his term), because of their connection to primary materials, can help to heal the earth.

 

Paulus Berensohn photo by Ann Hawthorne

In the Penland clay studio, 1999. Photo by Ann Hawthorne

In recognition of his teaching, he was made an honorary fellow of the American Craft Council, he was given an honorary membership in the National Council on Education in the Ceramic Arts (NCECA), he received a Distinguished Educator’s Award from the James Renwick Alliance, and he was Penland’s 2016 Outstanding Artist Educator.

 

Talking to a student group in the Penland printmaking studio, 2012. Photo by Robin Dreyer

Sometime in the 1980s he settled near Penland School and lived there until his death. He loved the school, which he once referred to as “a kind of monastery on behalf of the human hand.” He taught workshops regularly and for several years he served as the school’s program director. He often spoke and recited poetry at the gatherings that open each Penland session. Although he did not sell his work, he gave it generously to the Penland auctions (and to the auctions of other organizations). He was an informal advisor to several Penland directors, and, through his close friend and student Meg Peterson, he was a great influence on the programs Penland runs in the local school system, many of which involve handmade journals. He was an active supporter of various community groups. He nurtured and encouraged young artists and the children of many of his friends. And he welcomed scores of those friends to his door.

Over the years his artwork expanded to include drawings, needlework, paste paper painting, monoprinting, cut and woven photographs, and, of course, his marvelous journals. He felt that mending should be an art form, and his beautiful thrift store clothes were often enhanced with carefully stitched patches. Although he had a well-known suspicion of electronic technology, he loved the color printer, which he used in producing the cards he sent by the hundreds on Valentine’s Day and the solstice (which he liked to call “soulstice”).

 

Journals by Paulus Berensohn

Journals. Photo by Dan Bailey

Paulus died on June 16 in a hospice facility in Asheville about a week after he had a major stroke. His health has been steadily declining and a group of close friends had been keeping an eye on him and taking care of his food and other needs. Nevertheless, he continued to have visitors and to show up at community gatherings, gallery openings, and the Penland coffee shop. Nobody who saw him in the month before his death or who sat with his body after he died failed to notice that his ponytail had given way to a short haircut and that his white hair was mostly dyed bright blue.

After the graveside poetry was finished, Paulus’s friends gently placed his body in the cardboard casket and lowered it into the ground. People took turns tossing a little dirt into the grave, which then gave way to shoveling until they had made a mulch-covered mound under the trees.

 

June 18, 2017. Photo by Robin Dreyer

In addition to introducing each of the speakers that afternoon, Debra Frasier said a few words of her own about the meaning of Paulus’s life—and about that blue hair. She had been listening to the book Guns, Germs, and Steel by Jared Diamond, which says that wild barley and flax had a seed pod that burst in order to spread its seed as widely as possible. The domestication process involved collecting and replanting the few seed pods that did not burst—the tame ones. Then Debra explained that a month before his death, Paulus cut his hair short and asked to have it dyed blue because, he said, “I want to look wild going into death.”

“Paulus was an undomesticated wild plant,” she continued. “His seed pod was from one of the wild stalks: it burst into the air, and wildly spread those seeds—into the heart of every one of us standing here. Each of us now carries the wild seed. And this is now our job: we are to carry the wild seed forward and grow it again, in all our lives. Paulus gave each of us something wild, something at the edge of ourselves, to carry forward. What will that be? What will you do with it? That is the question.”

-Robin Dreyer

 

Paulus Berensohn, “Hand on the Heart of the World,” pen, colored pencil, clay, 29 x 32 inches, 2012. Photo by David Ramsey

 

There will be a celebration of Paulus’s life at Penland on July 22. The details are on this page, which may be updated periodically between now and the event.

 

More about Paulus

Here is a great tribute to Paulus from Debra Frasier and Dan Bailey that was presented at the 2016 Penland benefit auction as part of honoring Paulus as Outstanding Artist Educator.

 

Here is the trailer for the film To Spring from the Hand. This film, made by Paulus’s long-time friend the late Neil Lawrence, covers many aspects of Paulus’s life and does a beautiful job of presenting his ideas about art and life. The website for the film is gone, but there are some copies of the DVD (also copies of Finding Once’s Way with Clay) available from the Penland supply store (828-765-2359, ext. 1321). Neil also posted four short pieces on YouTube.

Articles published about Paulus after his death:
New York Times
NCECA
The Mitchell News Journal

Paulus’s friend Caverly Morgan, a Buddhist teacher who was an important part of his last days and the events that followed, posted these thoughts.

The Archive of American Art has an extensive oral history interview conducted by Mark Shapiro in 2009.

Garth Clark wrote this short piece about meeting Paulus in 2015.

Here are links to several Paulus videos from the Fetzer Institute
Why We Create

Bookmaking

The Power of Listening

An Artful Approach to Listening

 

 

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Photo of the Week: Another Penland Romance

Richard Margolis and Sherry Phillips

Sherry Phillips and Richard Margolis met at Penland 30 years ago. Sherry was taking a textiles workshop and Richard was teaching a photography workshop. A long-term romance ensued. They stopped in for a visit this week and celebrated their 30th anniversary while they were here. Vive l’amour!

 

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Photo of the Week: The Women of Iron

three women working at the anvil

Ann Klicka, Rebekah Frank, and Meghan Martin working together to taper a steel component for a large sculpture Ann is making.

 

The beautiful work coming out of the studio would be reason enough for a blog post, but something even more momentous is happening in session 1 iron: instructor Rebekah Frank, assistant Ann Klicka, and coordinator Meghan Martin are combining forces for some serious female blacksmithing power. While accomplished female instructors and female students of all levels are a common sight in the iron studio, it’s the first time in Penland’s history that the iron instructor, studio assistant, and studio coordinator have all been women. It seemed like an event worthy of recognition (and some serious camera cheesin’).

 

three women pose for a silly picture in the iron studio

 

And no, iron coordinator Daniel Beck hasn’t gone anywhere—he’s just across the driveway this session as a student in Kaitlyn Becker and Daniel Clayman’s Moldmaking for Art and Science workshop!

 

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Photo of the Week: Warping Mill

Allie Dudley using a warping mill at Penland

Student Allie Dudley using a warping mill to measure out threads before warping a loom in the spring weaving workshop taught by Tommye McClure Scanlin and Bahkti Ziek.

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Photo(s) of the Week: Jetsonorama!

Chip Thomas at Penland School

Chip Thomas, a.k.a. Jetsonorama, is a physician, artist, and activist who lives and works in the Navajo Nation. He spent 10 days at Penland as a visiting artist this spring. Chip gave a beautiful presentation about his art and his life, and he created this piece, which covers two sides of a small storage building called Green Acres.

 

Chip Thomas at Penland School

Chip made the photograph in the Penland clay studio. It was printed in 3-foot-wide vertical strips on an architectural plotter. He carefully applied the strips to the building using acrylic matt medium. He was assisted by Kristyn Watson, who is a student in the spring textiles workshop. Chip developed this method as he created numerous installations on roadside stands, abandoned buildings, and other structures in the Navajo Nation. He has also made posters and large graphics for protest marches and other events, and, through his Painted Desert Project, he has brought other street artists and muralists to the reservation to work with him.

 

Chip Thomas piece at Penland School

The pots Chip photographed were on their way to the wood kiln, so he titled the installation, Clay Pieces Pretending to be Contestants on The Apprentice (i.e., pots waiting to be fired.)

Follow Chip/Jetsonorama @jetsonorama on Instagram
Follow Painted Desert Project on Facebook
Here’s a good video about Chip and his work.
There are short process videos of Chip’s Penland piece here and here.

 

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Penland Director Jean McLaughlin to Retire

portrait of Jean McLaughlin taken by resident artist Mercedes Jelinek

A recent portrait of Jean taken at Penland by resident artist Mercedes Jelinek.

Jean McLaughlin, director of Penland School of Crafts, will retire in December 2017. Jean began working at Penland in May 1998 and has presided over an extraordinary period of growth, development, and stabilization at the school.

During these two decades, Penland has built new studios, expanded programs and scholarships, conducted two successful fundraising campaigns, greatly solidified its base of support, and grown its endowment from $2.1 million to $17 million.

One of Jean’s first projects was to commission architect Abie Harris and landscape architect Sam Reynolds to create a campus master plan, which has guided the most visible changes at Penland. Major infrastructure upgrades include new studios for iron, wood, printmaking, letterpress, drawing and painting, and book arts, with construction underway for new photography and papermaking studios. The clay, metals, glass, and textiles studios were improved or expanded. There were major renovations to historic Horner Hall and The Pines, and many other old buildings were repaired or renovated. Several new housing structures were built, and attention was paid to accessibility and safety campus-wide.

Under Jean’s leadership, the school was placed on the National Register of Historic Places as the Penland School of Crafts Historic District, and the Jane Kessler Memorial Archives was established to preserve Penland’s history. Dozens of new scholarships were endowed, the workshop program was expanded, a writing residency was established, and new programs were created to serve the local community. All of this was made possible through a significant expansion of the staff and the support of a devoted board of trustees. Jean’s accomplishments were recently honored nationally when she received a 2016 Distinguished Educator’s Award from the James Renwick Alliance.

 

cutting the ribbon for the opening of new studio buildings

Jean leads a group at the ribbon cutting to celebrate the completion of the Samuel L. Phillips Family Foundation Studio in 2015.

 

“I came to Penland with big aspirations,” says Jean. “I knew how powerfully the school had affected the lives of artists, and I knew how important its history had been to the craft movement in our country. My desire was to make change happen that would evolve and improve Penland without losing its distinctive character. Looking back, I see so many moments that fill me with pride—accomplishments that were made possible through the wise counsel and enthusiastic support of many people. I am grateful to have been part of making these important and needed improvements happen.”

Speaking for the board of trustees, chair Alida Fish said, “The quality of Jean McLaughlin’s leadership has been extraordinary—an inspiration to us all. For the past two decades, she has provided a vision keenly focused on growth and innovation. Thanks to her unwavering commitment, Penland is now well positioned for continuing success.”

Later in the year, we’ll have celebrations and going-away parties and post an interview with Jean, but for now we’ll just say, thank you for everything.

A more comprehensive list of what has been accomplished at Penland in the last 19 years can be found here.

 

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Announcing Penland’s Newest Resident Artists

At long last! Our 2017 Resident Artist Program selection process is complete. We received an outstanding pool of 61 applications from across the United States for the four available positions. Our selection committee did an excellent job reviewing and evaluating applications; it is a thorough process, and we couldn’t do it without the time and energy they give so generously. Thank you to everyone involved in this year’s selection.

We would like to officially announce and welcome four new resident artists who will arrive at Penland September 15, 2017 to begin their three-year residencies.

 

Eleanor Annand

Eleanor Annand

“The expressive qualities of a line and the development of visual history are at the root of my work. I create drawings, paintings and prints that tell the story of my line. Process is at the forefront of this exploration. In a state of deep meditation I search for order and progress amidst a restless mind. Through scribed and abraded surfaces images emerge as representations of this often raw state of mind.”

Eleanor Annand currently lives in Asheville, NC, where she has been co-owner and art director at 7 Ton Design & Letterpress Company since 2015. She maintains a studio practice and exhibits her prints, drawings, and paintings on steel at galleries throughout the US and Canada. She has a Bachelor of Graphic Design from the College of Design at North Carolina State University and was a core fellow at Penland from 2010-2012. In 2016 she taught at Penland for the first time. This winter Ele is a resident at the Jentel Artists Residency Program in Banner, WY. During her residency at Penland, Ele plans to develop innovative uses for the press using printed and folded paper; combine printing, mark making, and design to create new work; and explore new formats for her work at a larger scale.

 

Yoonjee Kwak

Yoonjee Kwak

“In Korea, when people talk about someone’s personality, we often use vessel as a metaphor of one’s spirit of tolerance… When I work with clay, my interactive conversation with the clay is vital to the process. While I slowly build up clay coils from the bottom, my hand marks remain on the surface. It records elements of movement, time and my feelings.”

Originally from South Korea, Yoonjee Kwak currently lives in Rochester, NY, where she is a resident artist at the Rochester Institute of Technology. She exhibits her functional objects and sculpture throughout the US and South Korea. She received a BFA in Ceramics and Glass at Hong-Ik University in Seoul, South Korea before earning her MFA in Ceramics at the School for American Crafts (SAC) at Rochester Institute of Technology in 2014.
She was selected as a 2016 Emerging Artist by Ceramics Monthly and was a summer resident artist at the Archie Bray Foundation, Helena, Montana that same year. Yonjee has spent time at Penland as both a student and a studio assistant. During her residency she intends to expand the scale and scope of her work, experimenting with installation and the relationships created among multiple works presented as a group.

 

Matt Repsher

Matt Repsher

“I draw inspiration from architecture and how repetition is used to create structure and form in buildings. Using pots as my canvas, I carve and paint the surface to appear as if it is built by layers of arches, posts, lintels, and discs… My interest in pattern has moved me towards a long-term investigation of how the layers of carved and painted patterns can optically alter and manipulate the profile of my pots, visually stretching and compressing the vessels.”

Matt lives in Santa Fe, NM where he maintains a studio while teaching occasional workshops and classes. His work is represented by several esteemed craft galleries and has been shown throughout the US in group and solo exhibitions. Matt has a BFA from Pennsylvania State University and an MFA from Indiana University. He was the studio director at Santa Fe Clay from 2005-2008 and a resident artist at the Pocosin Arts Center (NC) from 2015-2016. Matt co-taught a concentration at Penland last fall. He looks forward to his residency at Penland as a way to be surrounded and influenced by the collective energy of artists working in all media. He plans to research pattern, material, and form through both 2D and 3D explorations.

 

Laura Wood

Laura Wood

“I began exploring the human form through dance. When I made the transition from dance to ornamentation to express my creative interests, one common thread emerged: a passion for the body and how this instrument is closely linked with our personal identities. This history of corporeal study will always be a driving force behind the work I create.”

Laura Wood is a jewelry artist living in Asheville, NC. Her work has been selected for many exhibitions throughout the US, most recently as a 2015 SNAG Emerging Jewelry Artist at SOFA Chicago. Her work can be found in select galleries throughout the US and in the permanent collections of the Gregg Museum of Art at North Carolina State University and The Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin. Laura was the founding voice of the annual ECU Symposium and is a co-founder of Jewelry Edition, a creative project to facilitate the growth of jewelry artists. Laura presented at the 2015 Yuma Arts Symposium and taught a spring metals concentration at Penland in 2016. She earned a BFA from the University of Georgia and an MFA from East Carolina University. As a resident artist Laura wants to expand her studio practice, amplify her teaching philosophy, and connect with the Penland community to better understand how artists can sustain and evolve a place in the craft world.

There will be three openings in the Resident Artist Program in 2018. The application deadline is January 15, 2018; artists working in all media will be eligible.

 

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