An Interview with Claudia Smigrod
Claudia Smigrod was a student in in Paul Moxon’s spring one-week Letterpress Fundamentals workshop in the letterpress studio.
Is this your first class at Penland?
It’s my first class, but I was here in the '70s for a weekend. Jack Neff [the late Jack Neff was a resident artist at Penland, and lived in the area for many years] was a friend of mine from school, and I came to visit him when he was a resident artist. It was fabulous because it was Founders’ Day weekend, so Miss Lucy [Penland School's founder, Lucy Morgan] was here, and there was a big clog dance. It’s taken me 40 years, but I got back.
What brought you here for this class?
I teach photography at the Corcoran in Washington, DC, and I teach a class called Photographic Storytelling: Tell Me a Story. We work in a room with a beautiful letterpress, cases of type, and a plate-maker machine, and I don’t know how to use any of it. So it’s a fabulous excuse to come here; I was able to get the school to send me. I don’t have any desire to be an expert in letterpress, but I want to know how to do it. The more things I learn how to do, the more ideas I get, so it’s great. Now I can suggest to my students that they incorporate letterpress with their books. Before, I took on bookmaking, so now I know how to do basic bookbinding. I’m primarily a photographer, but that’s just the beginning, right? Especially in a place like this where everything is right here and totally intertwined.
How are you enjoying it?
It’s fabulous. It’s really hard with just a week, because one day, at least for me, is going to be a total failure day. Then I need the nighttime to say, “Okay, you’ve put that behind you now, so forget that.” And then… everything takes so long. The days aren’t long enough, and you can’t make more time. And who wants to sleep when you’re here? I don’t want to finish anything when I’m here, I just want to start it going. I’m very fortunate, because when I’m done here, I’ll have access to the equipment to keep going. I’d love to learn how to blow glass, but I wouldn’t have anywhere to keep doing it once I leave.
One thing that’s really wonderful is the magic of the people in the class. It’s totally random – only two people knew each other – and everyone is so respectful. Out of the blue, there’s someone in the class who went to my school, who graduated 10 years ago, who I didn’t even know, and she came over and said, “I know you.” It’s really kind of lovely to just pick up there; for us both to be students in the same class is nice. I love being a teacher, and I love not being the teacher, having the luxury of being a student. It really teaches you a lot about teaching. That’s a nice thing about teaching – you can learn so much about it as a student.
Do you think you’ll come back for another class anytime soon?
My dream would be to come back and teach. I think I’ve maxxed out what my school will pay for, and like everyone, I’m on a pretty specific budget, so as for taking more classes, we’ll have to see. When I looked in the summer catalog, I saw that there’s a two-week text and image class coming up. That would be great. Right now, I’m just really pleased to be back after 40 years. I feel really fortunate; I think most people, rightfully, feel fortunate to be here.