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Penlanders: Amir Friedman and Dana Benshalom

The Penland mission to connect individuals with opportunities for artistic growth knows no borders. We had the privilege of hosting many international students in our studios this summer, including the recipients of the Association of Israel’s Decorative Arts (AIDA) Scholarships: Amir Friedman and Dana Benshalom. Committed to fostering the development of contemporary decorative artists from Israel, AIDA connects these artists with an international audience of galleries, institutions, and collectors. With AIDA’s scholarship and travel grant support, we were honored to welcome Dana and Amir to study at Penland during a summer session of their choice.

Inspired by his experience as a chef, as well as ideas of kinetics, Amir’s work explores movement in ways that range from jewelry design to machine construction. He now lives and works in Israel as an awarding winning studio-based artist, teacher, and researcher focusing on small and limited edition designs. He joined us during session four in the metals studio for Jana Brevick’s class, Melt, to explore his growing interest in alloys.

“Since I was fourteen, I was cooking all the meals for the family. Eventually, I ended up in the kitchen. The first transition I made from the culinary arts was making handmade leather bags. I think that a lot of chefs have the bond or the connection with organic materials, like food, leather, and wood (I used to do a lot of woodworking). Another transition was from the leather bags into metalworking. Metals have different characteristics because of their hardness, but I feel like they are a lot more flexible as a material. You can make many more mistakes with a metal object than you can make with a piece of leather. I’m a process guy; I adore learning through the mistakes that I make.

“I chose this course at Penland because I was already trying to find different alloys in my own studio. I like to make my own custom alloys. I think it’s exactly like in the kitchen: you can start with a  flour that is already mixed with ingredients to make a cake, or you can start with raw ingredients and you have much more control of the result. You multiply the options. Making my own metal is really an eye-opener. This knowledge that I’ve received in only two weeks is taking me back to collections that I’ve already started.

“If it wasn’t for AIDA, I would not have found out about this place. I think that the goal of AIDA is to promote and to help Israeli artists and designers to encounter the world. You can read the textbooks forever, but I’m able to work with different artists face-to-face because of them. It’s irreplaceable…I will try to come back again…it’s always fun meeting other artisans, but it’s even more fun when they come from a different culture.”

Dana came to Penland during session six for Michael Radyk’s  textiles class, The Rug: Color, Surface, and Structure. Although she now lives and works in Jerusalem, Dana spent much of her life and studies in England with her parents, who are of Polish and Moroccan descent. She specialized in weave and silk print at Shenkar College of Design and Engineering, and now works in the textile industry in Israel as a designer.

“After two years of working in the textiles industry, I thought that I was going in the complete opposite direction of what I should be doing. I started textiles in the first place out of a passion for materials and working with your hands. So, looking at my experience at Penland now, it’s been a way to do this. I’m still working in the industry, but I’m going to redirect my path and do an MFA in experimental industrial design to continue my craft in a way that is still relevant to reality…being at Penland is a really nice transition into learning new techniques that will help me begin to focus more on what I want to do.

 “In Isreal, ‘textiles’ is not something that you hear a lot. You hear ‘product’ and ‘fashion,’ but that’s about it. This is what sparked my interest in the ‘textile’ craft when I was living and studying in England. When I went back to Israel knowing that textiles was what I wanted to do, there was only one school offering studies in the field. I went there with no question…For me, there’s something about textiles that communicate culture and history. It’s like a visual history that transcends words. I’m fascinated by the idea that even just looking at different patterns and colors can communicate this.

“During my studies I was really intrigued by the question of ‘what is an Israeli textile?’ The modern Israeli textile history only technically goes back 65 years, so the idea of a distinct textile that is a reflection of many different cultures that make up modern Israel is incredibly interesting to me. I like exploring questions like “what happens here that doesn’t happen anywhere else?” I am especially sensitive to these since I come from a very mixed family.

“Many thanks to AIDA; I feel extremely lucky to have been chosen. I also feel like my experience at Penland is really taking my work in a forward direction. Beyond this direct impact of the course, just being here (in one of the most beautiful places that I have ever seen) and listening to great art masters, watching them work, and being a part of a creative community that embraces arts and crafts has been an incredibly inspiring experience.”

                                                                               – Lauren Wilson

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Glass in the Mountains, September 20th – 23rd

Glass in the Mountains

The year 2012 marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of the Studio Glass Movement. The Toe River Valley, home to the father of studio glass, Harvey Littleton, and over 50 other glass artists, is celebrating by hosting a weekend of events September 20-23, happening in and around Burnsville, Spruce Pine, Bakersville, Micaville, and Penland, North Carolina.

It’s a great weekend to learn about the glass community that has settled around Penland School and enjoy the beauty of the Toe River Valley. The weekend will include studio tours, glass blowing demonstrations, a gallery hop of glass exhibitions, including A History of Glass in the Toe Valley at the Toe River Arts Council in Spruce Pine, and gala evening featuring a lecture and book signing of A Life in Glass by author Joan Falconer Byrd at the Burnsville Town Center. The Penland Gallery will be featuring works in glass by local and national artists associated with Penland School.

You can click here for more information about Glass in the Mountains.

And you can click here to download a tour map for the weekend (PDF – 1.4MB).

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Take a class this fall with… Matt Kelleher

Matt Kelleher teapot
Matt Kelleher, “Teapot,” cone 3 soda-fired red clay, 6 x 8 x 6 inches

Here’s a quick promotional plug for a fabulous clay workshop you could take in only a few short weeks!

Diversify Your Portofolio: Cone 3, September 23 – November 16, in the upper clay studio

“The overall idea of the class is building a a greater breadth of work and a stronger portfolio. Not everyone needs a “portfolio” for applications, but everyone can better their work by seeing it as an overall statement rather than singular pieces. I will focus on each student taking significant steps in improving their work. Idea growth is the goal.

“Demonstrations will be both wheel-throwing and hand-building pots including my personal technique of bisque molds.  The first few weeks will cover forms for drinking, serving, pouring, and vessel statements. The last half of the class will be for the student to focus their own personal goals.

“We will also be working at a firing temperature that very few potters use. I am pushing myself to work at Cone 3, which means I have to research every glaze and surface. There is little public information on this, so the discoveries are exciting and I hope students will taste the depth of the ceramic process by removing themselves from the same 12 shop glazes in every educational studio.

“I teach a great class and I push people and invite them to think. People leave my class stronger and hungry for more.”


Ceramic artist Matt Kelleher


Matt Kelleher is a studio potter working  in Marshall, in the mountains of western North Carolina. From 2005 to 2008, he was a resident artist at Penland School of Crafts. Matt has also been an artist in residence at Archie Bray Foundation in Helena, MT (1999-2001) and Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park in Shigaraki, Japan (2003). He has taught at the Hartford Art School in Connecticut, Alfred University in New York, and Ohio University in Athens. As Matt continues a 15-year investigation of soda-fired tableware, he has broadened his interests to include sculptural vessels, bird-inspired forms, and collaborative work with Shoko Teruyama (who will be teaching right next door in the lower clay studio).


Matt Kelleher & Shoko Teruyama bird
Matt Kelleher & Shoko Teruyama, “Evening Bird,” earthenware with sgraffito decoration, 13 x 20 x 12 inches

Interested? You can click here for more information about taking a fall class at Penland…

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“Story Looms” at the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival

Stacey Lane
Stacey Lane, Penland’s community collaborations manager, shows off the “story looms” created for the Carolina Mountains Literary Festival in Burnsville. Photo courtesy of WTOE Online.


“Burnsville’s Carolina Mountains Literary Festival and Penland School of Crafts are cooperating this year with teachers at area elementary schools on a weaving  project that encourages reading, writing and creative thinking. Using the festival’s theme, which is Landscapes of Imagination, second through fifth grade classes have been offered small “story looms” in which the students weave their ideas and wishes into a class-designed landscape of many colored ribbons…”

Click here to read the complete article at