Posted on

Penland Gallery Artist of the Week – Sarah Loertscher, Jeweler


Gold Scratch Ring


Spare, precise, and exacting – and yet – complicated. There is a visual economy in Sarah’s jewelry, removing all the extraneous fluff and fuss and paring it down to the line or form that is most important to her. But so often that “simplicity” is the result of endless hours of skilled craftsmanship and labor-intensive technique. To quote Sarah about the ring pictured – “18k yellow gold bimetal is lovingly, obsessively, painstakingly scratched with an x-acto blade until it’s surface glitters like a disco ball “. While the end results would satisfy an ardent minimalist – the technical path getting there is impressive.

Structure Earrings


Sarah was a Core student at Penland in 2005-2006, spending the majority of her time in the metals studios with a foray into the print studio now and then. In printmaking she applied her metals skills to intaglio prints with the same exactitude and meticulous results she achieved in her jewelry. She left Penland on a serious trajectory upward and full of redheaded determination. Her resume since 2005 outlines how well that has played out – teaching cred and name-dropping gallery shows, a strong wholesale business and a lot of experience.

We have been showing Sarah’s work in the gallery since 2006 and look forward to each box of her jewelry – new ideas and elegant forms.

About Sarah

My name is Sarah Loertscher, and I’m a studio jeweler in Seattle, Washington. I’m a transplant from North Carolina, where I spent two years washing dishes and making art as a Core Student at Penland School of Crafts. Originally, I hail from Indiana, the land of agriculture, Indy cars, and sweeping sky. I earned my BFA from Ball State University in Muncie, Indiana, where I started working with metal.  I’ve been making jewelry for eight years.

Parallelogram Necklace


From an interview with Sarah:

Where did you get started, and how long have you been working in steel?

Officially, I got started at Ball State University in Indiana- I had to take all these survey courses as an undecided art major, and six weeks into my metals class I declared metals as my major. Working in that shop was the first time I can remember vividly losing time; sinking so far into a project that hours would drift by unnoticed. I remember the feeling that I had found a partner- like – THIS THING was what I was going to spend my life exploring. The only other time I felt that was when I met my (now) fiancé.

Crystal Pattern Ring


About the Work

My work is based in fabrication and typically I work in sterling silver and 18k yellow gold.  I am interested in crystalline structure and how simple shapes can grow into large, chaotic, complicated masses of their own.  Usually when I am making a piece of jewelry, I am either trying to build up a line or a shape into a more dynamic design, or I am distilling shapes down into their structural supports.  The facets on rocks and crystals are also visually interesting to me, and creating my own faceted objects.

Kite Earrings


My current work is fabricated by scoring and soldering sterling silver into a variety of polygons, and assembling these polygons into crystalline structures.  The end result is light, linear jewelry that echoes the structural aspects of both minute crystalline growth patterns and large-scale architectural design.

Inspiration comes to me in the form of illustrated field guilds, diagrams of any sort, frost, columnar basalt, and the subtle landscape of my Indiana homeland.  My favorite materials are sterling silver and mild steel.

Penland Gallery’s web page

Sarah’s website

Posted on 2 Comments

Eight weeks later…

After eight weeks of hard work and constant learning the 2010 Concentration student’s stories might best be told though their hands. Fellow-student Elliot Todd and I spent a little time during the last week of spring getting folks to show us their hands. Below is a photo essay of Elliot’s pictures of the hands of a student in each Concentration class, and also some hardworking dishwashing hands from the work-study program. Enjoy!

–Karen Mahardy

Chris Porcarelli, iron

Sara Basoula, printmaking
Ryan Flory, lower clay
Kathy DeBoy, upper clay
Abby Brock, metals
Abby Brock, metals
Justin Sanz, printmaking
Patrick Lloyd, wood
Karen Mahardy, glass

Posted on

Penland Gallery Artist of the Week – Daniel Essig, Book Artist


Isinglass Sturgeon

At the moment, there is a five-foot sturgeon in the gallery. Isinglass Sturgeon is the result of three years of Dan’s creative work and the finest example of his re-definition of the book. Pages or chapters become fins; his backbone carries a library of small books, chained like aquatic hitchhikers; in place of scales a leathery paper skin is reminiscent of a long forgotten ledger. This is but one of the many beautiful and complex sculptural books Dan has shared with us at Penland over the past 18 years that he has been a part of Penland.

Isinglass Sturgeon detail

There are more traditional books in Dan’s portfolio – ones with front and back covers and a stitched binding in the expected location – with Centipede bindings wrapping around the covers and mica windows covering fossil treasures or tintype photographs.

Dan began his book studies at Penland, and has taught here many times; occasionally teaming with one of his mentors, Dolph Smith. He spent several years at Penland as Core student in the early nineties, and lives not far away in Asheville, NC.

We are fortunate to have exhibited Dan’s work in the gallery for many years and enjoy his transmutation of the book form. Dan’s own words below, best describe his work – work that comes from a complex mind’s eye.

About Daniel

I got into bookbinding while studying photography at the University of South Illinois at Carbondale. One of my professors, Chuck Swedlund, hired me as his graduate assistant on his photographic caving expeditions. I carried equipment, held strobes, and fired off flash bulbs for Chuck and other cave photographers. For several months we worked almost every day underground. During the long stretches of inactivity, I searched for fossils and cave life and took photographs of my own. I also spent a lot of time wandering above ground, collecting images of melting ice, weathered rocks, eroding soil, and rotting trees. I found myself gravitating towards the colors of decay, the beauty of aging. I kept an eye out for Native American petroglyphs, abstract designs or images of footprints or animals and became good at finding them. These places seemed sacred to me.

One of the first books I made (this was before I knew how to bind) was an altered book, printed in Greek. I glued the pages together, and they were so brittle that I could scrape out a Native American rock painting that I often saw in Southern Illinois. Another time I found a little newt, a red eft that had been flattened by a car on the road.  He was dry, curled up, and so paper-thin that I preserved him between two sheets of handmade paper and mounted him in a book. It was my version of a petroglyph.  Rather than mounting my photographs on gallery walls, I decided to place them in boxes or books so that the viewer had to explore them actively, rather than just wandering past.

Around this time I visited my sister Mary in Iowa City and met a friend of hers named Al Buck, who was making wooden-covered Coptic books. The binding was first used around the fourth century, in Ethiopia or North Africa, or perhaps this is just the area where the books were best preserved.  Al sent me a book that he had made, along with hand-written instructions. Since I knew nothing about bookmaking or sewing or paper or woodworking, it was a challenge. The books had holes drilled vertically through the board, but other holes were drilled at angles from the edge of the board to both the inside and outside face. This perplexed me, because I didn’t know whether to use a drill press or hold the board in a vice at an angle. Al told me to clamp the board to the inside of a drawer and then drill the hole with a hand-powered drill, just eyeballing it. I was happy to learn that it was easiest to drill the holes with a simple tool that my grandfather might have used. (Bowing to convenience, I now use a metalsmith’s power drill called a flex shaft, but I still eyeball the angle.) Once I mastered the drilling, the rest of the process fell into place. Still, it took me nearly two years to make a book I was satisfied with.  What first appealed to me about Coptic books was that, unlike most hand-bound books, they open completely flat. When I put images on the pages, you could see the whole image without struggling with the binding.

My first book arts mentor was Frances Lloyd Swedlund. At the time she was a cinema and photography graduate student at Carbondale, but she also made exquisitely crafted books. A lot of people were impressed with the first boxes and books that I made, but Frances was not. The others liked the simple fact that I was making boxes and books; she saw that they were sloppily made, with no sense of craftsmanship.  Frances, who had studied at the Penland School of Crafts, knew it was the place for me to learn bookmaking, and she urged Chuck (who had taught at Penland himself) to send me there. Chuck was reluctant to lose his assistant, somebody had to haul his equipment through the cave muck, but ultimately he agreed.

As I finished my degree at Carbondale, I spent my summers as a work scholarship student at Penland, and later I became a core student there. It was at Penland that I began to concentrate exclusively on Ethiopian Coptic books. Dolph Smith helped push me beyond the simple Ethiopian book. He was making sculptural books by hanging paper from wooden structures, and I tracked him down and ultimately studied with him. Under his influence I developed my bridge books, which use the same Coptic binding but exaggerate each of the elements: the covers become elongated into two-foot-long towers that stand on a tabletop, and rather than 10 or 12 signatures in the text block, I use 100 to 200, well over 1000 pages. I can’t afford that much new paper, so to make the bridges I return to the idea of the altered book. I find books that have mangled spines and covers but good quality paper, and I use that paper in my work. Often I use old Bibles with exceptionally thin paper, which has a nice drape and flow. I like to listen to bookbinders try to justify tearing up old books, because it sometimes makes them feel a little guilty. I don’t have much of a problem with the practice, because the books I alter are not rare, and they’ve already lived their lives. Bookbinders have been recycling books for 2000 years. In some of the first Coptic books, wood was scarce, and the binders would take old papyrus scrolls and laminate many layers together to make thick book covers.

One of the first people I met at Penland was Julie Leonard, who was a resident artist there at the time. I assisted in her classes, and she helped me learn how to make a living by making production journals. These are still one-of-a-kind books, but I can make them fairly quickly and sell them for a reasonable price at shows. I’ve made hundreds over the years, and I can’t imagine stopping now. I spend so much of my time sewing books that the process is meditative.  It gives me an opportunity to think about the structure of the book, and how to stretch the limits of the Coptic form.

Excerpted with permission of Sterling Publishing Co. Inc. from THE PENLAND BOOK OF HANDMADE BOOKS © 2004 by Lark Books, a Division of Sterling Publishing Co. Inc.


About the Work

Some people use my books as journals and fill them up with words. I don’t write in my books. For me, the books themselves are journals, visual records of my life and work.

I am interested in traces of the past, ancient binding styles, altered books, distressed finishes, and found objects. Since I was six or seven years old, I’ve been collecting small objects. I have seashells and interesting rocks that I collected at the beach on childhood vacations. I also have my grandfather’s arrowhead collection. He often walked the freshly plowed fields of the central Missouri town where spent his life, collecting these stone relics of the land’s past inhabitants. I’ve stored up seedpods, rocks, bones, shells, bits of rusty metal, nails, animal teeth, and fossils. They represent periods in my life, even just days or moments. I keep my collection of objects in drawers, bottles, and boxes within a single small room in my house. The space has the feel of a German Wunderkammern, a “cabinet of curiosities.” I often sit in the room and scan my collection, seeking just the right object to inspire a new book or sculpture.

A symphony conductor who collects my work once told me that he hides my books in a basket every evening before going to bed so they won’t be stolen during the night. Until fairly recently all books were prized possessions — medieval libraries chained books to the shelves to prevent theft. In those days each volume was crafted with precision, elaborately decorated and embellished with precious stones and metals. I aim to make my books just as precious as those medieval manuscripts.

All my work has a Coptic book at its heart. The binding was first used about the fourth century, in Ethiopia or North Africa, or perhaps this is just the area where the books were best preserved.  There are several distinct sewings known as Coptic. The style I use is known as Ethiopian. I use two needles for each length of thread, one on either end. I use wood covers and tunnel through the edge of the board to attach the text block. The historic sewing style, wooden boards, and the type of board attachment are what distinguish the Ethiopian style Coptic Binding.

Penland Gallery web page

Dan’s website

Posted on

Penland Gallery Artist of the Week – Rob Pulleyn, Ceramist


Big Jaw Vase
Big Jaw Vase

Rob has been showing his work in our gallery since 2005. Although Rob pays homage to the vase form, the work is equally respectful of sculptural vessels – robust, grounded forms with necks, collars and strong shoulders. The vessels are subtle and complex; the matte surfaces are treated to Rob’s language of mark making and edges have as much significance as the larger fields on the sides of the pots. There is a studied seriousness throughout his work; a well considered relationship with the material.

Rob founded Fiberarts Magazine in 1975, and later Lark Books in Asheville NC, that publishes some great craft books including our Penland series. Lately he is behind the project Marshall High Studios, the renovation of an old high school building into artist studios here in western North Carolina. He currently serves on our board of trustees, providing support and endless dry humor. Clearly he is not a lazy man.

No surprise that when he began doing ceramic work he took it on 200%. Since 1999, Rob has taken ten classes at Penland. Most have been in the clay studios, but just to keep everyone on their toes, he has taken drawing, glass, and iron classes as well.




About Rob

I’ve been involved in the crafts/arts field in general and the fiber arts specifically for more than 30 years.  This includes a checkered history as a tapestry weaver beginning in the early 70’s.  Besides the design process, what I enjoyed most was the experience of the “hand” of the material.

That led me to ceramics in the 1990’s.  I am in love with the basic material of ceramics: wet clay.  While it took many years for the materials and techniques of textiles to become familiar to me, I have, for some wonderful reason, become comfortable with the language of clay in less than a decade.  Working in clay is exhilarating, frightening, and totally satisfying.

While I have no academic background in clay (my undergraduate and graduate study was in Sociology and Anthropology), I have studied under some great ceramics teachers, all at the Penland School of Crafts.  They include: George Bowes (1999), Richard Notkin (2000), Steven Heinemann (2001), Yih-Wen Kuo (2002), Richard Burkett and Lana Wilson (2004), and Anne Hirondelle (2005). 




About the Work

I use high fire clays. My work is decorated with multiple layers of underglazes, stains, and oxides, which means that most pieces are fired many times. I don’t want to obliterate the clay itself, so I rarely use glazes. 

 I am most creative when I’m working within self-defined restrictions. My ceramic work for the last several years has had as its restriction the ability of the pieces to hold water and thus flowers or stems. Some of my forms are obvious in this, others less so.  I think of my work as sculpture with a hidden ability to be functional. Commissions also give me restrictions, which is why I enjoy them.

 I play with the surfaces of the clay both before and after I build the vessels. With each piece, I force myself to do something I’ve never done before. This means each piece is an experiment of sorts. It also means I destroy a lot of evidence, but it keeps the anxiety level sufficiently high and the joy of success addictively sweet.

 While I’m creating, all the world, all speech, and all time stops. It’s a selfish process. But, I am extremely happy with the result of that process somehow speaks to me…..and others. It’s all a mystery, of course, but isn’t that the underlying attraction? 

Penland Gallery web page

Marshall High Studios

Posted on

Golly Peters, ceramist

Golly Peters
Golly Peters

Golly Peters first became aware of Penland when she found the Penland Book of Ceramics in Amsterdam. She was so impressed with the book that she found Penland on the Internet and learned that it was a school that anyone could apply to and attend. She sensed that there was something special about Penland and hoped to go there one day.

Golly lives in Brussels, and has found that Belgian ceramicists are secretive about their processes and not open to sharing with others. Though she had been doing ceramics for five years, she had been struggling with moldmaking and so she signed up for Tom Spleth’s spring class in moldmaking and slipcasting. Earlier this year Golly had to have some serious surgery and coming to Penland was a tremendous incentive and helped her recovery.

Now Golly can’t wait to go home and share what she has learned with others. She feels more confident than ever with her work and now sees flaws that she didn’t see before. “Penland brought the fun back into my work and gave me permission to play again,” she said. “ I have had a great experience at Penland and feel that the class pushed me to go beyond limitations that I had previously and move onto the next phase of my work.

–Karen Mahardy

Posted on

Penland Gallery Artist of the Week – Sondra Dorn, Textile Artist

Cicada Wings
Mica Composition with Cicada Wings

Sondra is a full time studio fiber artist who received her MFA from the University of Washington in 1996. She has been involved with Penland School as a work-study student in 1991, a Core Fellowship student from 1992 to 1994, and a Resident Artist from 1997 to 2001. She has also generously donated her artwork to our annual fundraising auction many times since her days in the residency program.

Sondra deftly joins digital technology and traditional fiber techniques to create works that showcase her love of color and pattern. Poke berries, cicadas, mica, maple leaves, wild leeks, ferns, and protozoa all have been translated by Sondra via her computer and onto her cloth. Add some seriously detailed hand and machine stitching and the end result is a textile painting, with multiple layers of texture and intense organic color. We have been showing Sondra’s work for nearly 10 years in the gallery and although her work has altered and grown over the years – collectively the work beautifully represents her viewpoint and voice through her textiles.

About Sondra

Protozoa Forms
Mica Composition with Protozoa Forms

I knew I wanted to be an artist when I was young, but the first time I decided to plunge myself full-tilt into this career didn’t come until 1991. It was the first time I ever went to Penland as a work-study student and my instructor, Randall Darwall, an amazing weaver and teacher, read our class a quote from Joseph Campbell, “Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors where there were only walls.”

I think that really was the moment I saw that there might be a way to make my art my life’s work. I have tried to stay true to this path through many ups and downs. My work has always been the lens through which I view the world.

I love color and pattern and I see it everywhere. I love to find common objects and examine them until I find the compositions and patterns and colors within that may not be apparent on first glance. These discoveries are the backbone of my current work.

I now live in Asheville, North Carolina with my cat and surrounded by amazing creative energy and the beautiful Blue Ridge Mountains.

Ferns in Forest
Ferns in Forest

About the Work

I create my work by bringing together my love of textiles and traditional techniques with my fascination in new technologies. The images are derived from actual objects scanned into the computer, manipulated and enhanced. This is then digitally printed with dyes on 100% linen fabric. I then embellish my piece with hand embroidery, free motion machine embroidery and appliqué of hand dyed linen.

I love the twining of disparate images and approaches, some rooted in the craft tradition of textiles and others based on contemporary technologies. Instead of seeing these objects, images, colors and processes as completely unlike, I wonder and seek their sameness in how they speak to me and to each other.

Penland Gallery web page

Sondra’s website