Posted on

Focus on: Marlene True

Marlene True, "Victorian Bloom 1 and 2;" steel, lithographed steel, 24k gold plate
Marlene True, “Victorian Bloom 1 and 2;” steel, lithographed steel, 24k gold plate


The Penland Gallery and Visitors Center is proud to present its third Focus exhibition of the year, a new collection of jewelry in metals and mixed-media by Marlene True, metalsmith, educator, and executive director of Pocosin Arts in Columbia, NC. On view now in the Focus Gallery, this show will run through Sunday, July 28th.


Marlene True, "Blossom Earrings;" steel, lithographed steel, 24k gold plate
Marlene True, “Blossom Earrings;” steel, lithographed steel, 24k gold plate


“I became enamored with using tin cans in my work after seeing a presentation by Bobby Hansson, author of The Fine Art of the Tin Can, and what I thought might be a just another material to use in my work became an obsession. I now have over 1,500 tin cans in my collection and find the process of collecting and learning about their use and history fascinating. Tin cans are not made of tin but of steel with a thin layer of tin and lithographed images, colors, and text. Those elements are excellent for use in jewelry to create narrative, to add color or make a statement. The steel is great for fabrication and it is possible to make larger pieces without excessive weight, as it is much lighter than silver or gold.

“On a recent trip to Seattle, I acquired a salesman’s sample board of jewelry components from London that date to 1930. Those elements reference Victorian ornamentation and decorative ironwork. Inspired by those motifs, I selected a couple of them and began designing and altering the shapes in steel to create settings for the colorful bits that become the focal point in the pieces. On the steel settings I use patina and heat treatments to create the dark surface and plating with 24k gold to create a rich contrast for the colorful tin. I enjoy the process of transforming this material beyond its original use from containment to ornamentation.

“Meshing repurposed materials with an undercurrent of past to the present is an act of redemption for both memory and material in the process of making.”

-Marlene True


Marlene True, "Victorian Blossom Necklace;" steel, lithographed steel, 24k gold plate
Marlene True, “Victorian Blossom Necklace;” steel, lithographed steel, 24k gold plate


Click here to visit Marlene True’s website, where you can see more of her work.

Click here to visit the Penland Gallery website.

Penland’s Focus Gallery is a space devoted primarily to single-artist exhibitions. Focusing on individual artists over the course of the year, it presents a larger selection of their work to gallery visitors and patrons.

Click here for more information about the Focus Gallery.

Posted on

Dorothy Gill Barnes: Penland’s 2013 Outstanding Artist Educator

Each year, Penland School of Crafts chooses one of its instructors as that year’s Outstanding Artist Educator, in honor of extraordinary contributions to the craft world, as both artist and teacher. The Outstanding Artist Educator is celebrated as a part of our annual benefit auction. This year’s honoree is Dorothy Gill Barnes.


Photos by Tim Johnson
Photos by Tim Johnson


We asked writer and artist Eva Tuschman, who has been a student of Dorothy’s, to share her thoughts about her teacher. She went a step beyond our expectations, and conducted an in interview with Dorothy as well:

“In the summer of 2010 I had the opportunity to return to Penland to study with the spirited craftswoman, Dorothy Gill Barnes, whose sculptural work, spanning over 6 decades, responds to materials and forms found in nature. It was difficult to keep pace with sprightly Dorothy as she scampered up muddy hillsides in the rain, clutching an axe, eager to hack into a fallen cedar and peel away a 40-foot long segment of bark. Her self-ignited curiosity to explore materials proved insatiable. I had never met someone whose inner drive to solve answers to her own self-generated questions kept her constantly moving from dawn till dusk. The week of our workshop, Dorothy celebrated her 83rd birthday. She showed up to her own birthday party — ready to drink beer and eat pie – in her “fancy overalls” and a hat she fashioned herself out of bark and twine. While Dorothy often exhibited more physical agility and stamina than her younger students, what inspired me most was the way her creative practice, and the energy it galvanized, fueled her life; the two processes were inextricable.

“Just as a bird gathers fibers to build its nest, or bees instinctually know the patterns to construct their hives, Dorothy’s relationship to natural materials, from harvesting bark to weaving it into sculptural baskets, seems entirely intuitive.  Dorothy was born to be a maker. Her life’s work embodies an expression of reverence for the natural world—its forms and textures, an ongoing dialogue with its lines and structures. One could say Dorothy is the Mary Oliver of the craft world: a poet whose words take the form of bark curling off a limb, or the gentle shaping of tree skin around a stone. Each piece is a poem, an object that invites us to pause and settle our attention, with delight and gratitude for what her hands have touched.


Dorothy Gill Barnes, branch, glass, tree banch, 5 x 7 x 6 inches
Dorothy Gill Barnes, Branch, glass, tree banch, 5 x 7 x 6 inches


“While Dorothy is a formal educator of over six decades, who can be found teaching preschoolers in inner city classrooms, college students and elders, it is her modeling of curiosity—her devotion to exploration and experiment — and the inseparability of her creative inquiry with her life itself that teaches us the most about how to live.

“Graciously, Dorothy agreed to sit down with me one evening at Penland to have a conversation about her life and career, early inspiration, and reflections on the natural world, creativity, and arts education:”




Eva: What are some of your earliest memories of encountering the natural world and collaborating with nature?

Dorothy Gill Barnes: As I think back it would be in Strawberry Point, Iowa when I was a little girl and it would be in my own back yard. There was a place down at the corner of our fence near the cornfields. All the houses were close together like in a small town—though it wasn’t congested. I used to go down and sit under a tree, past where we fed the chickens, and it was a special place because no one was around me. I spent time looking at the ground and played in the tree roots. I made little places where I could dig and put my toys. I played in the asparagus bed with my sister….I liked seeing what water would do in a stream….I was lining things up and seeing how beautiful they were and putting things together, like little stones of a certain size, and it was my play.

Eva: Did you always see yourself as a maker? Or was there a particular point in your development when you realized this was who you were?
Dorothy: I think from the very beginning, from being a little girl, I never questioned what I was going to do. I just knew I was going to play with cloth and paper—filling up little cod-fish boxes… I didn’t read very well and a lot of my friends were readers and I would just be so happy if I could read one book all summer! I was so embarrassed that I didn’t read books like my friends did, but I was active: I rode my bicycle. When I had time to do something creative, it didn’t include reading or writing, although I did write some poems, which were terrible! I just thought they were fun and funny! Mostly I created things; cardboard boxes were just a dream material for me. I loved working with boxes.

Eva: How do you see the relationship between creativity and nature?

Dorothy: I think that nature is so incredibly wonderful. I think probably because I lost my mother and two sisters early, I always felt so fortunate to be out healthy, doing things and enjoying nature, looking at things, always, the variety, night and day, weather and flowers and animals scurrying… I think the thing that was neat about bringing art and nature together was that you could be outdoors and you didn’t have to be limited indoors. What made me feel better about things that didn’t happen well in my life seemed to be nature. And my favorite author is Mary….oh, it will come to me…Mary?

Eva: Mary Oliver?

Dorothy: Yes, of course! If I read a Mary Oliver poem I like I just really enjoy that a lot. I have her books laying around the house. I do read poetry a lot.




Eva: The other day you mentioned something about gratitude being part of your art practice. I wonder if you can talk a little bit more about that….working with trees and bark, the things which are given from nature….I know Mary Oliver speaks about reverence and a sense of wonder…Is this a part of your process?

Dorothy:  I think those words you just said are really lovely. It’s exciting to me to hear someone use words, which make a difference, which mention making mistakes, which is a part of life. I think justice and reverence are the two words, which I recently heard a man use—I don’t even remember his name—being interviewed by Charlie Rose.  Justice and reverence. If you think about those two words and about where they go, in current events and worldwide, when they are beautiful and when they are troubled…those are two good words to remember.

Eva: The other day you mentioned the book, The Last Child in The Woods. It seems a big problem that some children are not exposed to nature and do not feel comfortable there. I wonder if you think this affects their ability to be creative.

Dorothy: …Yes, definitely. There are many reasons people should be outdoors more… However, I am a little hesitant about the over-organization of such things. I can’t imagine as a child, for example, being signed up for art classes. I think it can be wonderful to have paper and supplies, but when I see the amount of stuff that children have when they are young, I wonder if it is really a good idea. I sometimes think just a blackboard or a sidewalk can be enough. Those temporary marks that you make are very important. You do them when you want to do them, not when a teacher tells you to…. I think more leisure time when don’t really know why you’re going outside, just to be alone…. I think out in the woods is a really good place to be! Freedom to do what you want to do when you want to do it! If you want to climb a tree, climb a tree!

– Eva Tuschman



Posted on 1 Comment

Chris Keener in the Plain Dealer


There’s a nice interview with jeweler and Penland student Chris Keener on the Cleveland Plain Dealer website. It begins with this story:

“I grew up collecting beach glass just to fill bowls and jars. Fourteen years ago, I made myself a bracelet. I drilled holes in the glass and made it with my hands; it was very organic. I wore it to a party and a woman went crazy for it. She asked me to make five of them. She bought them, gave them to her friends, who then started calling me for matching earrings. I was working in corporate America at the time. Discovering that I loved to work with my hands changed everything. I wanted to learn more about the properties of metals. I took classes at several schools. I studied in Colorado and got great training from Todd Pownell and Debra Rosen at TAP Studios in Cleveland. Most recently I went to Penland School of Crafts in North Carolina, concentrating on metalsmithing. What I learned there changed my life. Now, this is my job, I work at it every day.”

Read the whole article here.

Posted on

Pinewood Derby 2.0!


To celebrate the end of their first session wood and electronics workshop, Matthew Hebert’s Pinewood Derby 2.0 class raced their robot cars last Wednesday night in the “Matt’s Mom’s Birthday 500.”



The cars were driven by battery-powered motors and steered themselves with infrared sensors and Arduino computer microcontrollers, programmed to avoid the black tape lines on the track.



Dirt or debris on the track could have been disastrously misinterpreted by the cars, so a lot of effort went into not stepping on the clean white paper.



After half an hour or so of drinks, demonstrations, and de-lovely dilly-dallies, the competition got underway. Instructor Matthew Hebert MC’d the race, complete with paper bullhorn, which came in handy since the event was well-attended and a little rowdy.



Despite rules to the contrary, there was some helpful interference by the cars’ designers…






…including the instructor, who appears to have actually rebuilt his car at one point during the competition.



With a bunch of self-directing robot cars competing on a fairly small track, the occasional bottleneck seemed inevitable…



..but eventually a robot racer crossed the finish line and a winner was declared. Despite the presence of hatmaking students in the crowd, the feel of the event was a bit more Preakness than Kentucky Derby. A delightful time was had by all; truly Penland summer at its finest. And lest we forget, happy birthday, Matt’s mom!


Posted on 2 Comments

Portraits on Location

This April, students in John Woodin’s one-week photography workshop, Location Lighting with Off-Camera Flash, made a whirlwind tour of campus, taking portraits of Penlanders in situ, including several members of the staff. Here are some of the results:

My, my, we are a handsome bunch! Thanks, photographers!