Posted on 3 Comments

Kathryn Gremley: Penland’s Gallery Director

When Kathryn Gremley greets members of the public at the Penland Gallery and Visitors Center, she does so with a knowledge of the school that is both broad and deep. She has worked at the Gallery and Visitors Center for fifteen years—for the first ten years as the exhibits manager and for the past five years as director—but her relationship with the school goes all the way back to 1981. “I had gone to several colleges for art and dropped out several times,” she laughs. “I was reading American Craft and I kept seeing Penland in the artists’ bios. I figured if all these great people went to Penland, I should check it out.”

She came for a fall Concentration in weaving and fell in love with the place. She returned in the spring, then stayed on as a core student, and was then invited to become a resident artist. She settled permanently in the community and continued her work as a production weaver of textiles for clothing and also worked in various capacities at the school. “I have worked in the kitchen,” she says, “I was a studio coordinator, I taught weaving and clothing design, I worked in the school store, and then I started working at the gallery.” She was also selling her work at large craft shows and a dozen other galleries. She was the first person involved with Penland Gallery who was also a selling craftsperson. “I didn’t have a background in conventional retail,” she says, “but I knew about the relationship between a gallery and an artist.” She also had a keen eye for good work and innovative displays. In her time at the gallery she has installed 135 instructor exhibitions and curated and installed approximately eighty invitational exhibits, both in the gallery and off campus.

As Kathryn became increasingly involved with the gallery, she gradually wound down her own craft business. Today, as director, she functions as curator and exhibition designer and manages a staff of four—working with them as they arrange tours of the school, set up displays, keep track of inventory, and answer hundreds of questions about the art work, the school, the artists, and, of course, the location of the bathrooms.

Although she has set aside her loom, Kathryn’s background as an artist informs everything she does. “I enjoy trying to create the presentation the work deserves,” she says. “Whether we are selling a greeting card, a mug, or a $20,000 sculpture, it should all be of the same quality. You go to a museum to see these beautiful paintings and sculptures, and then you go to the gift shop and it’s commercial products made in China. Here we want everything to have the same level of excellence.”

Especially close to Kathryn’s heart are the invitational exhibitions mounted each year. These are built around themes and are intended to expand the public’s understanding of craft. They are also meant to reflect aspects of Penland’s educational programs, and Kathryn works closely with program director Dana Moore when planning the shows. “The exhibitions,” she says, “encourage people to slow down and thoughtfully view the work, so they are more likely to engage with the process and the intent behind it. If Penland is trying to advance the perception of what craft is in the world, the gallery is trying to have a role in that by having exhibitions that help create a deeper understanding of what it is to be an artist.”

Posted on

Alex Anderson: Ceramicist, Adventurer, Scholarship Student

For Alex Anderson, from Seattle, Washington, a workshop with potter Sam Chung at Penland was a perspective-changing experience. “Before that, I avoided handbuilding, because I saw it as imprecise and less elegant than thrown forms,” he admits, “but the techniques I learned from Sam expanded my understanding of what is possible with clay.” In Sam’s class, Alex felt encouraged to explore altering the forms he throws on the wheel, and combining handbuilt and thrown pieces. “It changed my approach to my work,” he says.

Alex’s participation in Fusing Form, Surface, and Idea, in the clay studio in July and August, 2010, was made possible for him by the Orville and Pat Chatt Memorial Scholarship. Named in honor of the parents of recent Penland resident artist David Chatt, also a Seattle native, the scholarship offers full tuition for a summer session to a student living in the Pacific Northwest who shows artistic promise and financial need. “I would definitely not have been able to take this class without a scholarship,” Alex says, “because my college tuition is quite high, so an additional educational expense would not have been possible. I’m grateful for this wonderful opportunity.”

Now in his junior year at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, majoring Studio Art and Chinese, Alex is spending the current semester abroad, exploring and studying China’s famous “city of porcelain,” Jingdezhen. “So far I have been exposed to amazing artists and masters of every segment of the ceramic world whose families have worked in their respective fields for generations,” he relates. “It is truly exciting to be in a place where tall porcelain vases line the streets and artists’ studios are everywhere and always open.” Alex has been keeping a blog to document his adventure in China, and its effect on his own work in ceramics, which you can follow online at

Alex describes his current studio work as functional sculpture. “I appreciate a strong, functional teapot or vase, but I also like my work to have meaning,” he says. “However, I also make many pieces with the simple purpose of being beautiful.” He recently finished a series of oyster-shaped teapots intended to represent the process of creating beauty and value from negative experiences, inspired by the manner in which oysters deal with irritants by turning them into pearls. He plans to work next on a series of vases, beginning with the idea of “the societal pressures people face to achieve an image that aligns with what they consider to be attractive.” “Beauty,” he adds, “is a powerful force.”

Posted on

Toe River Studio Tour This Weekend

If you’re in the area this weekend, don’t miss the Toe River Studio Tour. This twice-yearly event is a great chance to have a look at all the fabulous art being made here in Mitchell and Yancey counties (and to fill your holiday stockings with the local and handmade). Studios will be open to visitors from 12:00 to 4:00 pm on Friday, December 2, with a reception at the Spruce Pine TRAC Gallery from 5 to 7 pm. Visiting hours will be 10 am to 5 pm on Saturday and Sunday December 3 and 4. These free, self-guided tours offer visitors an opportunity to search out the professional artists and craftspeople working in the coves and hollows of the two rural mountain counties. More information, including a list of participating artists and galleries, and downloadable tour maps and studio tour guides, is available at the Toe River Arts Council website.