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Mugs & Their Makers

Potters pose with over 200 mugs ready to be fired

Potters Jacob Herrmann and Heather McLelland of Devon Court Pottery pose earlier this week with about a third of the roughly 600 mugs they are making for the 2017 Penland Benefit Auction. Each mug had to be thrown, handled, stamped, initialed, bisque fired, glazed, and wadded before it made it to this table. Then they all got loaded into the kiln on the left for a salt-soda firing that will leave them washed in hues of orange, cream, rust, and more.

To make one of their mugs yours, join us at this summer’s auction for Coffee at the Barns on the morning of Saturday, August 12!

 

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Capturing Change in Cloth

woman holding a panel woven in black and white
Kim Mirus in the textiles studio with the second of her five woven panels depicting the retreat of Alaska’s Muir Glacier.

 

As someone who works on Penland’s digital media, there’s often a computer screen between me and the moment-to-moment happenings in the studios. I experience workshops vicariously through the posts of Penland students, instructors, and residents, and I usually know these people by their Instagram handles before I know their real names.

Until recently, I knew Penland student and winter resident Kim Mirus only through the gorgeous images she shares of her work. I marveled at her ability to capture quiet details at the loom and the way she transformed sunlight, shadow, and fiber into rich visual moments. But it wasn’t until I visited her in the textiles studio this winter that I understood that Kim’s weavings, just like her photographs, are characterized by a thoughtful treatment of materials and a keen attention to the world around her. Many of her pieces address social and environmental topics; recent themes include juvenile incarceration, the near extinction of the American bison, and climate change.

 

weavings
Left: Kim’s five woven panels laid out in the weaving studio. Right: a detail of the third panel showing what is left of Muir Glacier today.

 

Kim used her time as a winter resident this January to weave samples, dye fibers, and explore new ideas. When I visited, she showed me the series of five woven panels she had just completed. The first is a black field with a large area of white woven into it. The second is similar, but the white area has shrunken noticeably and fragmented apart. In the third, only a small fraction of the central white area remains. It’s barely a smudge on the fourth panel, and the fifth is a solid square of black. “It’s the Muir Glacier in Alaska,” Kim tells me. “This is the area it covered in the oldest photographs I could find, over 100 years ago,” she continues, pointing to the first panel. “And this is how much of the glacier is left today.” She points to the third panel, and the pattern from there is clear: accelerated warming hastening glacial retreat until soon, the entire Muir Glacier will exist only in our photographs and memories.

Kim refers to these pieces as “woven data” because, like graphs or charts, they are visual representations of information presented on cloth. “I want to get people thinking about these issues,” she explains, “and I find that weaving is a non-confrontational way to start conversations that can sometimes be uncomfortable or divisive.”

 

Two images of Muir Glacier taken 63 years apart
Two photographs taken from the same spot in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve, Alaska. The left image was captured August 13, 1941, and the right image was taken August 31, 2004. Muir Glacier retreated over 4.4 miles between the two images. (Image credits: William O. Field, Bruce F. Molnia)

 

Kim’s Muir Glacier series is a beautiful example of how craft can be a powerful tool—not just for its beauty or for the skill inherent in its creation, but for its power to open up new lines of communication. Indeed, it was the graphic pattern and texture that drew me to her work, but it’s the receding glacier and our warming climate that I’m still thinking about two weeks later.

See more of Kim’s work on her website

Read about the USGS’s work to document glacial retreat in Alaska


— Sarah Parkinson

 

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Table in a Day!

Penland’s Table in a Day participants with their (mostly) finished creations.

 

The process of designing and making an object can be a slow and laborious one. Good craft takes time. But once a year in the Penland wood studio, time is in very short supply. For the annual Table in a Day Challenge, now in its third year, wood studio residents have only one day to craft a table from start to finish. Pre-planning and sketching are allowed, but all the cutting and construction must happen between 9 AM and 9 PM.

This year, ten seasoned furniture designers rose to the challenge. Armed with donuts, pump-up tunes, and designs (or not), they quickly spread out around the studio and got to work cutting, planing, jointing, and gluing. Meanwhile, up in Baltimore, Penland session 7 instructor Sarah Marriage was taking part remotely, hard at work on her own speed-table.

 

man shaping a wooden table leg
Core fellow Kyle Kulchar shapes a leg for his table (the black one in the center, above).

 

With this much focus and intensity, pieces take shape quickly. By early afternoon, tabletops had been glued up, legs had been shaped, and the energy was palpable. A few hours later, the parts were starting to come together into three-dimensional forms that looked an awful lot like furniture. By 8:45 PM, the artists were in a final flurry of activity brushing paint, wiping finish, and laying the final boards into place. Somehow by 9 PM (or just a few minutes after), a collection of furniture stood where there had only been open floor at the beginning of the day.

 

two women woodworking
Left: Studio coordinator Ellie Richards adding color to her design. Right: Winter residency studio assistant Christina Boy finishing her table as it nears 9 o’clock.

 

As impressive as the participants’ speed and skill was the variety in the pieces they made. The tables ranged in scale from chihuahua-sized to large enough to seat six for dinner. Some highlighted the grain and natural color of the wood, while others employed bright paint and striking textures. Angela St. Vrain, a winter resident, used a piece of blown and slumped glass she’d made as a tabletop; studio coordinator Ellie Richards covered a whole face of her table with quotes she collected from protest posters at the Women’s Marches over the weekend. The legs on winter resident Zoe Alexa’s table were solidly joined at various non-right angles, and core fellow Elmar Fujita mixed and matched a pair of turned legs with two straight, square ones.

 

woman building a table
Core fellow Elmar Fujita attaching the legs to her Table in a Day creation.

 

All told, it was a day full up with some of the best the studio can bring: camaraderie, creativity, costumes, big skill, and lots of energy. Just don’t ask them to do it again tomorrow.

See more photos from Table in a Day in the slideshow below. (If you are reading this post as an email, we recommend viewing it on the blog.)

 

Intrepid woodworkers about to start at 8:59 AM.
Game faces
Four hours in and going strong!
Ellie inscribing quotes onto one face of her table.
Morgan putting together the pieces (in costume, of course).
Zoe had to work during the middle of the day, but she still made a mini table!
Bob at the table saw
Angela creating the glass and wood top for her table
Resident artist Annie Evelyn chose to make a 12-hour valet stand, which is sort of like a little table combined with a chair and a coat rack.
Yes, Elmar is rocking a wig.
Ellie with the finished word panel for the side of her table.
A 12-hour time limit doesn't mean you can skimp on sanding!
Paint paint paint
Finishing up in the final minutes.
The finished tables!
Not bad for 12 hours, eh?

 

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Photo of the Week: Here There Be Monsters

Adam Whitney is spending the month of January at Penland as a winter residency studio assistant in upper metals. His big project for that time is to make a pair of stirrup cups, the “parting cups” traditionally used to present mounted riders with wine or spirits before they left on a journey. Because stirrup cups were used on horseback instead of around a table, they didn’t need the flat base standard to almost all drinking vessels, and many were shaped like the heads of hounds, foxes, and other animals. Adam is crafting his in the shapes of mythical beasts.

The cups are inspired by fanciful renderings of sea monsters and other creatures on old maps and books. Adam started by making a model in copper, complete with curved teeth, horns, and a scaly chin. Next, he began the methodical work of transforming solid lumps of silver into cups, first by shaping and hollowing them with a hammer and then by adding details with finer tools like punches. The process is no small undertaking, but the results so far are a monstrous success.

 

 

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Photo of the Week: Evidence of Sledding

This time one week ago, a storm was rolling in. By midday Saturday, it had dumped over six inches of fresh snow, leaving the knoll and the Penland campus blanketed in white. Winter residents wasted no time enjoying the sudden appearance of winter, and some even took advantage of our mountainous location for some just-out-the-studio-door sledding. These compacted sledding trails on the knoll were one of the last things to go as the snow melted away, like sweet memories that linger after the thrill of the runs themselves.

 

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Photo of the Week: Getting Ready

preparing kiln posts

Clay studio coordinator Susan Feagin getting the kiln furniture ready for six weeks of clay studio residents starting in January. This is just one of the many, many tasks that goes on behind the scenes between the end of fall concentrations and the beginning of winter residencies at Penland.

 

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