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“Raising Renee” on HBO 2

Raising Renee

Painter and Penland instructor Beverly McIver (“Contemporary Portrait Painting,” drawing and painting, summer session 3) and her family are the subjects of a new documentary film, Raising Renee, which premieres Wednesday, February 22nd on HBO 2.

Filmed over 6 years by Oscar nominees Jeanne Jordan and Steven Ascher, Raising Renee tells Beverly’s story as an artist, and the story of her promise to take care of her sister Renee (who is mentally disabled) after their mother’s death — a promise that came due just as Beverly’s career was taking off.

Click here to find out more about Beverly McIver and see images of her work by visiting her website.

Click here for more information about the film Raising Renee.

Click here to read a recent article about Beverly and Renee in The New York Times.


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Paper and civilization

Timothy Barrett, photo by Samantha Contis for the New York Times
Photo by Samantha Contis for the New York Times

We highly recommend Mark Levine’s article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine about Timothy Barrett, a specialist in historic sheet paper materials and techniques. Barrett is a research scientist and adjunct professor at the University of Iowa Center for the Book and a Macarthur fellow. He is a dedicated researcher and a consummate craftsman–his papers have been used to repair musical scores of Mozart and as a backdrop on which to display the parchment originals of the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

“Sometimes I worry about what a weird thing it is to be preoccupied with paper when there’s so much trouble in the world,” he says, “but then I think of how our whole culture is knitted together by paper, and it makes a kind of sense.”

Read the whole article here, and don’t miss the excellent slide show that goes with it.

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Penlanders: Erika Adams

Printmaker Erika Adams

Erika Adams of Eating Dog Press is this year’s lead printer in the printmaking studio for the January residencies in printmaking and letterpress. These residencies offer artists and writers with little or no printing experience a chance to work in Penland’s studios with experienced printers, to create editions of broadsides, prints, or small publications. Erika facilitated the projects of two groups of print residents, each for a two-week session, and now has the run of the studio for the month of February to make her own work.

“This year, I’m on a self-funded sabbatical after seven years of teaching, first at Columbus State University in Georgia, then the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I came to Penland from Boston, but that’s not really where I’m from. I grew up in a little town called Snoqualmie, southeast of Seattle, Washington. It used to be a logging town, now it’s a stop on the way to a ski resort. When I was eight, my family moved to Modesto, California (it’s where George Lucas is from). I went to college at the University of California-Santa Cruz, where I studied anthropology, adding a second major in art during my junior year. A few years later, I moved to Albuquerque and applied to the Tamarind Institute, a part of the University of New Mexico that specializes in lithography. I became a lithographer, and printed professionally there for a year, working with artists who were invited to come and do projects. I went to graduate school at the University of New Mexico.

I met (Penland’s programs director) Dana Moore in 2009, in Yuma, Arizona, at a symposium we both attended; she was presenting her work there. She asked me if I wouldn’t come to Penland to teach stone lithography, which is my specialty. That class was in the summer of 2010. When Dana found out I was on this sabbatical, she asked if I was interested in doing a winter residency, and it seemed like a perfect fit. I was envisioning this year as an opportunity to really explore my work and to think about what my next moves might be. So I took it, thinking this was a great opportunity that I could build around. I have a few other residencies and projects planned for spring. The fall was a little bit more open – I was in New York for a few months, did some work in the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop, and took a trapeze class.

I have a printmaking friend who lives in New York, and she had taken a few classes and was looking for a buddy to go with her. When she first suggested it, I said,  ‘No way!’ But then I thought, “Well, why not? This is my year of exploration.” I don’t think I would actually run off and join the circus; I think I might actually be a tiny bit too old for the trapeze. It was physically challenging, but it was really fun. It was also death-defying. I’ve never done anything like that – I don’t skydive or bungee jump. I’m not really a thrill seeker, and when I was standing up on the platform with someone holding onto my belt, and I was leaning forward with all my weight, so I knew when that person let go, I was going… my heart was beating so fast I thought I might die.

At that moment, there was someone down below, yelling up instructions, and I just did everything he said, right when he said it. It felt liberating, in a way. It was sort of like drawing – taking my brain out of the situation, going straight from hearing to action, no thinking. That was really exciting. The second time I went, I thought a little too much, and I actually hurt myself, and then the third time I found a happy medium between worrying about dying and thinking too much. Which, in a way, is maybe a kind of meditation.

Lithography is great for people who like to draw, especially pencil or charcoal drawings; there’s a real affinity there because it feels direct. You’re drawing directly onto the stone and even though the image is reversed when you print it, it still has that quality like a drawing, which is quite different than etching or other types of printmaking.

a print by Erika Adams
Erika Adams, "Overlapping Tangle (complications)" three three-color lithographs with paper removed, suspended on insect pins

The things I’ve been making lately all relate to my thinking about locating myself in the world, or within my relationships, or wherever I happen to be. I made a portfolio print at the end of the residency and decided to involve some letterpress. I’ve been using more text in my work  lately, and I’m excited about doing even more of that. I like there to be an element of storytelling in my work, and usually I leave it up to the viewer to make up their own story, but lately I’ve wanted to be more directive. I’ve decided to make a series of three prints based on the one I made a few weeks ago, but a bit larger, and I’m going to involve some text, but I’m not sure what that will be yet.

prints in progress by Erika Adams
Erika's Februrary prints-in-progress, as yet untitled

I’ve been working with these outlines of wrestlers for a long time. In the beginning, the work was about violence, about struggles within relationships, and the fine line between something that’s violent and something that’s loving. After a while, I thought I was done with the wrestlers, but in my studio they kept coming back up, and they became more like designs, like doilies. I think it was something about sublimating the violence in them and thinking more about the relationships, and what happens when relationships overlap, when people overlap – what kind of things get made when that overlap happens. I’ve also cut away paper from some prints; there’s one that looks like lace because I’ve cut away so much paper and just the outlines are left. I like that idea, that something that started off with one set of ideas could transform entirely into something else.”

Erika Adams lithography stone
One of Erika's current litho stones on the press

You can learn more about Erika and see more of her work by clicking here to visit her website.

You can click here to learn more about Penland’s January print and letterpress residencies.


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Hieroglyphic boards

boards at Penland School

We are in the process of taking down the old Homosote building, which has been replaced by some new housing built this year. Much of the material in the building is being recycled by community members, and when the ceiling was removed, these elaborately decorated rafters were discovered. Perhaps this is the key to finding the long-lost Penland gold.

(Don’t get excited; there’s no such thing.)

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The Importance of Craft in North Carolina

Mary Regan, executive director of the North Carolina Arts Council, shared the following thoughts at the 2011 Living Treasures Award Ceremony, on November 29, 2011, at the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington:


“North Carolina and craft just seem to go together.  Perhaps more than any other art form, with the possible exception of literature, craft is identified with this state.  It’s an association with deep roots, a connection that comes closer to an article of faith than anything of flimsier standing.

Through a long and layered history of indigenous traditions and, more recently, the emergence of influential institutions and communities of independent studio craft artists, North Carolina is recognized nationally and internationally as a natural home for craft training, research, exhibition, and preservation, and as an essential laboratory for innovations in the art form.

How did this come to be?  I’m sure there are many here this evening more able to trace the origins of this entanglement than I.  The craft landscape in North Carolina in 2011 is marked by university programs, museums, research institutions, schools, guilds, and independent makers and scholars who bring both curiosity and self-reflection to their involvement and place within the history of the art form.

In the programs and publications of organizations like the Center for Craft, Creativity and Design, the Mint Museum of Art, the Penland School of Crafts, and through celebrations of contributions and achievements like the Living Treasures Award, the best minds in the field have been busy considering the state of craft today within the context of its traditions and development.

Like many things, North Carolina’s intimate connection to craft is in part the result of accidents of place and in part the interventions of exceptional and determined people at moments when their influence could be most effective. The old quote that North Carolina was “a vale of humility between two mountains of conceit” may have overstated our sanctity, but it does describe our pre-industrial economic relationship with our neighbors succinctly and may ground the origins of our aesthetic landscape as well.

Largely agrarian but not home to the same concentration of plantations as our neighbors, our state was populated by small landowners and served as a source for natural resources often processed and shipped for profit outside our borders.  Settlers and farmers, like the Native Americans before them, had to produce much of their own functional wares, like pots, coverlets, leatherwork, furniture, and tools.

Value was defined by how well the object served an intended purpose, and only secondarily how it looked.  Form followed function and flowered from maker to maker, community to community, each developing its own distinctive marks.  North Carolina’s size, lack of cities, and geographic challenges, particularly in the mountains, may have conspired to extend our dependence on self-sufficient local economies longer than in some other areas.

But even geography was no match for industrialization, which changed the economy forever with the expansion in the textile and furniture industries around 1900.  Because people follow jobs, migrations from farm to factory made subsistence even harder for those left behind.

It was into this environment that Frances Goodrich, Olive Dame Campbell, Lucy Morgan, the Busbees, and others appeared, mixing missionary work with an appreciation for the authenticity of handmade production.  Whatever the motivation, these visionary individuals not only helped the craftspeople they encouraged and promoted in their time but also, in many cases, left behind organizations that would outlive them and still serve as leading institutions to our day.

Those organizations thrive because, in many cases, they continue to be led by visionary leaders, like Jean McLaughlin, who ply their own brand of missionary work in the service of craft and craft artists.

Craft and the economy have been inextricably bound together since the beginning.  The craft revival that spawned the creation of the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild, the John C. Campbell Folk School, and Penland School of Crafts was inspired, in part, by the desire to give mountain people alternative ways of earning income.

But at least some of the market for these handmade items, and ultimately for the programs at the craft schools, came from outside the area–from vacationers who enjoyed the natural scenery but wanted something more tangible and culturally meaningful from their visit.  As any cultural tourist today would.

North Carolina has changed significantly in the last century, but the identity it has forged with craft has only gotten stronger.  The western NC craft organizations were among the first important cultural institutions in the state, predating the Mint Museum, NC Symphony, NC Museum of Art, The Lost Colony, and others, which sprang up in the 1930s, ‘40s, and ‘50s, usually in urban centers.

And while we have watched with pride these and other institutions grow and gain recognition regionally and nationally, our artistic compass has in many ways remained centered because of the legacy of craft in the state: its history and the way it evolved, not as an isolated artistic pursuit, but bound closely to the environment and the needs of life.

Our craft artists and institutions honor that connection to this day. The last half-century has seen both an evolution and a renewed appreciation of what craft is and can be, thanks in great part to Penland and the gifted artists, like Richard Ritter and Mark Peiser, it has attracted to the state to live and work. Their successes have cemented North Carolina’s reputation in the craft world and catalyzed the organizational growth we’ve seen statewide in craft.  They have also spurred this burgeoning population of artists who support themselves to some degree from craft-related activities.

The craft sector was one of the first in the creative industry to recognize, document, and claim its role as a significant contributor to the state’s overall economy.  And they found it’s not just cultural tourism anymore; it’s in education, the building trades, public art, design, and retail as well as all the areas that intersect with them in the economy.

So craft is important in many ways to North Carolina: as a reminder of where we’ve come from; as a reason our state is an attractive destination for visitors; as an incubator of small businesses grounded in sustainable practices.

But most of all, our state’s love affair with craft says something about who we are and what we value. It connects us with the material, the functional, the familiar.  In a world of abstractions where we’re often separated by technology and distance from the stuff of our lives, craft allows us to see that it’s still possible to touch and shape our environment with our own hands.”