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Thanks, David!


“For the work, now, what’ll you go?” Anyone who has attended an end-of-session scholarship auction at Penland has heard this phrase as auctioneer David Little called for an opening bid on a glass vase or a handwoven scarf. It is with great sadness that we report that David died of a heart attack on Thursday, February 21.

“Raise your hand if you’ve ever been to an auction before?” he’d say before he started. “OK, now raise your hand if you’ve never been to an auction before. Good. Now everyone here has demonstrated the only skill needed to participate in this auction.”

David’s involvement with Penland began years ago as an assistant to the auctioneer at Penland’s annual benefit auctions. He continued to help with the benefit auction right up to this past summer, and sometime in the mid-1990s, he started volunteering for the scholarship auctions at the end of each session. Since then, David rarely missed an auction, even though we have nine of them each year and he had to drive 2-1/2 hours each way to be here.

He usually passed the microphone back and forth with potter Cynthia Bringle, selling thousands of pots, goblets, vases, weavings, prints, paintings, jewelry, furniture, sculpture of all kinds, and items that were more-or-less indescribable. Along the way, he also cheerfully auctioned off a haircut, a farewell kiss, a date with a core student, a platter of cookies, a pair of galoshes, and many bags of bacon from the Penland kitchen.

David was an excellent and, one might say, classically trained auctioneer–something many Penland students had never experienced before. And while he sometimes struggled to read oddly pronounced names hastily scribbled onto pieces of paper, he never lost track of the bid. His patter, his pacing, his great sense of humor, his playful interaction with the audience, and his unflagging energy have made our auctions a high point of every session.

David lived in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he worked as a chemist at Meridian Labs. He played a lot of golf, was active in his church, and put great energy into parenting his 17-year-0ld daughter Annika, who, at his funeral, described him as, “the best dad in the world.” His years of auctioneering at Penland helped raise more than a million dollars for needy scholarship students. He was simply part of the family, and he will be greatly missed.

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Master the Power Hammer with Toby Hickman!



“…In the early ’70s, I was woodcarving in my garage and I needed tools that I couldn’t afford, so I took a class at a local high school to forge tools . . . and I just fell in love with the forge. Forged iron has a texture and a presence that is much richer than any other from of metal.

“When I started being interested in blacksmithing, there were, across the country, an entire generation who came to it on their own and then all of a sudden discovered each other. There were a group of us who said, ‘If we hang onto this long enough, we’re going to go through a renaissance the same way that glass and pottery had.’ Two hundred years ago, probably one person in every 50 was a blacksmith. They were working with forge and anvil in 1900. By 1920 the anvil and the forge were full of dust and cobwebs. Blacksmithing is undergoing an enormous resurgence. There are many, many more blacksmiths now than when I started.


Toby Hickman, “Cloyn Fire Tools and Stand,” mild steel, 38 x 11 x 7 in.


“To me, it’s the physical act. Artistic development, business understanding–all that stuff has been an adaptation to allow me to continue to hit hot steel. It’s the thing that makes me feel good. It’s the feeling of the impact, swinging something heavy and hitting something that yields to that–and yields to it in a way that you intended it to. Just bashing around on hot steel can get to be too much work, but if you actually see something forming under hand, there is an enormous emotional reward.


Toby Hickman, “Cape Buffalo Fire Tool Finials,” mild steel, 8 x 4 in.


“I pride myself in being able to work in a number of different styles. I don’t know that I have a style any more, other than the fact that I like really to form the metal. I don’t want people to know what piece of metal I started with.”

– Toby Hickman, quoted in Iron Man: Blacksmith Toby Hickman keeps the anvil and hammer in good use by Sara Bir, in the August 1-7, 2002 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.


Toby Hickman, “Snake Andiron,” mild steel, 16 x 10 x 18 in.


Advanced Power Hammer Skills
May 26 – June 7, 2013, in the iron studio:

This class will teach power hammer skills, including hit-turn, use of stop blocks to specific dimension, shouldering for abrupt change of section, and upsetting to increase cross section. Students will forge a pair of box-jaw tongs and the hand tools needed to forge them. We will forge, harden, and temper hand-held hot cuts, sets and punches, and open and closed dies.

This is an intermediate/advanced level workshop. Please include with your application a résume, a one-page letter telling why you’d like to take the class, and five printed images of your work.

Toby Hickman is a studio blacksmith and the owner/operator of Lost Coast Forge in Fort Briggs, California. He was the 2012 recipient of ABANA’s Alex Bealer Award for lifetime service to blacksmithing. He is a founding member and two-time president of the California Blacksmith Association, and a  former board member of ABANA. Toby has been forging on self-contained pneumatic hammers since 1981 when he bought his first Nazel 2B hammer.

Click here to watch Toby Hickman in action!


Toby Hickman, “Wrap Torchere,” mild steel, polychrome lacquer finish, 78 x 13 x 8 in. and “Kelp Torchere,” mild steel, polychrome lacquer finish, 78 x 15 x 15 in.


Interested? Click here for more information and registration for this and Penland’s other summer workshops.

♫ Penland summer! Here it comes! Oh, oh, oh! ♫


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Winter Works featuring Penland’s Core Fellows


Winter is a relatively quiet time at Penland, but the work of art goes on in our studios all through the months between fall and spring classes. The flame of creativity is kept burning in the cold days by a small community of winter renters, print and letterpress residents, studio coordinators, and of course Penland’s core fellowship students.

Two ambitious projects, each engaging the time and talents of multiple core fellows across multiple studios, had their results publicly debuted at Winter Works, an end-of-season exhibition in Northlight hall on Wednesday evening, February 20th – an outdoor multi-media umbrella installation and a dining table commissioned for the future core house.






January Swim: With assistance from Molly Spadone, Jack Mauch, and Bob Biddlestone, and advice from the Penland community at large, core fellow Rachel Garceau spent the last few weeks in the clay, iron, and wood studios, creating a series of slip-cast porcelain and forged steel umbrellas, which she hung on the Northlight porch and used as a complex surface on which to project video.

Core House Dining Table: Liz Koerner and Jack Mauch spent the winter executing a commission from the school –  a dining room table for the future core house. Beautifully made in wood, it also has a hidden signature; under the lip, Jack inlaid notes on the table’s construction in silver wire.




wire inlay

The event was well attended, and also served as a sort of farewell party for the four core fellows leaving Penland this week: Bob Biddlestone, Rachel Garceau, Seth Gould, and Jack Mauch. We’ll miss them dearly, but given what they’ve shown us, we’re not the least bit worried about them.

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Spring into Mold-Making with Tom Spleth!

Tom Spleth


Tom Spleth has been called “the grandfather of American studio slipcasting,” for adapting a common industrial process into a useful and expressive technique for individual artists. He is a studio ceramicist and painter and has taught at Alfred University, Penland, Haystack, Anderson Ranch, and at the Heart of Los Angeles Foundation. Tom has exhibited at the Asheville Museum, the Cameron Museum, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution, and he was the subject of a retrospective exhibition at the Gregg Museum of Art and Design in 2007. His work can be found in the collections of the Cameron Museum, Kohler, the RISD museum, the University of Illinois, and John and Robyn Horn.

His unique, physical, personal process for creating forms with plaster as it dries and then refining and casting plaster molds from them to produce vitrified porcelain objects is as conceptually rich and visually compelling as its end products.


Tom Spleth


Click here to watch a video of Tom in action!

“When I started working this way, no one else was doing it. I had to figure it out for myself. I think the benefit to students of learning my process, even if they don’t end up using it in their own work, will be to help them clarify their own processes. The physicality of it doesn’t allow for a lot of hesitation or reference to drawings, so I will work with students to help them express their pre-planning verbally, by writing and talking their ideas out before they begin so they have the plan right there in their mind when they work and don’t have to look away or try to match a drawing (I’ve found that can sometimes take the life right out of a form). I’m really looking forward to it.” – Tom Spleth


Tom Spleth work
Tom Spleth is known for his sculptural ceramic forms, abstracted from the human figure…


Tom Spleth work
…and the gestural paintings with which he decorates them


Molds for Slipcasting, Press Molding, or Handbuilding

April 7 – 20, 2013, in the clay studio:

This class will be focused on making plaster molds for slip casting. The molds may also be used for press molding or hand-building. The initial demonstrations will cover basic ideas about the process. From there, each student will be encouraged to use this information to make work that is personal and particular. Once the initial demos are complete, most of our energy will be devoted to individual instruction.

Ongoing critiques will allow everyone to learn from all the activity going on in the studio. By the end of two weeks, students will have a clear grasp of the process and how to use it to realize ideas in ceramics. The mold-making process is a craft unto itself and demands full attention, particularly in the brief time we have together. Therefore we will not plan to fire but we will discuss the relationship between molds and clay and the technical considerations once the mold is complete and you return to the world of clay. Students of all levels are welcome.


Tom Spleth work
He is also known for his “message cups,” which are rumored to reveal profound hidden wisdom.**


You can click here to visit Tom’s website, where you see more of his work.


As an added bonus…

Tom Spleth says, “My studio assistants for this workshop, Rachel Garceau and Ian Henderson, both recent Penland core fellowship students, are worth the price of admission themselves. Either could teach a terrific workshop on their own.”


Tom's studio assistants
Rachel Garceau (pouring the bucket) and Ian Henderson.
Tom Spleth's studio assistants
Recent work: Rachel’s ceramic and steel umbrella and Ian’s ceramic fermentation crock.


Interested? Click here for more information and registration for this and Penland’s other spring concentration workshops.


(**Disclaimer: These are not real Spleth artworks. Cup forms by Tom Spleth, text and photo-manipulation by Wes Stitt. You should still take this workshop, though.)


Spring into knowledge, spring into skill, spring into craft!



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A Winter Visit on Printeresting

Our friend Amanda Lee posted about her recent visit on Printeresting.


“At the end of my winter break I took a road trip from the snows of Iowa to the calm sun of Tybee Island, GA (for kayaking and citrus trees). Along the way I stopped off for a couple days near Penland School of Crafts. When I paid a visit this winter, Emily Arthur and Rory Sparks were helping the first group of winter residents. Emily’s group focused on intaglio techniques. Here are some photos of the work they completed and of Penland’s Paul Hayden Duensing Letterpress and Printmaking Studio….”

Click here to read the full article. Nice photos, Amanda!