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Marcia Macdonald, 1958-2010

We are very sad to report the death of our friend Marcia Macdonald, who passed away on July 21 after a long struggle with cancer. Our thoughts go out to her friends, family, and her husband Steve. Marcia was wonderful jeweler, a superb teacher, and a brilliant human being. She was smart, funny, beautiful, talented, hard-working, generous, and full of life. It’s almost impossible to believe that she is gone.

Penland’s program director Dana Moore, who was in close contact with Marcia during the last year, said, “So many of us have lost so much this week with Marcia’s passing. Nobody could have loved life more or have instilled more passion in students, colleagues, and friends. The pain of her loss is matched only by our gratitude for having known her.”

Chicken brooch by Marcia Macdonald
"Fat Old Chicken" a brooch by Marcia Macdonald

Marcia taught regularly at Penland beginning in 1993. She also taught at Arrowmont and Haystack. Her work appeared in many publications and exhibitions and received numerous awards. She was a former board member of the Society of North American Goldsmiths.

In addition to her work as a jeweler, during the last year of her life she managed the sales gallery at the Green Hill Center for North Carolina Art in Greensboro. Laura Way, who is Green Hill’s director, sent us this note about Marcia. “Her short time working with us here, bringing her great vision AND organizational skills to our shop, was a special time for all of us—getting to know and love her—her honesty, creativity, intelligence, generosity and sense of humor. Every day she was here, she made it a special day.”


Necklace by Marcia Macdonald

Marcia donated this piece to this summer’s Penland benefit auction. It’s a bit of a departure from her earlier work, and it came with this note: “The past year has presented me with some serious health issues. This has affected me on so many levels, how could it not also affect my work? Cherishing every moment, trying not to sweat the small stuff, simplifying my life, and doing exactly what I need and want to be doing at any given time are my current goals. This piece represents structure, strength, cell growth, and a shiny little window of hope.”


"Necklace for Marcia" click to see it bigger

In November, the metals community came together to create a necklace for Marcia that brought together elements made by more than fifty artists. Although it is magnificent, it is only a token of the love and affection that she inspired.

The Society of North American Goldsmiths (SNAG) has set up a memorial page on their website, which includes a series of tributes from her friends. And here’s a link to Marcia’s obituary in the Greensboro paper.


Goodbye, Marcia, we will miss you.

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Earl and Jacqueline Bell and the Penland Clay Studio

Earl and Jacqueline Bell drove back to their home in Detroit a couple of weeks ago after a two week class in the Penland clay studio. They were anticipating an entire drive of debriefing: a thorough review of stories, new skills, and experiences. Just before they left, Earl and Jacqueline joined me on a sunny morning outside of The Pines to chat about their experiences at Penland. As students were preparing to display their work at Northlight, the Bells were packing their car to travel home. They share a relaxed and gracious character. Jacqueline’s even voice carried the conversation; Earl rhythmically interjected with engaging stories and insights.

This was the fifth ceramics class the Bells have taken together. Print & Clay Buffet, taught by Kathy King and Paul Wandless, included a vast range of processes and techniques combining imagery and ceramics. Sgraffito, transfer, appliqué, stamping, screening, and printmaking were some of the processes covered. The quality of work produced under Kathy and Paul’s instruction was incredible; the final collection of class work was an attractive mix of vibrant colors, heightened contrast, and layers upon layers of imagery. The Bells were thrilled to take home the class’s collaborative urn, which they bought at the closing scholarship auction.

The first time Jacqueline came to Penland, she was self-conscious about her lack of an art background, though she was always an appreciator and dabbled in paint. Penland’s community is supportive and inspiring, and her intimidation quickly disappeared. “It’s amazing, the amount of creativity you’re surrounded by,” she said. “The ideas you get from both students and instructors…. They’re very knowledgeable, so you’re getting information on both ends.” Jacqueline finds peace in decorating, and Earl loves to throw on the wheel. Jacqueline took her time this session, creating a few samples for each process. She considers them a three-dimensional sketchbook to carry home to Michigan.

Jacqueline is a retired school principal and was introduced to clay during her school’s open studios directed by a visiting ceramist. Earl began taking classes at the Flint Institute of Art over ten years ago. When they met at Jacqueline’s school, a relationship began to grow along with their interest in ceramics, and they married in 2004. They have been able to witness many changes at Penland since their first class together in 2000. Jacqueline reminisced about stepping out from the car and tripping on the rocky terrain. “The paths were treacherous!” In addition to smoother routes and pathways, they have seen new buildings, studios, and an increase in technology and design used within the clay studio.

The Bells are returning to Detroit to coordinate an event with Empty Bowls, an international project to fight hunger and raise awareness. Guests are served soup in a handmade bowl in exchange for a donation, which is passed to a hunger-fighting charity. (The Empty Bowls project was founded by John Hartom and Lisa Blackburn, who live near Penland).The pottery stays with the contributor, a reminder of the empty bowls throughout the world and our personal ability to help. Mr. and Mrs. Bell will make the bowls and the community– including artists from the Detroit Institute of Art as well as the homeless and less fortunate–will decorate them,. Because Jacqueline and Earl do not sell their work, this opportunity provides a strong purpose and motivation to create.

The Bells intend to continue taking classes at Penland, and Earl would also like to try his hand at a photography class. Penland has become a home and haven for them, a place to revisit and find rejuvenation. Jacqueline leaned in and grinned, “A clay retreat. I tell people I’m coming to a clay retreat.”  –photo and story by Emily Breyer

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Keiko Ishii, glassblower

keiko ishii
Keiko Ishii

Keiko Ishii is a first time Penland student who came all the way from Japan to take Scott Benefield’s glass Concentration. She learned of Penland and Scott from other American glassworkers who have to taught at Tama Art University in Tokyo, where she takes classes. In particular, Karen Willenbrink-Johnson and Jasen Johnson both recommended that she attend Penland specifically because of the two month Concentrations sessions. In addition, she hoped that the American style of glassworking would breathe new life into her work and that the diversity of students would be beneficial as well.

Keiko first started working with glass six years ago after she recovered from a serious car accident. Her recovery and rehabilitation was a six year process during which she knew that she wanted to switch her artistic medium and career from graphic design to glass, but had to wait until her body was ready for the physical demands of the glass studio.

After Keiko completes the spring glass concentration she hopes to visit the Corning Museum of Glass and take a workshop there as well. She also plans to take some time to travel around the United States before returning to her glass studies at the Tama Art University in Tokyo.
–Karen Mahardy

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Golly Peters, ceramist

Golly Peters
Golly Peters

Golly Peters first became aware of Penland when she found the Penland Book of Ceramics in Amsterdam. She was so impressed with the book that she found Penland on the Internet and learned that it was a school that anyone could apply to and attend. She sensed that there was something special about Penland and hoped to go there one day.

Golly lives in Brussels, and has found that Belgian ceramicists are secretive about their processes and not open to sharing with others. Though she had been doing ceramics for five years, she had been struggling with moldmaking and so she signed up for Tom Spleth’s spring class in moldmaking and slipcasting. Earlier this year Golly had to have some serious surgery and coming to Penland was a tremendous incentive and helped her recovery.

Now Golly can’t wait to go home and share what she has learned with others. She feels more confident than ever with her work and now sees flaws that she didn’t see before. “Penland brought the fun back into my work and gave me permission to play again,” she said. “ I have had a great experience at Penland and feel that the class pushed me to go beyond limitations that I had previously and move onto the next phase of my work.

–Karen Mahardy

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Tom Spleth Makes a Plaster Form at Slide Night

When instructor Tom Spleth did his slide night at the beginning of his eight-week class in making ceramics from plaster molds, he projected slides of his work on the wall, then poured plaster on a large piece of masonite, cued some lovely music, and demonstrated his method for making a sculptural form from drying plaster. Staff member Mark Boyd was on hand with a camera and made this beautiful 5-minute video titled Fluid Form.

A technical note on what Tom is doing: The plaster form he makes in the video would be the first step in the creation of a hollow, porcelain sculpture or vase. After the plaster form dries, Tom refines it with scrapers and other tools, then he makes a multipart plaster mold from the form. The next step is to pour clay slip into the mold, let it sit for a bit and then pour it out again, leaving layer of slip clinging to the inside of the mold. The mold is then opened and the clay form inside can be glazed and fired.  –Robin Dreyer