Posted on

Illuminating a Community

Jack Mackie posing with a handful of the week's glass orbs. At right is a close-up of the glass pieces layered inside one of the metal baskets that will adorn the installation.
Jack Mackie posing with a handful of the week’s glass orbs. At right is a close-up of the glass pieces layered inside one of the metal baskets that will adorn the Burnsville Gateway installation.

 

Jack Mackie does not identify as a glass artist, nor has he studied the art of blowing glass. But this January, he came to Penland for a week of winter residency in the hot glass studio with some big ideas. “I’m a public artist,” he explains. “The project is the medium, and I make the framework.”

The project that brought him to Penland is the Burnsville Gateway, a public art installation planned for the nearby town of Burnsville, NC as part of the North Carolina Arts Council’s SmART Initiative. The initiative aims to use art to build stronger communities and economies, and those goals have been at the forefront of Jack’s mind throughout the design phase. “There’s a deep tradition of craft here, of quilts, of weaving, of pottery, of baskets, and of glass,” he explains. “One of the things that I wanted to help illuminate through this project is the community of glass that is here, to give prominence to something so special about the area that is not always visible.”

 

group shot of the artists outside the studio
The Burnsville Gateway artists. From left: Kenny Pieper, Dave Wilson, Courtney Dodd, Rob Levin, Hayden Wilson, and Jack Mackie. Photo via Courtney Dodd.

 

To that end, Jack brought a team of skilled local glass artists with him to Penland: Courtney Dodd, Rob Levin, Kenny Pieper, Dave Wilson, and Hayden Wilson. Together, they worked to create the first glass prototypes for the Burnsville installation, filling the studio with between 800 and 1000 blown-glass pieces in the course of a week. “This artwork is being made by the people who live here,” Jack states. “I simply am providing—conceptually and literally—the frame that their glass artwork is going into.”

Jack’s vision for Burnsville is expansive and draws on the town’s artistic heritage, mountains, history, and designation as one of only a handful of “Dark Sky” communities in the country. At the center of his plans is the telescope, which he connects both to the town’s past (Burnsville’s founder, Otway Burns, was a naval hero who used a telescope in navigation) and its future (a large public telescope and observatory is being planned for the nearby Star Park). The central feature of Jack’s installation will be six giant “telescopes”—towering columns of illuminated metal and glass that stand at the entrances to the town, three on each side, viewable from the highway as visitors crest the hill.

 

rendering of the Burnsville Gateway installation
Sketch of the telescope columns and surrounding landscape architecture planned for one end of the Burnsville Gateway.

 

It was these telescopes that the team focused on during their week at Penland. Each one measures between twenty-four and thirty feet tall and features “baskets” of blown glass orbs held in by a sturdy wire mesh. At first, Jack envisioned each telescope as a different color, but a sunset one evening changed his mind. “I was driving, and I looked in my rearview mirror,” he tells me. “I saw the colors of the sunset and I thought, ‘That’s it!’” Now, the telescopes on the east entrance to town feature gradations of the yellows and pinks of sunrise, while the western telescopes boast the intense oranges and purples of early evening. From a distance, the reflective rainbow effect of all that glass is quite stunning. “It’s so much more than my color sketches,” Jack comments. “It’s light moving through color held in the medium of glass.”

Up close, the telescopes maintain their power to draw the viewer in. Rather than simply creating smooth, hollow globes, Jack’s team of glass artists created richly-textured shapes—some are ridged and round, while others are curved and spiraling or bulbous or decorated with diamond patterns or delicate bubbles beneath the surface. “I like that each one is different, that they’re tactile and engaging, that people can reach in and experience the glass,” Jack says. “In a society where more and more things are built uniformly and built by the billions, to have these handmade pieces as part of our civic public infrastructure was very attractive to me.”

 

glass artists at work
At left, Hayden Wilson, Rob Levin, and Kenny Pieper at work blowing forms. At right, Courtney Dodd finishing a piece before it goes into the annealer.

 

Over the next couple months, Jack and his team will be busy fabricating hundreds more glass orbs for the project, which will likely involve at least one more trip to Penland and possibly the participation of a few other local glass artists. “We couldn’t make this happen without the vision and ability of these artists and a place like Penland for people to come together to work,” Jack notes. “I want to give these artists ownership of the project and at the same time funnel money into the local community through their work.”

The Burnsville Gateway—complete with the six telescope columns, as well as artistic benches, walkways, and other streetscape elements—is set to be installed sometime in the second half of 2017. When it is finished, it will be a testament to the creativity, skill, and vitality of the Burnsville community and the artists who built it piece by piece. “That’s one of the things that public art can do,” Jack concludes. “It can make a place unique, draw out its special qualities, and illuminate them. In our case, it will literally illuminate the quality of the work and the lives that are here.”

 

For more information on the project, the process, and the artists behind it, we highly recommend watching these two videos by local videographer Chanse Simpson.

Part 1: Telescope Gateways into Burnsville, NC

Part 2: Telescope Gateways into Burnsville, NC

 

Posted on

Photo of the Week: A Clay Circus

Janice Farley and her elephant sculptures

Elephant ceramics by Janice Farley

Winter resident Janice Farley spent six weeks in the clay studio exploring both functional and sculptural forms. The unifying theme? Elephants. Above, Janice poses with a selection of her pieces, including statues of circus elephants ready to be placed on starred pedestals, an elaborate bowl with elephants in low relief, and a mug with an elephant trunk as the handle. Two notable pieces in the second picture include a large blue apothecary jar embellished with the silhouettes of elephants and an ornate champagne holder with pink elephants around the base and rim. Elephant-astic!

 

Posted on

Hot Glass & Electric Light with Jeremy Bart and Jen Elek

Image of "Look! See?" installation by Jeremy Bart and Jen Elek
A view of Jeremy Bart and Jen Elek’s installation “Look! See?” at The Museum of Glass.

 

In the 200 years since the first electric light was invented, the light bulb has become a common household object. It has also come to symbolize new ideas and innovation, a spark of creativity, a sudden leap of understanding. Taken separately, a light bulb’s component parts are a simple glass globe, a wire filament, and an electrical current, but together, they open up whole new possibilities. Glass lends light form and volume, while light brings glass assertively to life.

This spring, the Penland glass studio will be all about exploring the possibilities and ideas that open when glass and light combine. It’s an area that collaborating artists Jen Elek and Jeremy Bart are already quite familiar with. In their recent exhibition Look! See? at The Museum of Glass in Tacoma, WA, the two created a dynamic and interactive landscape of forms, colors, reflections, and luminescence. Just as with a single light bulb, their pairing of glass and light combines to make more than the sum of its parts.

 

glass and neon installation by Jen Elek and Jeremy Bart
“Believe,” part of Jen and Jeremy’s installation “Look! See?”

 

For students interested in ways to take glass sculpture a step further, Jen and Jeremy’s spring concentration Hot Glass & Electric Light will be the ideal opportunity to do just that. During the eight-week workshop, which runs March 13-May 6, Jen will lead students through a strong base of hot glass techniques—and Jeremy will added instruction in the fundamentals of incorporating various forms of light into glass, from neon to LEDs.

Register for Hot Glass & Electric Light to give your work a literal jolt of electricity, and discover the potential for striking, communicative, and even humorous sculpture that the combination offers. Unlike the white creature below, we don’t think you’ll be disappointed.

 

Glass and neon head sculptures
“Human Heads,” a collaboration by Jeremy and Jen. (Notice the little switches like individual hairs on the very top of each head!)

 

Hot Glass & Electric Light

Jeremy Bert & Jen Elek — Most of us live within the glow of electric light—often protected or filtered by glass. This class will empower the nontechnically inclined artist to harness these omnipresent media by exploring the mechanics of glass and light while considering the potential for electric light in sculpture. Jen will teach the fundamentals of glass furnace work for the full eight weeks. Jeremy will join us for four weeks to cover the basic principles, vocabulary, and techniques of neon and other forms of electric light, including LED and incandescent. Artists ready to explore the combination of glass forming and electric light will find this workshop a great fit. All levels. Code S00GA

Jen has been a member of glass artist Lino Tagliapietra’s team since 2002; Jeremy is a certified welder, crane operator, and sign electrician. The two have previously taught at Pilchuck (WA) and have exhibited their work at Museum of Glass (WA) and Pittsburgh Glass Center.

jenelek.com

 

Penland Spring Concentrations, March 13 – May 6, 2016
Books  |  Clay  |  Glass  |  Iron  |  Metals  |  Textiles  |  Wood

 

 

Posted on

An Artist on the Factory Floor

Tom Shields at Century Furniture
Tom Shields at Century with one of the tables he is working into a project. On the right is a stack of tables in progress on the factory floor.

 

During his time as a resident artist at Penland, Tom Shield’s studio was constantly filled with old, worn furniture. “I collect wood furniture from the trash and let it pile up in my studio until it slowly starts to work itself into groups,” he once explained. “In the course of a few weeks, I constantly move and cluster chairs around my studio in different bunches. Once the groups get narrowed I start letting them talk.” The sculptures that result from this process are marked not only by Tom’s hands, but by the hands of those who used the furniture before him over days and weeks and years.

As interesting as it can be, working with discarded furniture does have obvious limitations. “For me, it’s always been on my list of where I want to go as an artist to up the pedigree of my materials,” Tom told me recently. Thanks to a brand-new collaboration with Century Furniture, he now has the opportunity to do just that.

Tom is the inaugural artist-in-residence at Century’s case goods factory in Hickory, NC. Hickory has long been known as one of the furniture capitals of the world, and Century has established its own reputation as a producer of high-end, heirloom-quality furniture.

During his three-month residency, Tom has free reign over what he creates—and he also has free access to a whole new caliber of raw materials. “I get to use anything that’s a second,” he explains. That means dozens, if not hundreds, of brand new furniture pieces that are only slightly less than perfect. “I’m super thankful for the whole opportunity,” he says.

 

Tom Shield's table sculpture and detail
The beginning of Tom’s first project at Century. As he remarked, “Devil’s in the details.”

 

A quick scroll through Tom’s Instagram gallery shows that he’s already put the time and materials to good use. Since the residency began on October 4, Tom has been working on three different sculptures made from Century tables. Two are crafted from groupings of identical tables, while the third is made from a single piece. This one is a bit of a departure for Tom: he has cut the table in two, dropped one side down three-quarters of an inch, and shifted it over two inches. “Because the pieces are so new and so pristine, I barely have to change them at all to make them into something completely different,” Tom tells me. “Before, I felt like I needed to do more to put my hand in it and have the same impact.”

The new materials are not the only departure from Tom’s individual studio practice. As he describes it, “I’m making work right on the same floor as all the people who are making the furniture for Century.” A lot of those people have been in the furniture industry for thirty or forty years, and Tom wasn’t sure how he’d be received as the first studio artist in their midst. “It’s intense, and it’s definitely working under a microscope, but everybody has been super nice and really helpful,” he says. “I feel like half of my day is spent just talking to people, sharing ideas and approaches.” And, now that he’s getting comfortable with how everything works at Century, “I’m just going to start making crazier and crazier things,” he laughs.

 

Tom reimagined these Century tables as a stack.
From sketch to sculpture, Tom is transforming these five Century tables into a single piece.

 

As a woodworker who has spent so much time with old furniture, Tom is intimately aware of what can bring a piece to the end of its life: the disposable design, planned obsolescence, and shoddy craftsmanship that are so common in much of today’s mass market furniture. Being at Century has provided a reassuring look at the other end of the furniture spectrum. “Every piece of furniture is touched by so many hands and created with such individual care,” Tom states. “I think people have this misconception now that there are CNC machines and other tools and you just put a bunch of wood in one end and it comes out as a piece of furniture at the other end. That’s not the case at all. So many different people are involved in every aspect of creating a piece.”

In fact, Tom revealed that the high level of craftsmanship at Century has actually changed the way he works with furniture. As he describes, “Normally I take everything apart by just banging on the joints. But at Century, I can’t get pieces apart. I’m having to learn to do everything I’ve been doing with all the pieces completely intact. It’s a whole new challenge, but it’s been an amazing opportunity.”

The opportunity was made possible by Ande Maricich, an active friend and supporter of Penland’s. Ande has deep ties to the furniture industry, and her husband served as Century’s CEO for a while. “Ande is really invested in both the craft world and furniture manufacturing,” Tom remarks. She had been excited by the partnership of artists and manufacturing facilities in the Kohler Arts/Industry residency and wanted to create a similar partnership at Century. When she saw Tom’s furniture sculptures a few years ago at the Penland Benefit Auction, she talked to him about the possibility of a residency at Century. Now that it’s become a reality, Ande would like to expand the program to include other artists and other factories and further strengthen the reciprocal ties between art and industry.

Reflecting on those ties, Tom points out that both he and the Century employees he’s working alongside are making things by hand. “I’m an artist, but they’re all artisans working on the floor, too—what’s really the difference?” he asks.

—Sarah Parkinson

 

After completing his residency at Century in December, Tom will be at Penland for the spring as the studio assistant to Raivo Vihman’s timber framing concentration. He was also just selected for a Kohler Arts/Industry residency—congrats, Tom!

 

Posted on

Penland at SOFA Expo 2015

visitors looking at art on display

Come visit Penland at this year’s SOFA Expo in Chicago November 5-8! The event is an annual art fair that celebrates sculpture and functional art, complete with gallery exhibits, lectures, and special displays.

 

Penland staff will be part of two SOFA educational lectures:

The Penland School of Crafts Gallery & Visitors Center 2016 Expansion
Friday, November 5, 9:00am
Penland gallery director Kathryn Gremley and Penland executive director Jean McLaughlin will give a talk about the new Penland Gallery & Visitors Center. The discussion will feature artists Stoney Lamar and Kate Vogel and will cover the new programming possible in the gallery’s expanded space.

Art Quilts: A Contemporary Conversation
Friday, November 5, 10:30am
Penland’s Jean McLaughlin will be part of a panel discussion on trends in contemporary quilt making put on by the friends of Fiber Art International.

 

In addition to these lectures, we will have Penland friends staffing a Penland table to tell you about upcoming workshops and events on campus. We will also be represented alongside Arrowmont, Haystack, Pilchuck, and Peters Valley at a table for the Craft School Experience. Stop by to say hi!

 

Posted on

Core Show Slideshow

Left to right: Tyler Stoll, Meghan Martin, Joshua Kovarik, Elmar Fujita, Daniel Garver, Jamie Karolich, Bryan Parnham, Emily Rogstad, Morgan Hill
Left to right: Tyler Stoll, Meghan Martin, Joshua Kovarik, Elmar Fujita, Daniel Garver, Jamie Karolich, Bryan Parnham, Emily Rogstad, Morgan Hill

 

The annual October Core Show is a much-anticipated highlight of fall at Penland, and this year was no exception. Our nine core fellows came together to put on a stunning show of pieces from their workshops across the Penland studios. Titled Personal Effects, the show featured furniture, prints, photographs, weaving, ceramics, sculpture, jewelry, and much more. It was a great opportunity to see the cumulative talent of this group of young artists, and also to show our appreciation for these people who do so much at the very heart of the Penland community.

View lots more images in the Personal Effects slideshow.

 

coreshow2
Guests admiring work at the opening reception. The table in the front is by Elmar Fujita.

 

Posted on

When Ceramics and Animation Meet

man working on stop-motion animation
En Iwamura arranges ceramic elements he sculpted for his animation sequence “Mature Table Manner”

 

Many people who have spent time around Penland know Cristina Córdova, a former Penland resident and established ceramic artist whose studio is just down the hill from the Penland Gallery. Cristina’s sought-after sculptures are figurative and expressive, often mesmerizing and sometimes haunting. Once you’ve seen her deft and intuitive approach to clay and the human form, it’s not hard to see why one of her workshops would produce some very compelling art.

But this summer’s Sculpture in Motion class was far more than just remarkable ceramic sculpture. To teach the course, Cristina teamed up with her younger brother Arturo Córdova, an artist in his own right. Arturo trained as an animator and also works out of Brooklyn, NY to build sets and props for commercials and films. Together, they proposed and developed a workshop that combined both of their talents together in the form of stop-motion animation.

Students in Sculpture in Motion first constructed intricate ceramic sculptures, each one articulated to allow for re-positionable movement. Next they built sets for their figures to inhabit. Once these visual pieces were in place, they used digital software to shoot individual frames and compile them into animation sequences. Somehow, all of this work fit into one two-and-a-half week whirlwind, and the results are bursting with the session’s creative energy. From a cartoon rabbit and a blooming flower to curling tentacles and disappearing heads, the animations are as varied as they are awesome. View clips from the workshop here, and prepare to be impressed.