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The Snow Leopard Departs

The Penland kitchen crew
The Penland kitchen crew in 2015: (left to right) David Chatt, Big John Renick, Richard Pleasants, Day Dotson, Kirk Banner, Y-Sam Ktul, Bill Jackson

Sometime between Penland’s summer and fall sessions, we said goodbye to Richard Pleasants, who has retired after eight years as our food services manager and at the end of a long career working in kitchens, restaurants, and hotels. Richard moved to Manhattan where he is living with his son and family. Under his guidance, the food has been great and the kitchen and coffee house have been well-managed and efficient. Most importantly, however, Richard created a calm and supportive place to work, and he empowered the skills and creativity of the people around him. The affection that developed between Richard and his staff was a beautiful thing to see, so we invited the folks who worked most closely with him to offer a few words of tribute.


To simply say that Richard was my boss would be a complete disservice to his tenure here. Richard was my boss; but he is also my friend, my champion, my life coach, my spiritual consigliere, my guru. He taught me about the kind of manager I want to be, the kind of friend I want to be, the kind of human being I want to be. He taught me to respond instead of react and to look at all sides of a problem. Simply put, he taught me to be better.

When I remember Richard’s time here I think of inside jokes, Neil Young radio, fresh tomato soup, and French macaroons made from scratch. I think of his kindness and his generous nature, his sense of humor, and his willingness to do what’s right instead of what’s easy. I can’t help remember how he would come into the kitchen to work at unnatural hours because he liked the solitude or his desk stacked with so many papers it made my brain itch wanting to organize everything. While Richard was here at Penland he fed us food for our bodies, but he also helped nourish our spirits. Knowing Richard for the eight years he was here, I can anticipate the eye roll that statement will produce. But it’s the truth, and I’ll stand by my sappiness.

Working at Penland offers us all a chance to meet and work with so many people. We overlook that a lot, but in this instance I can’t. Richard made our lives better, and I’ll always be grateful that he wanted to move to the mountains and live a quieter existence. It gave us all the opportunity to get to know an amazing human being. He may not be here in body anymore, but his steady guidance still quietly leads us.

-Crystal Thomas, coffee house manager


Richard for President 2020
The fearless leader. One of the most intelligent, suave individuals on the face of the earth. He is kind, patient, and understanding. He made sure we did everything to the best of our abilities and supported growth in anybody. (He also loves Neil Young.)

-Y-Sam Ktul, former prep crew


Richard, I’m pissed!

Where is my morning coffee? My Neil Young? Who am I going to talk to about Social Security? The 60’s? Arthritis? And our favorite, those cute fifty-somethings in the lunch line? Who? Oh, I guess I have to make the oatmeal and grits now too! Thanks a lot. But don’t worry about me, I’ll get by somehow.

-Bill Jackson, prep crew


Richard, you are an aptly named man, as it was certainly my pleasure to work for and with you these past two years. Thanks for being a kind and caring individual, traits I’d say carry over into your management style. I wish you a joyful next adventure.

-Alena Applerose, baker


Richard Pleasants in the Penland kitchen
Richard Pleasants: master of the kitchen, wearer of berets, reader of many books, honorary core fellow, and a guy you’d be lucky to work for.


Richard and Pearl. Just now I was thinking about Penland without the two of them…

You see…at Penland School the years kinda seem to just slide off the wall in one of those cool, Western North Carolina mountain breezes. Three hundred and sixty-five days will be gone before you’ll ever even know that it happened.

Here in Pearl’s Kitchen and the Penland Coffee House, though, we can rip through ‘em like they’re a cheap, dime store daily affirmations calendar. And each year, as the thin sheets of paper are falling away we see over 7,200 hungry faces fill their plates, countless work-study students learn a new job, nine core fellows trudge through their work requirements while pining for their time in the studios. We help flocks of resident artists and their broods nourish their lives, their art, and their careers. We serve coffee to a ridiculously wonderful and motley gathering of coworkers.

Oh yes, there are others we serve as well: Penland trustees, teachers, volunteers, interns, grade school kids, at least one of almost any ethnic group you could imagine, every gender and sexual orientation possible, as well as every age group you could think of. There are state, national, and international dignitaries and maybe even a few local folks from down in the holler or from over the mountain.

Yeah, The Pines is a busy place. It takes all different types of people to keep it running. I have personally been involved with that rat race in some form or another for going on twenty-five years. And you know what? I never saw anyone slide so easily and effectively into a leadership position than when I first saw Richard walk down that stone path from The Craft House on a cold winter’s day in February, some eight odd years ago. Nor have I ever seen anyone exit so graciously as when he quietly slipped out of town just as this fall was rolling in on the wind. But ya’ll want to know what sticks in my craw? It’s that there ain’t been nobody that’s been missed more up in this kitchen since the lovely and esteemed Pearl Grindstaff, herself, passed away.

Bless her Heart!

And ya’ll know what else? I think we should just go on ahead and bless ol’ Richard while we’re at it, ‘cause although he still walks among the living, he is moving on up to New York City and he might just need the blessings over there…

But, yeah, anyway…
I sure do miss ‘em both. Pearl and Richard, ya know…
I miss ‘em both…really, really bad!

Big Love, Richard!

Big John

-a.k.a. John T. Renick, III, interim food services manager

Editor’s note: Pearl Grindstaff was a wonderful and wise woman who worked in the Penland kitchen for 75 years–a remarkable tenure that lasted until 2009.


I was recently asked as part of an interview process to name someone I had worked for in the past whom I admired or particularly enjoyed working with. It was not hard to answer. A few years ago, my life needed some shaking up and the irregular ebb and flow of my art income was not going to be reliable enough. I was more than a little apprehensive as I contemplated a return to the work-a-day world after having spent the previous twenty years as a studio artist. I found out that Penland was in need of a baker and reached out to Richard. I was not sure he would have me and learned later that some had cautioned him not to hire me because I would probably not last the summer. Richard decided to ignore that advice and offered me the job. I arrived with some trepidation of my own. The changes in my life had left my confidence a little bruised. I need not have worried. Working in Richard’s kitchen was a perfect fit for me at a time when I needed it the most.

When the person conducting the interview asked what it was about working for Richard, I said he created an environment that made all of us who worked for him want to do our best.

I have come to love Richard, not just because he offered me a soft place to land in a tumultuous time, not just because he ran one of the best kitchens I have ever had the privilege to work in, not just because of his impressive mane of snowy white hair, though all those things are worthy of admiration. I love Richard because of the way he treats his people and the way he managed to create an environment where people felt valued, supported, and free to be a little weird. If I am ever in a position where other people rely on me for leadership, I hope I will remember how it felt to work for Richard and provide that kind of generosity for someone else.

Richard, thank you. I am better for having had the chance to work with you for those four years. I hope the next chapter of your life is the best yet. Please keep in touch. I love you like someone we both know loves a go-plate!

-David Chatt, former Penland baker


Richard’s parking spot. Sign by Ian Henderson and Daniel Beck.

I swear Richard has led dozens of lives. He is as likely to launch into a story about dining with celebrities in the Caribbean as he is about a penniless stretch on the streets of DC. There was the time he was a personal chef to a jet-setting billionaire and the time he’s awfully vague about that involved multiple crossings of the Mexican border. The point is that he is a changeling, renewing himself regularly, and, I hope, endlessly. And when his abilities combined with the transfigurative powers of Penland School of Crafts we got our Snow Leopard, for a too short eight years—leader, reader, kneader, and as good a friend as I ever expect to find. He’ll be sorely missed around here, and I believe he’ll miss us, too, though I’m sure he’s already transformed into some timeless hep cat on some Manhattan street corner with a devoted following wondering “where did this magical creature come from?

-Ian Henderson, metals studio coordinator and former core fellow


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#WeMakePenland on October 4

Two women working with natural dyes

Thanks to everyone who made Penland’s first giving day a great success. We received 309 donations (exceeding our goal of 250), and together we raised $29,165 in support of Penland’s scholarships, studios, and other programs. Gifts started at $1 and went up from there, and we are grateful for every one of them. Thanks so much to everyone who donated, posted pictures and stories, were part of our on-campus photo booth, liked and shared our posts, or cheered us along. And we were so touched by the many little stories posted by friends of the school. You can see them all at #WeMakePenland.


Today, together –
#WeMakePenland a center for growth, creativity, and community.

On October 4, our first ever Giving Day, we’re bringing our community together to strengthen Penland’s programs, facilities, staff, scholarships, and more. We have until midnight tonight to reach 250 donors in 24 hours, and we need your help!

Here’s what you can do:

  • Make a gift – any amount counts! Donate here.
  • Share our campaign stories on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter or via text and email. Get your friends and family involved!
  • Post your own stories from Penland. Use the hashtag #WeMakePenland and include the link to the campaign:
  • Create a matching gift or challenge on the campaign page. Your generosity motivates others. Even a $25 challenge can be a big inspiration!
  • Become an advocate to amplify your impact. Creating an account on GiveCampus allows you to see how many clicks, gifts, and dollars your outreach has generated.

We chose #WeMakePenland as the theme of our campaign because Penland really is a community effort. Thank you for helping us make this day a success, and thank you for making the Penland experience richer for everyone. We couldn’t have Penland without people like you.

Join the #WeMakePenland Campaign











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Photo of the Week: Abstraction

Sheridan Davenport at Penland School

Sheridan Davenport was a student this summer in an abstract painting workshop taught by Tonya D. Lee. Sheridan is a student at Xavier University in Ohio, where her advisor is Kelly Phelps, a regular instructor at Penland. Kelly encouraged her to apply for a scholarship to attend Penland. “I haven’t done much abstract work,” Sheridan said. “But I loved Tonya’s work so much that I had to take this class. It’s definitely opened things up for me.”


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Imagine. Typeset. Print.

Typesetting generally involves putting one letter after another, making sentences and that sort of thing. This fall, however, you have an opportunity to expand your understanding of this age-old craft, or–depending on how you look at things–to learn the basics of letterpress printing without getting bogged down in pesky proofreading.

Ornamental Letterpress, a rollicking one-week fall workshop (October 22-28) taught by Jennifer Farrell, will explore the tradition of using type ornaments to create pictorial images and large letterforms. Open to beginners and experienced printers alike, this workshop will cover printing and typesetting basics and expand your concept of what can be done with metal type on a press.


Jennifer Farrell


Jennifer is the owner of Starshaped Press in Chicago where she makes posters, prints, business cards, invitations, music packaging, stationery, greeting cards, of course, intriguing images made from type ornaments. “Since 1999 we’ve stayed true to the original craft of letterpress disregarding the naysayers that claim antique metal and wood type is too limiting for quality design,” her website proclaims. “As an old fashioned shop with solid presswork and hard working midwestern gumption, we buck popular trends in modern, ‘couture’ printing. We are proudly one of the very few shops in the country working to preserve, promote and print entirely like it’s 1929.”

Jennifer has taught at the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum and the Wells College Book Arts Center, and conducted workshops at Western New York Book Arts Center and Columbia College Chicago Book and Paper Arts Center. Her print work has won numerous awards and has been featured repeatedly in How magazine. Jennifer also appears in the new film Pressing On: The Letterpress Film, currently screening all over the place.

You can see lots of Jennifer’s work on her website and read about her adventures on her blog. Here’s a little interview with her as well.


Fall 1-Week Session 2
October 22 – 28, 2017

Jennifer Farrell
 – Ornamental Letterpress
The best way to understand type and printer’s ornaments is to study them in their metal form. This workshop will improve your understanding of typography so your letterpress work (whether you are a beginner or a seasoned veteran) can improve and move beyond initial experimentation. We’ll explore the tradition of using ornaments to create pictorial images and letterforms. All students will create images that, depending on ability, may be simple one-color pieces or more intricate multicolored prints. We’ll address common problems in hand composition as well as type that presents aesthetic challenges. We’ll look at tips and tricks to get the best results from both new and old metal type. All levels. Studio fee: $55. Code F02L

Registration and fee information here. If you have questions, call 828-765-2359.
All upcoming print and letterpress workshops are here.



Yup, that’s made from type ornaments.




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Where’s Jerry?

Jerry Jackson getting ready to drive away after the annual benefit auction.


On August 12, shortly after the last piece was sold at Penland’s annual benefit auction, Jerry Jackson got in his car and headed for Brasstown, North Carolina where he joined the staff of the John C. Campbell Folk School as its new director. “I started at Penland as an auction volunteer thirteen years ago,” Jerry said just before he left, “so it seems fitting for me to finish up at the auction.”

Three years after that first auction, Jerry moved to Penland to become deputy director, a new position that carried responsibility for much of the day-to-day management of the school so director Jean McLaughlin could focus on  relationship building, fundraising, strategic planning, and national representation of the school. At his going away party, Jean simply said, “I couldn’t have done my job the past ten years without him.”

Jerry came to Penland after eight years as the cultural arts administrator at the Rocky Mount Arts Center in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. At Penland he assumed supervisory responsibility for facilities, student services, food services, human resources, and information technology, working closely with the managers of each of these areas. He also worked with the finance director and two dozen staff members to develop each year’s budget and he was involved in strategic planning, campus planning, financial planning, and marketing strategies.

He brought with him considerable skills in designing and outfitting spaces and was integrally involved in Penland’s most vigorous period of facilities improvement. He helped develop the new studios for drawing and painting, book arts, photography, and papermaking, plus renovations to the clay and metals studios. He also worked on the new Northlight social hall, the renovation of The Pines and Horner Hall (including the Penland Gallery), several new housing buildings, and most recently, the restoration of Dora’s Place, a log farmhouse that dates back to the early 20th century.

Jerry worked constantly. He was always on call, and he got a lot of calls: everything from medical emergencies to people upset about a moth or a mouse in their room. He was one of several people who intervened when students or classes were having problems. Sometimes these situations required tough decisions, and those often fell to Jerry. He was also an important face of Penland locally and statewide. He served on a number of boards, he curated and designed exhibitions for the Toe River Arts Council, he juried shows for other organizations, and he just knows a lot of people.


Jerry Jackson and Penland director Jean McLaughlin (who will be retiring later this year) in costume for their “Swan Song” float in this summer’s July 4 parade.


Deploying other skills, Jerry created memorable decorations for Penland holiday parties and celebrations, and we always looked forward to seeing what outlandish costume or float he would cook up for our July 4 parade. Jerry is also an artist, working in mixed-media painting and found-object assemblage. He started his final summer at Penland by co-teaching (with Jane Wells Harrison) a successful workshop in the drawing and painting studio.

During his ten years at Penland, Jerry gained skills that will serve him well in his new position. And when he drove out of here after the auction, a lot of institutional knowledge went with him. There have already been several meetings in which someone said, “I think Jerry always took care of that” or “Do we know how Jerry did that?” And registrar Amanda Hollifield showed up at last week’s staff meeting wearing a T-shirt that just said, “Where’s Jerry?”

Well, we know where Jerry is, and we wish him great success.


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Photo of the Week: Penland Family Hour

It’s pretty common for family members to attend Penland together. But last session we had an unusual number of family groups, so we got them all together for a picture. From top to bottom: Scott Woskoff (father, clay), Zev Woskoff (son, books); Mary Fout (sister, clay), Monroe Moore (brother, clay); Sabiha Mujtaba (mother, wood instructor), Aalia Mujtaba (daughter, metals); Forrest Bacigalupi (son, brother, metals), Lori Bacigalupi (mother, drawing), Serene Bacigalupi (daughter, sister, books); Ruth Martin (mother, books), Ben Martin (son, clay). Thanks to long-time Penland student K.C. Wagner, who figured all this out and instigated this picture.


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Scenes from the 2017 Penland Benefit Auction

It wouldn’t be August at Penland without our biggest event of the year: the Annual Penland Benefit Auction! This year’s on August 11-12 was another rousing success and a beautiful illustration of just how vital Penland’s community is to our many programs. We owe everyone involved a giant THANK YOU—from the Penland staff, interns, core fellows, and resident artists to the event sponsors, advertisers, and donors. Hundreds of artists gave exquisite works of art, hundreds of volunteers came to clean the campus and move furniture and prepare the displays and pour the drinks, and hundreds of guests came to enjoy it all and support our programs. We couldn’t pull off the auction without the love and generosity of each and every one of these people, but together, they helped us do something incredible. Together, we raised $638,390 for Penland! This money goes to support so many aspects of our campus, from maintenance and renovations to beloved buildings like the Craft House to purchasing supplies for our studios and paying the salaries of our dedicated staff.

The benefit auction is also a time to recognize some very special people at Penland. We were lucky this year to have featured artist Vivian Beer on campus to share her work as a furniture designer, and we welcomed incoming Penland director Mia Hall under the tent with her husband David Clemons and their daughter Fiona. We also got to recognize two incredible women as our 2017 Outstanding Artist Educators: potter Cynthia Bringle and weaver Edwina Bringle. Both have been pillars of our creative community for decades, sharing their expertise, critical eye, and encouragement with generations of aspiring artists. The impact they have made on Penland is impossible to quantify, and it was truly a joy to thank them for their dedication to this place and the work that we do.

We hope the slideshow below is a fitting tribute to all the fun, the hard work, the beauty, and the camaraderie that went into this year’s auction. We’re already looking forward to doing it again with you all next year on August 10-11, 2018!



Want more? See the photo booth pictures from Friday, Saturday, and the volunteer party on Saturday night!