Rachel Qualliotine, from Greenville, North Carolina, a student in Jim Cotter & Robert Ebendorf’s Potluck of Materials & Ideas, a mixed-media jewelry class in the metals studio. Yes, she made her earrings.
T-Minus 3 days and counting…
It’s just about time to launch the summer season here at Penland, and we can’t wait to rocket once again into the stratosphere of contemporary craft education! Eager to explore? Ready to fly? Pack your bags, climb on board, and join us as the countdown rolls toward zero, the engines thunder, and the clouds open up ahead…
This could be the summer when it happens. Or when it happens again, even. When you see the wide new world you’ve been imagining spread out in front of you, where you might discover a new life that is your own. When the familiar gets strange and the alien becomes second nature. When you blast off.
Ready for takeoff? Ignition in 3… 2… 1…
“Whenever I teach, or am a student at Penland,” says spring metals instructor Lola Brooks, “I always try to put as much into the scholarship auction as I can because of what it supports, and because I love the idea that people who could not otherwise afford my work can score a piece for less than it would cost in a gallery somewhere. I love that democratization of the goods.” Lola also enjoys modeling her own jewelry work for the auction crowd. “My class donated a charm bracelet; I had everyone make a charm. I made the chain and the clasp, and I put a charm on it, too. This has been such an amazing class; it was really transformative for a lot of people, including myself, and each charm on the bracelet became a metaphor for that student and their process. Each piece is also indicative of what they learned, of all the techniques that we covered. The bracelet kind of took on a life of it’s own. It tells the story of what went on in the class, in a really powerful way. I love that charm bracelet.” She shakes a large, eclectic chain of bangles out from under her shirtsleeve. “I’m wearing it now.”
At the end-of-session auction, Lola was modeling the bracelet as the auctioneers called it out. She took the microphone and gave a speech about her class. “I told the crowd that that the piece was a collaboration between all of us, and that in my 11 years of teaching this had been the most powerful, amazing group of students I’ve ever taught,” she recalls. And when the bidding started again, something surprising happened. “At some point,” Lola says with a grin, “I just stuck my hand up and bid. I wasn’t even really thinking about it. And I won the bracelet for $525. And then I panicked, because I don’t have $525.” Wood instructor Jacque Allen, who’d also been bidding for the bracelet, stepped in with an offer to buy it, so that Lola wouldn’t go broke paying for it, “and it would have been great for it to go home with her; she’s awesome, I love her, but I was devastated that I wouldn’t get to keep it, because it felt very important to me,” Lola says. Then one of Lola’s students, Veva Edelson, came to the rescue. “I was telling Veva how I felt really sentimental about it, about the connection I’ve built with each student in the class, and the entire experience that I’ve had here, and she took the cowboy hat off my my head and went around the room saying, “Please help Lola keep her charm bracelet,” and she raised enough that I could afford it. It was really amazing.”
Lola has taught at Penland a couple of times before, but this was her first experience with an eight-week course. “I would say that this class changed my life,” she opines. It blows my mind. People really changed over the course of these eight weeks. They all really gave themselves over to the process, each in a completely different way. I know, for myself, for my part of the transformation, that I will never be the same.”
“Most of the teaching I’ve done has been at the university level, and then I’ve taught a variety of workshops. And then Penland is… it sounds sort of funny to say, but Penland is such a special place. You come up on this mountain, and you’re immersed in this group of like 140 personalities, and it triggers stuff. It triggers all kinds of weird relationships. The fact that you can come here and it’s like you’re going to craft camp, and they feed you, and shelter you, and give you this opportunity to step out of the world and immerse yourself in a creative world, surrounded by people who are like-minded or passionate about working with their hands. It’s kind of hooked me in.”
With another shake of the wrist, she jingles her bracelet again and smiles.
It’s not time to give up on summer dreaming just yet – there are still plenty of openings in Penland classes between now and September. The big news today, though, is a look into the slightly further future: the 2011-2012 Fall/Spring Concentration course schedule and registration are up and running on our website! So have a look. And think about the future. Dream a few dreams. Set a few goals. Ask yourself, “Where do I see myself in six months’ time? How about a year from now?” And ask yourself if a class at Penland could be a part of the answer.
Fear not, lovers of paper! Printed catalogs will be coming by post in the near future. Like the man said, we’re all interested in the future, because that’s where we’re going to spend the rest of our lives.
Linnie Trettin was a work-study scholarship student in Melissa Jay Craig’s Surface & Structure: Paper & Book class in the books and paper studio this spring, and she kept a blog about her experience here at Penland. Check it out – she offers an inside look at the studio practice, shared living space, work obligations, parties, frustrations, friendships, the intense living and learning that come with a Penland scholarship.
Near the beginning of spring concentration, we posted a story about iron student Amanda Murdaugh, a frequent Penland work-study scholar and auction volunteer, whose mother Cathie talked her into coming up this spring. Charmed by Amanda’s story of her family’s relationship to the school, we asked Cathie Murdaugh if she would also share her thoughts on the Penland experience. A ceramicist, educator, and artist-in-residence for the State of South Carolina, she too has been up on the mountain many times, as a student, studio assistant, and auction volunteer. This time around, she enrolled in Jane Peiser and Janice Farley’s Festive & Functional Colored Porcelain in the clay studio, her first eight-week workshop.
We sat on the new clay studio porch on a chilly, damp afternoon, to talk about teaching and learning, clay and classes, and what she wants to do when she grows up. She began by taking exception to Amanda’s version of events. According to Cathie, it was her daughter who first talked her into taking a concentration this spring, though she admits returning the favor by convincing Amanda she should come too.
Like many Penlanders who’ve come here again and again, Cathie tells tales that move casually through layers of memory and change, dating events by reference to people’s names and the construction of new buildings, counting the number of auctions rather than giving specific years. Like her daughter Amanda, she will often finish speaking, grin disarmingly, and then stare for a moment into the far distance, as though scanning the horizon for the next part of her story.
How many Penland classes have you taken?
At least 8. Maybe 9. No, it’s 10. I had never done a concentration before this one.
Amanda said she volunteered for the auction first and then started taking classes. But the classes came first for you?
The classes came first. I was a studio assistant, and at the end, when we were cleaning up, the other studio assistants said, “They’re going to have this auction, like the one we had at the end of session, but it’s going to be a big one, and they need volunteers. If you stay, they’ll feed you and put you up for a while.” I could only stay for another day or so, because I had children to get back to. I’m not sure if that was the first auction, but it was an early one. And they said, “Oh yeah, you’ll get a t-shirt, too!” And I’ve been coming… well, I have a t-shirt from 1986, and I had been coming for a while by then. I guess I’ve been to 12-15 auctions, maybe more. Why not? You get to see beautiful artwork, you get to see all of your friends that you see once a year, you get to eat wonderful food, and breathe the mountain air…
I have come since the ’80s, since before Bill Brown left. It might have been 1982 when I first came… I’d have to go to the archives and look it up. I’d never been here before, and Dan Engelke was the instructor, and right away he had us make devices that would arrest the gravitational pull on an egg when it was dropped from the balcony.
You had to make them out of clay?
Yeah. Well, clay and other things, and I thought, “What have I walked into? Who is this person and why am I here?” We found vacuum hoses and all sorts of things to sort of stop the eggs, and then they’d wind up in the bottom, in the clay, in clay troughs and things. And before the session was over, someone went marching around in the woods with bamboo poles and stuck pendants of clay on the end, and made installations on the sides of the mountain, where they would biodegrade.
What was the class about?
Clay. That was it.
Just clay? No particular technique?
No. That was an unusual class, but obviously I came back.
Have you mostly taken clay classes when you’ve been here? Or have you tried a variety of media?
I have been head down, looking at the clay only. I wish I had the motivation to try something different, but I love it. There’s always a different approach, a different instructor. I’ve been wheel-throwing and now I’m hand-building, when I can, and it’s something that I can take home and do in my studio. Glassblowing would be neat, but when I tried it up there…. I don’t have the capacity (laughs). I mean, I blew a bubble, and I’ve kept it ever since. It’s magical, but very small. And woodworking…. I used to watch my father do that, but it isn’t my calling. Fibers sometimes interest me, because I love color. Sometimes clay doesn’t have enough color, so I work in stained glass, just to experience the excitement of all the different colors, but what we’re doing now, it’s stained glass, clay, murinis, it’s everything, all in one. It’s great.
Jane [Peiser] is… we call her “the Zen Master,” and Janice [Farley] is “Mother Superior.” Janice keeps us in line and tells us jokes, and Jane just looks at us kindly and says, “I think that will work.” She’s so encouraging. Both of them, as a team, cannot be beat. They are wonderful. This is lucky. Well, maybe luck isn’t it. I’m sure it was planned to be this way.
Do you have a favorite class among those you’ve taken?
I loved making the wall [a decorative clay tile wall behind the metals studio]. Every time I go by, I have to blow the little whistle I made. Carlos Alves taught that class twice, and I came for the second. I saw the first wall, and I just thought it was the most beautiful thing, and so appropriate. It seemed to be the perfect combination of color and line. When I heard that he was coming back, I said, “I’m doing this.” So I wrote a grant, because I was, and am again now, an artist-in-residence for the State of South Carolina, and one of my jobs is to go around and teach art teachers how to use that expensive piece of equipment sitting in their back closet. Often they have a kiln but they’re not comfortable with it, so I show them how they can set up a clay studio and do small projects that they can finish in the limited time that they have, and how to store them, since they see hundreds of students in a week. I wrote a grant with the arts commission, to take what I learned here with the wall and teach it, and I went off making mosaics, and beautiful sculptures, and bird baths, and paths all around, and we had a principal at one school who bent rebar and placed it all around and made an archway, and we did the flowers like you see out there on the wall, taught them all how to do that and placed them on the rebar. It’s still there at the school, and they’re very proud of it.
One thing that Penland does for teachers is to let them see all the possibilities of their art. So many of us are just taught drawing and painting, but clay is so fabulous, and the kids turn on to it so quickly, and most schools don’t have support for that. There are so few places left where you can be so nurtured, on a scale of almost one-to-one at times. Each person can have one-on-one time with their instructors with what we have here. I was watching Elizabeth Brim in the iron studio, sitting down with each one of her students today, to talk and make sure that their goals, their wants, their needs, and her desires were being met. You won’t find this out in the other academic world. You can pay more, but you can’t get more.
I was going to ask what keeps bringing you back, but I think you may already have said it?
In this particular case, Amanda told me that she thought I needed to be here. I had not been in my studio for five years, because I had been a caregiver for my husband, her father, and I needed to know – Do I want to keep my studio? Am I still going to be an artist in this fashion? And this has been a wonderful renewal. I still love clay. I still love what it does under your fingers; I even love what it doesn’t do under your fingers, what it makes you redo. Penland has been home away from home, it’s been a place to go and renew. Everything is wide open and possible up here.
This place (gestures toward the meadow and the mountains), and the knoll, have been in so many of my pieces. I have to make the “knoll piece” in every class, in whatever style we’re doing. It’s like Close Encounters of the Third Kind; they kept building that shape. And then I have to walk out on the knoll, and just sort of sit there and relax. It’s like some people like to sit on the beach and enjoy the solitude and the waves. This place has that quality. It’s a bit like sleepaway arts camp for adults, but the “adults” has to be in quotation marks, because most of us are still determining that when we grow up we want to do something, or become something. I think Amanda’s sensed that herself; she’s finding who she wants to be when she grows up, too. We may not always find the exact answer when we’re up here, but we do become more open for what might be the answer when we get back.