Photo of the Week: Mug Lottery

Penland Mug Lottery

Students in Cynthia Bringle’s fall clay workshop have been making a lot of mugs. So today they had a mug lottery. You pay $10 and pull a number out of a bowl. Then you look through all the mugs on the desk and find the one that has your number; that’s your new mug. Cynthia and the class are encouraging everyone to take their mugs when they go to the coffee house so they can cut down on paper cup consumption. This is staff member Yolanda Walker finding her mug. As it happened the guy at the wheel behind her made one with her number on it.


Penland mug lottery

Happy days.


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The Tinker

Ian Henderson, metals coordinatorTinker. “A usually itinerant mender of household utensils,” according to Webster’s.


The word first appeared in Middle English in the 14th century, gaining a negative connotation: the secondary definition of “tinker” is “an unskillful mender.”  As travelers, outliers, and knowledge-bearers, tinkers became  shadow figures—ones to beware. Ian Henderson, Penland’s metals studio coordinator, came across the word in a fantasy novel called The Name of the Wind. In the book, Ian remembers, it’s bad luck not to buy something from the tinker.


Penland’s tinker is skillful. (That’s an understatement.) And he’s not be feared. Unless you fear “preposterously laborious processes.”


Producing art work in step with a marketplace doesn’t shine for Ian. When he’s not working on something with one person in mind, Ian adventures in the Realm of the Absurd and Obsolete, “collecting ideas and techniques” rather than working within a goal of refining them.


Ian’s role at Penland provides space and support. Problems he encounters managing the studio dovetail with his own love of problem-solving. To talk with Ian about what he’s made and why is a bit like watching a stone skip across water– this, then this, then this–each work sets off sentences about the flash of invention, delivered in a joyful, skittery style.


“Everything I start I think it’s going to be My Thing, from the time I started Tom Spleth’s slipcasting concentration as a core student,” Ian jokes when we stop in to look at the things he made this winter. Penland’s tinker is someone who puts his whole boundless inquisitive self into what he creates, from an elaborate tile wall piece to a batch of kefir. Take a look.



A wall arrangement Ian made from his cement tiles, which he designed based on an Arab lattice pattern. The work can now be seen at the Penland Gallery pop-up space on campus.
Ian rubbed the tiles with linseed oil and turpentine. The tiles were meant to span a retaining wall in his brother's house--but the process became a bit too time consuming.
Air bubbles are the enemies of concrete, which Ian quickly discovered as he made the concrete for his tiles. Responding to the problem, he built this motorized vibrating table to shake the bubbles out of concrete in the molds. (Thanks, DIY YouTube videos.)
At the bench, a continuing collaboration between Ian and Audrey Bell--wearable enameled figures inspired by author Hilary Mantel's fiction about Cromwell's rise in 16th century England.
"I thought I was going to build a rail bike this winter," Ian says, showing us one of the folding knives he made for his nieces and nephews, luckiest nieces and nephews in the land.
When Ian learned that he would soon be moving to an A-frame house, he built a model for this pull-down stair, which he will make.
"I came to Penland as a core student when I was 31. I had so much time for being in discovery and problem-solving, which for me is where it's at."


Photographs by Robin Dreyer; writing by Elaine Bleakney


To view more of metalsmith, ceramicist, mixed-media artist, and tinker Ian Henderson’s work, visit Photograph of kefir not included.


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R.I.P., Professor Bobo

Bobby Hansson
Bobby Hansson
Bobby Hansson and Zac Lopez

Slideshow above, with pictures of Bobby Hansson by Dana Moore, Robin Dreyer, and Wes Stitt. Artwork by Bobby.


Here at Penland we will long remember Bobby Hansson (a.k.a. Professor Bobo) who died of Parkinson’s disease last week at a care facility in upstate New York. Bobby was a photographer, author, teacher, tin-can art genius, filmmaker, blacksmith, musician (of sorts), incomparable fashion maven, mail artist, renaissance man, teller of good stories and bad jokes, generous human being, and one of Penland’s great instructors.

Bobby was a photographer of craft and sculpture for thirty years, during which time he was the principal photographer for catalogs produced by the American Craft Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and he taught photography at the School of Visual Art. He started making sculpture, objects, furniture, and musical instruments from found objects in 1955. In 1996, he produced an excellent how-to book titled, The Fine Art of the Tin Can. It was a bestseller for Lark Books and a second, expanded edition was published in 2005.

Bobby started teaching tin-can-art workshops at Penland in 1997 and taught regularly until 2011. He also taught workshops at Arrowmont, Campbell Folk School, Haystack, Peters Valley, and Touchstone. His workshops were rollicking affairs that included metalsmithing techniques, design ideas, musical performances, long stories, piles of junk everywhere, and some of the most inventive work ever done by Penland students.

Bobby was a man of tattoos and loud (LOUD!) clothes. He was a continuous, walking performance. To call him a colorful character would be a serious understatement: nobody ever mistook him for anyone else. He was also a deeply creative person sincerely motivated by a desire to make something useful or interesting out of material that was being thrown away. We’ll miss him.

Bobby’s family has suggested that memorial donations be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

Here’s a short video about Bobby and his work with narration by his friend Tim McCreight. There are also lots of nice notes and pictures on Bobby’s Facebook page.

 -Robin Dreyer


From a letter to Bobby Hansson from Betty Oliver which appears at the end of Bobby’s  book:

Dear Bobby,
I was in a supermarket in Blacksburg, Virginia, thinking about your book, and what I might say about tin cans, when I saw a little boy carrying a big can of tomatoes for his father, who had just rounded the corner into the next section. Finding himself alone, the boy set the can on its side and
used his foot to roll it the rest of the way down the aisle. When he reached the end of the aisle, he picked up the can and disappeared around the corner.

How could I express our nearly worldwide impulse to create any better than this little boy’s spontaneous gesture of invention? From his hand to the floor, from the floor to his foot–in those instants, a can became a wheel.


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Photo(s) of the Week: Community Open House 2015

Mobiles in the school store
Metals (enameling)
Photo (in the darkroom)
Hot glass
Pastepaper painting


Penland’s 2015 community open house was a lovely, lively event. More than 350 visitors and 150 volunteers braved the ice and the cold on February 28 and worked together in Penland’s studios to make enameled buttons, clay pots, glass vessels and beads, rebus mobiles, black and white photographs, wooden train whistles, steel garden stakes, letterpress printed books, woven samples, and more. Here are a few pictures of the fun. Join us for next year’s open house on March 5.


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Fab Collab




Last summer, Melanie Finlayson took a break from her intense duties as Penland’s studio manager and traveled with fellow printmaker Lisa Blackburn to Haystack Mountain School of Crafts to make new work. They drove to Deer Isle, Maine from Penland–not an easy trip, but these two artists have been comfortable with each other for a long time. “Collaboration is very special to me,” Melanie says. “Ever since I was a child, making photographs and videos with my little sister, pairing has made sense.”


Pairing with Lisa Blackburn made almost instant sense for Melanie. Lisa helped Melanie step into her role as Penland’s letterpress and print studio coordinator, became her prime artistic collaborator, and also informed Melanie’s curations at Green Plum, Finlayson’s gallery-turned-pop-up venture. In the winter of 2013, the two artists challenged each other to make 300 monoprints in three weeks, completely covering the walls at a Green Plum exhibition they called “Inspiration by Chance.” Leading up to the show, the two artists worked across from each other in the studio, listening to podcasts, talking, printing and painting on top of the prints. The poet W.H. Auden said in an interview once that “when a collaboration works, the two people become a third person, who is different from either of them in isolation.” For Melanie Finlayson and Lisa Blackburn, this third person is boundless:


melanie-1melanie-2 melanie-3


At Haystack, Finlayson and Blackburn took their collaboration into the  “fab lab,” a space that allows artists to experiment with digital fabrication. Attracted to shape and movement of water and rocks in the local landscape, Melanie took photographs. The two artists selected images, hand drawing from them, and then uploaded the drawings to Illustrator.


“The goal,” says Finlayson, “was to see how to make machine drawings that were ours.”


Some of these drawings became directions for the CNC router in the lab to cut into birch plywood to make blocks for printing. Lisa and Melanie also tried another method: rasterizing the photographs, laser cutting on paper, and drawing on top. They also experimented with etching in plexiglass, free drawing with the router–as well as creating matrices inspired from compositions from nature they both found compelling. The experience resulted in rock drawings, new directions, and a reconsideration, for Melanie, of negative space in print.


Melanie’s office at Penland holds ample clues about her leanings as a collaborative artist. The space is meticulous. Stacks of boxes and items for the studios are arranged on one side. A row of binders above her desk is marked with instructions for others. Projectors and other equipment are stored for sign-out. It’s a tight ship she keeps in order to keep Penland’s studio life humming. In working with others daily, Melanie finds unexpected transit for her artistic life.


Collaborative print made in winter, 2014 by Melanie Finlayson and Lisa Blackburn. Image courtesy of the artists.

Collaborative print made in winter, 2014 by Melanie Finlayson and Lisa Blackburn. Image courtesy of the artists.


This winter, Melanie and Lisa returned to the studio to print matrices they created at Haystack. Melanie also worked on another collaboration, a collection of prints from etched steel plates that her friend, blacksmith Eric Ryser, sent her from his studio in Kansas. This slower collaboration-by-mail inspires Melanie, too. “I love to surprise him,” she says, about the prints she makes from his plates. “He’s a dude, he likes black, so it’s always fun to get color in there and hear back from him.” The hearing-back, the conversation made in creating with another person, is Melanie’s all.

Writing by Elaine Bleakney; photographs by Robin Dreyer





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Auction Heat


It may only be February but we’re busy planning for the 2015 Penland Benefit Auction–our 30th–to be held August 7 and 8th at Penland. Tickets can be purchased online here.


This year, glass artist and Penland trustee Tim Tate will be leading a collecting group from the Alliance for Contemporary Glass to the Benefit Auction–and glass will be centerstage with works commissioned by glass artists Susan Taylor Glasgow and one-of-a-kind table centerpieces by Sally Prasch. For previews of these works and many more in the coming months, please sign up for our auction e-newsletters here or join our auction event page on Facebook here.



Tim Tate, Maybe She Dreams of Rivers, cast glass, video, 18 x 24 inches. Featured work of the 2015 Penland Benefit Auction. Retail value: $12,000.00


For those of you who may not receive our auction e-newsletters, we wanted to share this month’s edition featuring Tim Tate’s glass and video work Maybe She Dreams of Rivers, seen above.  Glenn Adamson, director of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, writes about Tate and this particular work in the essay below. (We’ve also included the video component of the work following the essay.)


Tim Tate by Glenn Adamson

“Last year, I attended my first Penland auction. Of the many great pleasures involved in the event, none was greater than meeting Tim Tate. A figure of Falstaffian charisma, Tate lit up the tent with his humor and heart. I was glad to discover that his work lives up to the man. He is that rare artist who combines true generosity of spirit with a razor-sharp intellectual acuity. By putting glass together with video, one of the art world’s most apparently traditional media with its most apparently progressive, he shows that such oppositions are in fact groundless. Any medium has the potential to support new ideas – and Tim Tate has plenty of new ideas to go around.


In the case of Maybe She Dreams of Rivers, he offers an interpretation of a classic artistic theme, Shakespeare’s Ophelia. One thinks immediately of John Everett Millais’ Pre-Raphaelite treatment of the subject, a fragile maiden floating face-up in the weeds, her hands spread in a gesture of eternal prayer. Tate’s version is less sentimental, yet I find it even more haunting. Ophelia floats slowly from side to side, doubled as if caught in the slippery slide from life into death.


Interestingly, Tate has imagined the doomed heroine dreaming of her own fate–captured permanently in a virtual state. As he notes, our relationship to technology is just as destabilizing today as it was in Victorian times, when the skies filled with industrial smoke and trains first churned their way across the landscape. Our encounters with technology are more private, often occurring within the small dimensions of a touch screen. Yet they are no less unsettling, conveying us across time and space in a constant frictionless glide. In Ophelia, he has found an ideal personification of this state of perpetual drift. Shimmering in her ornate surroundings, viewed as if through a glass darkly, she holds a mirror up twenty-first-century life, lived all too often at one remove.”


Dreaming Of Ophelia from Tim Tate on Vimeo.


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Photo(s) of the Week: Dots and Lines

The studio of Penland School resident Micah Evans

This is what the studio of Penland resident artist Micah Evans looked like last week. Normally Micah works by himself, but he was hosting a collaborative work week with Japanese flameworkers Akihisa Izume (left) and Takao Miyake (center). This involved two torches brought from Japan and a lot of red and green hoses for propane and oxygen. Micah’s studio motto is “hustle!” and, despite the room being almost quiet (except for Phish playing at a low volume), it was clear that there was calm but intense hustle — and some high-level work — going on.


Akihisa Izumi at Penland School of Crafts

Akihisa and Takao were both working with a technique that involves making patterns on the top of a domed piece of glass tube and then transforming the top of the dome into a disk that encases the pattern between two layers of clear glass. Akihisa was using thin glass cane to make patterns of white lines.


Takao Miyake at Penland School of Crafts

Takao was creating designs by applying thousands of tiny, colored glass dots. Here he’s working on a piece that Akihisa had already partially covered with a twill-like pattern of diagonal lines.


Takao Miyake at Penland School of Crafts

This is the last step of the process, in which the patterned dome is shrunk, flattened, and encased in clear glass. Although I watched Takao do this, I have no idea how he made this happen.


Work by Takao Miyake and Micah Evans

The finished disks are generally made into into jewelry or large marbles. But this week, Micah was incorporating them into his existing glass designs. Here’s one of Takao’s disks that’s now part of a glass yo-yo. (This was all done freehand.)


Work by Akihisi Izumi and Micah Evans

This yo-yo was made around one of Akihisa’s pieces.


Work by Akihisi Izumi and Takao Miyake and Micah Evans

This is the collaborative disk that Takao is working on in the pictures above.


Micah Evans

As if that wasn’t enough, they made this off-the-hook  three-way collaboration — a large bottle that houses a chameleon skeleton sculpted by Akihisa and has a stopper topped with one of Takao’s disks. (This picture was swiped from Takao’s Instagram feed.)


Thanks to Micah, Takao, and Akihisa for letting me invade their quiet hustle and take these pictures (after I got my jaw off of my chest).  -Robin Dreyer


Micah Evans on Instagram: @micahglass
Takao Miyake on Instagram: @takaomiyake
Akihisa Izumi on Instagram: @a_k_i_o


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