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A Boat Story

Rachel Mauser, We Will Find the Sea, cut paper, modified coptic binding, pewter, walnut
Rachel Mauser, We Will Find the Sea, cut paper, modified coptic binding, pewter, walnut

Once upon a time there was an artist named Rachel. She grew up going to camp during the summers, where she learned to sail, kayak and canoe. No boat was unknown to her. Young Rachel carried the image of boats with her into adult life.

Last summer, Adult Rachel found herself in a one-week pewtersmithing class as part of her core fellowship at Penland. Pewter? she thought. The instructors were two of the most well-known pewtersmiths in the land. Rachel had no experience with pewter–or much metal experience at all, for that matter. She was uncertain. Her uncertainty reminds this writer of a line from another story: “It was dark in the woods and she had to be brave.”

Others in the class were metalsmiths. They were well on their way toward making pewter cups. Candlestick holders. Salt shakers. Rachel closed her eyes. It was then that she saw it: a pewter rowboat floating in a book. She worked all week on the boat, its two tiny oars.

Later, back in the familiar kingdom of paper, Rachel made a book for the boat. The boat in the book: what Rachel made reminds this writer of magical books, childhood, the great big endless sea.

The moral of this story is a quotation from the artist herself: “Our ideas are not limited by the materials we know.”


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Glass Smorgasbord with Amy Rueffert

Glass artist Amy Rueffert will be at Penland for the first time this spring to teach an eight-week workshop. We corresponded briefly about food, glass, and the movies.


Amy Rueffert, Apple (Patchwork Variety), blown and fused glass, decals, found glass
Amy Rueffert, Apple (Patchwork Variety), blown and fused glass, decals, found glass

Thinking about the food metaphor for your workshop, do you feel like there’s a connection between culinary presentation and the presentation of Victorian curios that attracts you as an artist?

Yes! I love the food metaphor because it pertains to this class in so many ways. I think the most relevant connection is through the idea of the smorgasbord, and that moment when you realize there are all these beautifully presented options for you to choose from. You can fill your plate with a little bit of this, and a little bit of that, and go back for more of your favorites. That’s what we’ll be doing in this workshop, filling our plates with different techniques to make sculptural glass.

I’m really looking forward to students digging deep within their inspirations and connecting to their sources through research, class dialogue and exploring the material. Teaching is a great source of inspiration for me, so I’m looking forward to spending eight weeks getting to know everyone and making great things along the way.


Amy Rueffert at work (courtesy of the artist)
Amy Rueffert at work (photo courtesy of the artist)


Amy Rueffert – Glass Smorgasbord
March 9-May 2, 2014
Hungry? This workshop will be a smorgasbord of traditional and alternative glass techniques beginning with blowing, cutting, grinding, gluing, smashing, building, and fusing. Through experimentation, exploration, and teamwork mixed with practice, patience, and hard work, we’ll find personal connections to the visual and physical properties of glass as we realize our ideas. The balance of skill and concept will be a theme throughout, with demonstration and discussions of my process and those of visiting artists. In the words of Auntie Mame, “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death.” Let’s eat! All levels, but some hot glass experience will be helpful.

To find out more and register for this workshop click here.
Spring scholarship deadline is November 29.
Please note: applications need to be at Penland by this date to be considered for scholarship. Overnight service may not deliver to Penland’s campus on time, please plan accordingly.


Just curious: is Auntie Mame one of your favorite movies?

I’ve loved the movie Auntie Mame since I was a little girl! I can remember flipping through the channels on a Saturday afternoon and seeing bits and pieces of this movie over and over again and being so intrigued by the aesthetics of the film, and of course, Rosalind Russell. It took me a while to figure out the name of the movie, and finally I did, and it’s been a favorite ever since.

I’m still searching for a specific Barbra Streisand movie that had a similar effect. The scene I can remember goes like this: Barbra is in a city apartment, sitting in a bed. She’s dressed in floral printed pajamas that match the bed sheets that match the fabric-upholstered headboard. It is like she’s lost in a field of floral fabric and it’s amazing. Any ideas?



Amy Rueffert has taught at The Studio at Corning, Pilchuck, The Glass Lab at MIT, Haystack, and San Jose State University. Her work is included in collections of the Corning Museum, Tacoma Museum of Glass and Glasmuseet Ebeltoft. She currently lectures in the School of Art and Design at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.



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Goodbye, Angela



We are saddened to report that our friend Angela Fina died on Sunday, November 10 at her home in Amherst, MA after ten years of treatment for cancer. She was 76. Angela was a wonderful potter and an exceptional Penland instructor. She taught at the school fourteen times and once said, “Penland is my true heart’s home.”

Angela graduated with a degree in art education from Nazareth College of Rochester and then entered the community of the Sisters of St. Joseph of Rochester. During nine years as a nun she earned an MFA at the School for American Craftsmen at Rochester Institute of Technology. After leaving the convent, she taught for nine years at Sheridan College School of Craft and Design in Port Credit, Ontario. In 1977, she left her college teaching position to become a full-time potter, a pursuit she continued until the end of her life. She also continued teaching workshops at Penland, Brookfield Craft Center, and other schools.


Angela at Penland, 1970
Angela at Penland, 1970

She worked in high-temperature porcelain, specializing in deeply colored glazes. In addition to excellent tableware, she was known for her containers designed for ikebana flower arranging and other forms designed to meet the needs of flower arrangers. She sold her work at her studio, at major craft fairs, and at top craft galleries including the Penland Gallery. Angela was on the board of the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts (NCECA) and was made a lifetime fellow of that organization in 1984.



In the summer of 2012, a group of Angela’s friends decided to honor her career and her connection with Penland by creating a fund for improvements to the Penland clay studio. They set a goal of $10,000, and were able to raise $13,339, creating a living tribute that will benefit generations of Penland clay students.

Potter Julia Galloway published an excellent and matter-of-fact essay Angela wrote about what it means to be a self-supporting potter, which you can read here.  Memorial gifts can be made to the Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society  or to CERF, the Craft Emergency Relief Fund.


fina vaze


Here at Penland  we will miss the gift of Angela’s teaching and her elegant work, but most of all, we will miss her gracious, loving presence, and her beautiful smile.


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Make Do with What You Have, Take What You Can Get: Woodworking with Tom Shields


I don’t draw something and then go find a pile of wood and build it.
I find the pile of wood, respond to that pile of wood,
and then make something based on what’s there
Tom Shields


Found wood and one’s attention to it as inspiration for design will be at the core of Penland resident artist Tom Shields’s spring woodworking workshop. “Patinas, nail holes, rot in an old piece of wood–all of these can be springboards into what gets made,” says Tom.


Tom Shields in the studio
Tom Shields in the studio

Along with covering traditional woodworking techniques, the eight-week workshop will veer to embrace the nontraditional. Conversations about idea and content will be generated by activity in the workshop. For example, the first project: Shields’s students will all be asked to bring a loved object with them to Penland. Then, they will create a cabinet for the object. The function and design of the cabinet will be up to the maker: would you build something to hide, display, or protect your object?



Tom Shields, Same on the Inside, railroad tie, cherry, 11 x 8 x 38 inches
Tom Shields, Same on the Inside, railroad tie,
cherry, 11 x 8 x 38 inches

Tom Shields – Make Do with What You Have, Take What You Can Get

March 9-May 2, 2014

In the wood studio

Want to learn woodworking while giving new life to discarded wood? We’ll spend time learning where to find recycled wood: the dump, junk stores, dumpsters, the woods. Then we’ll make sculptural, functional, and furniture pieces from any kind of wood object, applying traditional woodworking techniques and joinery to nontraditional materials. We’ll also use some new lumber to fabricate elements as needed. Both hand and power tools will be used as we incorporate woodworking and trash into the same vocabulary. The workshop will also cover sharpening, the proper use of tools, and safety. All levels.


To find out more and register for this workshop click here.
Spring scholarship deadline is November 29.
Please note: applications need to be at Penland by this date to be considered for scholarship. Overnight service may not deliver to Penland’s campus on time, please plan accordingly.


Making something with what’s available in the world–and wholly rejecting the capitalist enterprise that tries to commodify it–was intrinsic to the punk movement of the 1970s and 80s and to Tom Shields’s own emergence in craft. Punk’s restless creative ethos is part of his philosophy of teaching today–with an emphasis on an open invitation to anyone to take and make, dispelling the cliché of “punk” as a closed zone of angst or aggression.

Tom Shields’s students will take their own DIY impulse into time and materials, while also picking up some incomparable experiences. Timber framer Raivo Vihman will be the studio assistant–he’ll be demonstrating large-scale timber framing and joinery. Annie Evelyn will also visit to demonstrate techniques in upholstery. Bob Biddlestone will cover router jigs, fixtures, and talk about applying woodworking techniques to other materials.


“I definitely like to teach people how to do just about everything with as little as possible. If you have a chisel, a block plane, a hand drill, and a Japanese saw, you can build just about anything.”



Tom Shields is a resident artist at Penland School of Crafts. He has taught previously at Penland and the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. His exhibitions include Blue Spiral 1 (NC) and the North Carolina Museum of Art. His work is part of collections at Decordova Museum (MA), Gregg Museum (NC), University of Arkansas, and the North Carolina Museum of Art, among others.

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Photo of the Week: Lower Iron


The lower metals studio has been rechristened “lower iron” this week. Former core fellow Seth Gould is teaching a one-week class using toolmaking as an introduction to working with steel. The back of the studio has been converted into a forging area complete with tiny forges made from four bricks and a soldering torch.

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Don’t Burn Up: Interview with Iron Instructor Jay Burnham-Kidwell

What’s your philosophy of teaching?
Unprintable but I’ll tell you. I didn’t plan any of this. I joined the military, got out of the war and couldn’t get a job. I went to college on the G.I. Bill. I kind of think that I was born to be a teacher; I can’t explain it more than that.

I’ve always liked teachers. Particularly in art and craft, everybody’s going to be a teacher because we’re dinosaurs–it’s not all in the books, it’s not all written down, and you won’t see every lecture. So we need to share knowledge. The internet is full of information but not necessarily knowledge. So I got into teaching–I’ve been teaching now since 1973.




How long have you been teaching at Penland?

I’ve taught three concentrations, two summer classes, three guest artist [visits], and I did an instructor retreat. I would have done the first instructor retreat but I was in intensive care so I couldn’t come. Which pissed me off–I really wanted to go (give me a bunch of Demerol!) I’d like to do another sixty-seven years; I’ve had a great time.

Each group I teach tends to be a little different. They tend to bond together. The tighter they are the better it runs. Building what we call in the military “unit effing integrity:” if they’re good enough to die with they’re good enough to eat, drink and sleep with. Well here, take out the ‘dying’ part: if they’re good enough to make art with then it should become a community. You can be as individual as you want at Penland and people will respect your privacy. But you work better when you’re together. I learn more from them too.

This group is very hard working–all of them, in all the areas. I tend to trek around and see what they’re up to. And this is grueling: they’re trying to pack about a year’s work into two months.


Which reminds me. I saw a note on the chalkboard in the iron studio: DON’T BURN UP.

Yeah, or out! [My students] have been ’embellishing,’ let us say, up there. I encourage them to do that. My favorite one up there is ‘The more you complain the longer God makes you live.’ Favorite Jewish proverb. I love that one. No drama, no sniveling, no whining. And talk to me when you’ve got a problem, if you can.


Does that feel critical to your experience as a teacher here, knowing people more personally?

I think so, as much as you can know someone in a couple of months. But it’s intense. It’s not for the weak of spirit, heart, mind, body.


Fair enough.

The energy is here is infectious. I’m running on a twenty-two year old’s energy and the minute I drive down the hill it’s all just going to go away. That’s the not so salutary effect of adrenaline wearing off when you leave Neverland.

This a a singular place. I really wish that the rest of the world ran like this. The greatest thing about Penland besides the food, the art, the people, the place is that nobody cares up here; it all comes down to what Dr. King says: ‘it’s the content of your character.’ Everything else is just like wearing a different shirt–nobody gives a rat’s ass. And I really like that.–Elaine Bleakney




Jay Burnham-Kidwell currently teaches the concentration  Smokin’ Hot Iron at Penland. He is professor emeritus from Mohave Community College in Arizona. His work is held in collections at the National Ornamental Metal Museum in Tennessee, the University of Georgia, and West Dean College in the United Kingdom.