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Sculpture with Fierce Intention

Installation view of “This City, Daily Rising” by Christina Shmigel, Bruno David Gallery


There’s a certain fearlessness to Christina Shmigel’s sculpture. Her pieces include traditional materials such as steel, wood, and paint, but they don’t stop there. From bright plastic pinwheels and cardboard to plumbing parts and found furniture, everything is fair game as a building block in her thoughtful, observant tableaus and constructions. Each finished piece is like a reflection of the world around her filtered through her keen eyes, skilled hands, and the particular quirks of her attention. There’s a fearlessness in that attention, too.

Christina comes to her sculpture practice with a particularly broad base of experience to draw on. Her BFA from RISD is in painting, and she followed it with an MFA from Brooklyn College that she describes as “more conceptual.” Later, she returned to school for a second MFA at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, this time with an emphasis on technical skills like blacksmithing and casting.


Sculpture by Christina Shmigel
Christina Shmigel, “The City in Which I Love You: Da Shi Jie (Great World Sheathed)”


Despite this rigorous training, Christina’s sculptures are anything but precious. “I work in a very crafted, un-crafted way,” she says. “I’m interested in that place where you make something, and you solve the problem with enough elegance so it ‘works’—it’s a little sloppy, but it has beauty, too… How do I bring that incidental beauty into my work?”

A simple answer to that question would be to look at one of Christina’s larger undertakings, A Foreigner’s Cabinet of Chinese Curiosities. The piece is built into the sixty-seven drawers of an old Chinese medicine cabinet and is a visual journal/scrapbook/“memory palace” of the years she has spent living in Shanghai. Each drawer is full of incidental beauty, found humor, and the little puzzles of the everyday in a vibrant, adopted city: discarded trinkets, cardboard reconstructions of Shanghai’s ubiquitous air conditioners, the peculiar packaging of a Chinese detergent. Together, they paint a nuanced portrait of a particular city at a particular point in time, and they give us a view into the mind of the artist as she takes it all in.


close-up of drawers filled with mementos
Christina Shmigel, “A Foreigner’s Cabinet of Chinese Curiosities” (detail)


This spring, Christina will bring her keen observations and relentless inquiry back to Penland, where she will teach the eight-week concentration Sculpture with Fierce Intention. The workshop is for students with an ongoing studio practice who are eager to uncover the “why?” behind the work they make. It will take place in the Penland iron studio but will welcome a wide range of media based on student interest. Guest instructors Mike Rossi and John Watson will each join the workshop for a week to teach their specialties of steel and wood/plaster.

Sculpture with Fierce Intention will run March 11 – May 4, 2018. Registration is open now for all spring workshops.


Three sculptures by Christina Shmigel
Christina Shmigel, “The View in Fragments: Demolish” (left), “The View in Fragments: Nouveau Riche” (middle), “The View in Fragments: Green Sheath” (right)


Sculpture with Fierce Intention

Christina Shmigel—Who am I as an artist? What distinguishes me as a maker? How do I work beyond what I know? Develop a serious body of work in sculpture/installation while digging deep into what gives you pleasure, purpose, and meaning. Through a guided series of riddles and playful explorations, you’ll investigate the why. Technical demonstrations (as needed) will assist you with the how. Guest instructors Mike Rossi (steel) and John Watson (wood/plaster) will each join us for a week of material improvisation. Students may work in any medium in object- or space-based sculpture. Penland’s iron studio will be transformed into a sculpture studio for this workshop. For artists with an ongoing studio practice in any material. Studio fee: $275. Code S00I

Christina: Studio artist; former Penland resident artist; teaching: Webster University (St. Louis), frequent Penland instructor; exhibitions: Ukranian Museum (NYC), Duolun Museum of Art (Shanghai), Laumeier Sculpture Park (St. Louis), St. Louis Art Museum. Mike: principal of Rossi Metal Design (Philadelphia) making unique architectural works, furniture, and sculpture; teaching: Ox-Bow (MI), Haystack (ME), Bryn Athyn College (PA), Kalamazoo College (MI); Windgate Artist in Residence at State University of New York-Purchase. John: Studio artist: teaching: Webster University (St. Louis), Belmont University (TN); exhibitions: Vanderbilt University (TN), hemphill Fine Art (DC); co-author of Living the Dream…The Morning After Art School (Kendall Hunt Publishing).


clay  |  letterpress  |  painting  |  metals  |  textiles  |  wood  |  sculpture
March 11 – May 4, 2018


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Contemporary Ceramics at the Penland Gallery

Ceramic work by Shalene Valenzuela, Jeremy R. Brooks, and Roberto Lugo.
Works from “Within the Margins.” From left to right: “Ironing Things Out: Various Notions” by Shalene Valenzuela, “(Altered) Young Man’s Fancy” by Jeremy R. Brooks, and “Basquiat and Celia Teapot” by Roberto Lugo.


The Penland Gallery presents Within the Margins: Contemporary Ceramics, an exhibition curated by Steven Young Lee, in the John and Robyn Horn Gallery. Seventeen artists are represented in the exhibition with mostly narrative ceramic sculpture in a wide range of forms and styles. The exhibition runs from May 30 through July 16 with a gallery talk at 3:30 PM on Saturday, June 3 and a reception to follow from 4:30 to 6:30 PM.

The group of artists is quite varied in terms of their cultural backgrounds and personal histories, and this is reflected in the content of the work. Shalene Valenzuela, for example, says of her bright-colored earthenware and porcelain sculptures: “My narratives explore topics ranging from fairytales, urban mythologies, consumer culture, societal expectations, etiquette, and coming-of-age issues.” Sculptor Sunkoo Yuh makes complex pieces that are often groupings of forms including plants, animals, fish, and human figures. He describes his process this way: “I draw images intuitively and spontaneously with ink and brush. I study my drawings and select a few to transform into three-dimensional clay sculptures. My work expresses my inner emotions, communications about life, and directly draws from mundane experiences.”

Curator Steven Young Lee is the resident artist director of the Archie Bray Foundation for the Ceramic Arts in Helena, Montana. He has lectured extensively in North America and Asia including at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. His work was recently featured as part of “Visions and Revisions: Renwick Invitational 2016” at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC.

In describing his intent for the exhibition, Lee said, “The exhibition includes artists who, while residing within one set of perceived margins or another, are working from within to expand or redefine those boundaries, ultimately shifting the lines of ethnicity, race, gender, sexuality, cultural identity, or material association. Each artist is articulating a world view, and the most important aspect of their work is the sincerity of their investigation and quality of their execution. The title, Within the Margins, recognizes that while boundaries do exist, the mere fact of their existence invites—if not demands—that they be confronted, challenged and reshaped.”


Three ceramic plates featuring the letters E, F, and G
E, F, and G plates by Holly Walker from “Abecedarium | Envisioned.”


Also on view, in the Focus Gallery, is a small-format exhibition of functional ceramics by Holly Walker. She specializes in handbuilt earthenware and approaches the surfaces of her pots as a painter, brushing colored slips over the clay surface and then layering them with multiple glazes. This exhibition is titled Abecedarium/Envisioned because it includes an installation of twenty-six plates whose designs are inspired by the letters of the alphabet. The gallery talk at 3:30 on Saturday, June 3 will include remarks from both Steven Young Lee and Holly Walker.

The Visitors Center Gallery has an ongoing display of objects that illuminate the history of Penland School, while the Lucy Morgan Gallery presents a selection of work by dozens of Penland-affiliated artists. On display outside the Penland Gallery is a monumental steel sculpture by Hoss Haley and two new stone installations by Carl Peverall.

The Penland Gallery and Visitors Center is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 AM-5:00 PM and Sunday, Noon-5:00 PM; it is closed on Mondays. For more information call 828-765-6211 or visit





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Photo of the Week: Iron Pour!

Everybody loves an iron pour, because you’ve got flames, molten metal, face shields, leather suits, and a cheering crowd. Really, what more could you ask for?


The spring iron workshop, taught by Remy Louis Hanemann, has spent the last three weeks building a cupola furnace and all the tools needed for casting metal. This was the first test. It went well. (And it looked good, too.)



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Brim, Bourdain, and Blacksmithing


Most folks who have spent any time around the iron studio know Elizabeth Brim. She has been a longtime friend, neighbor, and instructor at Penland and an important shaping force in our iron program. She’s also a wildly skilled and accomplished artist, and we’re proud that her talents were featured on the most recent episode of Raw Craft with Anthony Bourdain.

In the episode, Bourdain visits Elizabeth’s shop and the Penland iron studio where she taught spring concentration. He looks on as she forges an intricate flower and demonstrates the technique she invented for inflating iron. “You have to be awfully tough to make metalwork look this easy,” he comments.

At the end of the epidode, Bourdain concludes, “Elizabeth is a perfect example of somebody who’s chosen to go against the grain, who’s chosen to do a difficult thing, who’s decided to follow a passion. She’s a perfect example of the type of people we’re celebrating: an artist, a professional, an educator, somebody unlike just about everybody else.” We couldn’t agree more, and we couldn’t be luckier to have Elizabeth here at Penland. See for yourself by watching the episode above!


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Stories in Clay

Nan Smith, "Twenty Twelve," glazed and painted earthenware, glazed porcelain, concrete, sand, wood
Nan Smith, “Twenty Twelve,” glazed and painted earthenware, glazed porcelain, concrete, sand, wood


Sculpting a figure in clay is about far more than trying to recreate recognizable form in three dimensions. That’s why instructor Nan Smith chose Personality Plus as the name of her Penland workshop this November 6-12. “I want students to investigate what transforms figure sculpture into something dynamic and alive,” she explains. “What will make a bust look like it has a story?”

If there’s anyone who can help students answer those questions, it’s probably Nan. She’s had a long and successful career as a sculptor and installation artist. She’s taught ceramics at the University of Florida for over thirty years, and she’s led workshops at universities around the country and as far away as Israel. Her work has been featured in publications like Sculpture magazine and Ceramics Monthly. She has exhibited at dozens of venues like SOFA Chicago, the Red Lodge Clay Center, and the American Museum of Ceramic Art. Perhaps most importantly, “I really do love teaching people at all levels how to sculpt a figure, and I’ve been doing that a really long time,” she says.


Nan Smith, "Spill," glazed and painted earthenware, glazed porcelain, metal, rubber, wood
Nan Smith, “Spill,” glazed and painted earthenware, glazed porcelain, metal, rubber, wood


Personality Plus will be a hands-on, high-energy week of ceramic figure sculpting that uses the bust format and self portraiture to help students develop their perceptual and conceptual skills. It may be only a one-week class, but it certainly won’t stick to one technique. “We’re going to be building sculpture, but we’re also going to be making life casts and learning to take a mold from a piece,” Nan explains. “I wanted to give the course a twist and allow students to try using molds as another tool to develop perceptual skill.”

Personality Plus is a workshop for the curious beginner and for the experienced sculptor looking for new ideas. It’s a workshop for ceramic artists interested in new ways of working with clay. It’s a workshop for anyone interested in the details of the figure and how to bring them to life. Is it a workshop for you? Registration is open now.


Nan Smith, "Mercury" (detail), glazed and painted earthenware, glazed porcelain, photo montages on fabric, metal, wood
Nan Smith, “Mercury” (detail), glazed and painted earthenware, glazed porcelain, photo montages on fabric, metal, wood


Personality Plus

Nan Smith, November 6-12, 2016
Who are you? What causes presence in the sculpted human form? By investigating questions of identity in addition to studying anatomy within the bust format, students will create a life-scale self-portrait that reflects their inner personality and self-perception. Demonstrations will cover life-casting techniques, life modeling, photo-documentation, and rendering an expressive and anatomically believable human form. We’ll create solid-built busts over metal armatures. Students will leave with a life cast and a sculpted portrait bust in wet clay. All levels. Code F03CB

Professor at University of Florida; publications: The Figure in Clay, Sculpture, Ceramics: Art and Perception, Ceramics Monthly, CFile Weekly; collections: American Express (NY), Lamar Dodd Art Center (GA), Givat Haviva Art Center (Israel), World Ceramics Exposition Korea International Collection.



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Books, Relics, Curiosities

Daniel Essig sculpture
Daniel Essig, “N’Kisi Bricolage Sturgeon,” 13 x 59 x 14 inches


Daniel Essig makes book-based sculpture. To be more precise, he makes fantastical, elaborate, majestic book-based sculpture like nothing you’ve seen before.

Books are at the heart of each piece, but it’s as if their contents have left the confines of paper sheets and gained form outside the covers. Fish, birds, bridges, and buildings take shape in wood, and books may be tucked into a beak or studded like fins on the back of a sturgeon. Each book is expertly bound using the centuries-old Ethiopian Coptic binding technique, but many contain only blank pages. Text itself may appear instead as pattern transferred to a wooden figure, individual characters of lead printer’s type, or sheets of pages recycled from 19th-century Bibles. Together with paint, handmade paper, mica, rusted nails, thread, fabric, fossils, and other found objects, Daniel brings it all together into three-dimensional storybooks that are part fantasy, part history, and fully engrossing.


Daniel Essig portrait and book piece
Daniel Essig and his piece “Sacred Geometry,” 10 x 14 x 2 inches


Daniel describes the small room in his house where he stores his lifetime’s collection of inspiration—rocks, bones, seedpods, shells, and more—as a German Wunderkammern, a “cabinet of curiosities.” And for eight weeks this fall, a portion of that Wunderkammern will make its home in the Penland wood studio for Daniel’s concentration Books, Relics, Curiosities. The workshop, like Daniel’s own pieces, will combine elements of bookbinding and woodworking. Sculptors, woodworkers, book artists, and total beginners are all welcome—the only prerequisite is curiosity.

Books, Relics, Curiosities will run September 25-November 18, 2016. Registration is open now, and a few work-study scholarships are still available. Call the Penland registrar at 828-765-2359 ext. 1306 for more information.


two book sculptures by Daniel Essig
Left: “Needle Nose,” 33 x 13 x 8 inches; right: “Fisheye,” 12.5 x 12 x 4.5 inches

Books, Relics, Curiosities

Daniel Essig—This workshop will use wood to explore and honor elements of the book. After learning the basics of woodshop safety and tool use, we’ll investigate the infinite possibilties of book-based sculpture. Techniques will include carving, turning, burning, sanding, altering, distressing, painting, and bookbinding. Students will be encouraged to collaborate and to explore alternative materials. They can expect to complete a series of book sculptures. We’ll have daily demonstrations as well as discussions of historic and contemporary book forms. Everyone is welcome: book artists, woodworkers, curious beginners, etc. All levels. Code F00W

Studio artist; teaching: Anderson Ranch (CO), Arrowmont (TN), University of Georgia Cortona Italy Program, Penland; collections: Renwick Gallery (DC), Mint Museum (NC); representation: Vamp and Tramp Booksellers (GA); publications: The Penland Book of Handmade Books, Masters: Book Arts (both Lark Books).






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Off the Clock: Penland Studio Coordinator Show

art image
Clockwise from top left: Jay Fox, Ellie Richards, Amanda Thatch, Susan Feagin, Betsy DeWitt, Ian Henderson, Daniel T. Beck, Nick Fruin


The job of a Penland studio coordinator is a many-faceted one. Our eight coordinators order materials and keep studios clean and equipment running smoothly. They manage budgets and large inventories of supplies. They work with our programming office to plan upcoming workshops, and instructors to provide for specific classes, and individual students to solve problems on the fly. It’s a demanding and unpredictable job, which makes it all the more impressive that these eight individuals are also working artists in their own right. We are thrilled and proud that they have come together to put on a group show of their work at the Asheville Area Arts Council. Appropriately, the exhibition is called Off the Clock.

As curator and Penland friend Elaine Bleakney writes:

OFF THE CLOCK features eight artists, all full-time studio coordinators at Penland School of Crafts in Penland, NC. The work on view here was made in the off-hours by friends and colleagues who see each other daily and exchange interests, affection, knowledge, and regard for each other.

This is not a group show in the traditional sense. These artists are not strangers, and the works are not estranged from each other, despite their singular presences. Rather, looking from artist to artist, the viewer might pick up a magical sense that the works were made on the same set of evenings, in studios closeby. One of these artists might have looked up from her work and gazed out the cool, green window. She might have seen one of the other artists riding by on a bike, and waved.


Penland studio coordinators
Penland’s studio coordinators: Jay Fox, Susan Feagin, Nick Fruin, Ian Henderson, Ellie Richards, Amanda Thatch, Betsy DeWitt, Daniel T. Beck


Off the Clock will be on view at the Refinery Creator Space at 207 Coxe Ave in Asheville through September 16, 2016. It features the work of Daniel T. Beck (iron/sculpture), Betsy DeWitt (photography), Susan Feagin (ceramics), Jay Fox (print), Nick Fruin (glass), Ian Henderson (metals), Ellie Richards (wood/sculpture), and Amanda Thatch (drawing/textiles).

There will be a reception for the show on Friday, September 2 from 5 PM to 8 PM, and the artists will present a public talk on Saturday, September 3 from 4 PM to 6 PM. More information about both events is available on the exhibition’s Facebook event page.

Visit the Asheville Area Arts Council website to learn more about Off the Clock.