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Heft & Light



One day last winter, I ran into Daniel Beck in the coffee house, and asked him how he was. “Not great,” he said. “I’m down. Not really sure why.” He said it to a few of us. Nothing in his voice induced worry. No one clipped the moment with concern or sympathy. The room paused, and held what he said. That was it.

Months later I’m looking at “Entry,” Daniel’s inflated steel sculpture, shown above. The coffee house moment comes back. How do we make space for what we can’t say? Outside the fond ambush of being social—how do we make ourselves known? “Entry,” for start, might give someone’s lonesomeness a landing place.

“Entry” began, Daniel says, with an idea about thought bubbles: white, graphic space that hosts speech. The  steel is thin to the touch, and the welded seams at the sides of the hollow add another signature of intention. “I get super snapped in, welding those,” Daniel says about the seams with firm delight. “I want to make work that’s visually direct, but the process, for me, needs to be challenging.”

Part of the directness in this piece is the black strip: coal dust and fire scale applied to white paint that continues, down the “soft square,” below the seam. “The black mark is the material,” Daniel says, “a way to keep with the material’s integrity.” And then he adds, in his thorough chuckle, “It’s totally a door to me.” Daniel’s friend, Ian Henderson, recently wrote about “Entry” and Daniel’s work at large for the Penland Benefit Auction e-newsletter. (“Entry” will be auctioned at this summer’s event.) Ian marvels: “Nimble, efficient construction somehow produces visual heft in one piece and cloud-like lightness in another.”




This winter, Daniel set up his studio space in what used to be Canipes Wrecker Service in downtown Spruce Pine. He also worked on multiple projects in Penland’s iron studio. One, a huge steel frame to anchor a roadside sign welcoming drivers to Spruce Pine. (One end of this frame can be seen behind Daniel’s shoulders in the portrait above). In another wintertime feat of heft, Daniel made a blacksmith’s ideal work table, constructed side by side with his friend, resident artist Andrew Hayes.

As Penland’s able and amiable iron studio coordinator, Daniel finds ample chance for friendship, collaboration, and a consistent soundtrack of power hammers and forging. Quiet can be hard to come by. Why not take over a local auto-body shop in the name of space, time, thought, and abstraction? We won’t intellectualize it. We’ll call it awesome and leave it at that.

Read Ian Henderson’s writing about Daniel T. Beck and his sculpture here.

Follow Daniel on Instagram here.


Writing by Elaine Bleakney; portrait of Daniel T. Beck by Robin Dreyer


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Jay Fox places his work on the table: a hammer. A caulk gun. A much smaller print depicting a screw. The prints cover the table. Black lines and markings play against pale, considered colors. The tools without a box float in the flecked and thready shades of handmade paper. A carpenter’s tools, images of tools; why this kind of care for representing them?


jay-2The litho/relief prints, Jay tells us, were part of his MFA thesis exhibition at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, a show he put up while transitioning into his new role as Penland’s print, letterpress, paper, and books studio coordinator. The show, called “From the Ground Up,” turned the gallery into a transitional work space–fresh paint smell and all. Viewers encountered custom-sized drawers that Jay made to house the stacks of just over 300 tool prints. He set up an “honesty box” for anyone who wanted to buy, and he priced each image (printed on 50/50 cotton/abaca paper that Jay made himself) with the retail price of the tool the print depicted. The print’s sale, then, echoed the object’s actual purchase.



jay-6The tools in these prints belonged to Jay’s father, “and had been sitting around in Morganton since my dad died fourteen years ago,” Jay says. The prints are titled. “Shrapnel,” is the name of the screw. “Long Pull”–the caulk gun. “Pocket Full of Worry,” is a print of an unwrapped, unfinished roll of antacids. In the prints, a pause for each object’s singularity and an indifference to any narrative beyond what might be suggested in the titles. When I ask about  them, Jay doesn’t skip a beat. “I was thinking of the titles as somewhere between action and idea,” he says.


As one of the newest members of Penland’s band of artist-coordinators, Jay is happy to report that he has found in his role a reliable flow of print nerds. Bourbon nerds, too. Penland also marks Jay’s homecoming to North Carolina after his years of undergraduate and graduate work. “In Georgia [as an undergrad at SCAD] I was ‘the guy from the mountains.’ In Milwaukee, I was the Southerner that everyone came to look at, and I felt like it was my duty to portray it well,” he says in a half-jesting way.




Now, when he’s not tending to Penland Print, or getting hitched (Jay and his wife, Molly Evans, married last January), Jay brakes for curious road signs. He plans to work on a series of prints based on signs like the one on the plate above, spotted near his wife’s parents’ house in Georgia. “I love the homemade quality to this sign, says Jay. “I’m thinking about making work in the region I grew up in rather than making work about where I’m from.” Jay pauses. “That’s where I am with it, at least for now.”
Elaine Bleakney; photographs by Robin Dreyer


More about Jay Fox’s thesis show, “From the Ground Up,” on Printeresting.


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Photo of the Week: Mug Lottery

Penland Mug Lottery

Students in Cynthia Bringle’s fall clay workshop have been making a lot of mugs. So today they had a mug lottery. You pay $10 and pull a number out of a bowl. Then you look through all the mugs on the desk and find the one that has your number; that’s your new mug. Cynthia and the class are encouraging everyone to take their mugs when they go to the coffee house so they can cut down on paper cup consumption. This is staff member Yolanda Walker finding her mug. As it happened the guy at the wheel behind her made one with her number on it.


Penland mug lottery

Happy days.


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The Tinker

Ian Henderson, metals coordinatorTinker. “A usually itinerant mender of household utensils,” according to Webster’s.


The word first appeared in Middle English in the 14th century, gaining a negative connotation: the secondary definition of “tinker” is “an unskillful mender.”  As travelers, outliers, and knowledge-bearers, tinkers became  shadow figures—ones to beware. Ian Henderson, Penland’s metals studio coordinator, came across the word in a fantasy novel called The Name of the Wind. In the book, Ian remembers, it’s bad luck not to buy something from the tinker.


Penland’s tinker is skillful. (That’s an understatement.) And he’s not be feared. Unless you fear “preposterously laborious processes.”


Producing art work in step with a marketplace doesn’t shine for Ian. When he’s not working on something with one person in mind, Ian adventures in the Realm of the Absurd and Obsolete, “collecting ideas and techniques” rather than working within a goal of refining them.


Ian’s role at Penland provides space and support. Problems he encounters managing the studio dovetail with his own love of problem-solving. To talk with Ian about what he’s made and why is a bit like watching a stone skip across water– this, then this, then this–each work sets off sentences about the flash of invention, delivered in a joyful, skittery style.


“Everything I start I think it’s going to be My Thing, from the time I started Tom Spleth’s slipcasting concentration as a core student,” Ian jokes when we stop in to look at the things he made this winter. Penland’s tinker is someone who puts his whole boundless inquisitive self into what he creates, from an elaborate tile wall piece to a batch of kefir. Take a look.



A wall arrangement Ian made from his cement tiles, which he designed based on an Arab lattice pattern. The work can now be seen at the Penland Gallery pop-up space on campus.
Ian rubbed the tiles with linseed oil and turpentine. The tiles were meant to span a retaining wall in his brother's house--but the process became a bit too time consuming.
Air bubbles are the enemies of concrete, which Ian quickly discovered as he made the concrete for his tiles. Responding to the problem, he built this motorized vibrating table to shake the bubbles out of concrete in the molds. (Thanks, DIY YouTube videos.)
At the bench, a continuing collaboration between Ian and Audrey Bell--wearable enameled figures inspired by author Hilary Mantel's fiction about Cromwell's rise in 16th century England.
"I thought I was going to build a rail bike this winter," Ian says, showing us one of the folding knives he made for his nieces and nephews, luckiest nieces and nephews in the land.
When Ian learned that he would soon be moving to an A-frame house, he built a model for this pull-down stair, which he will make.
"I came to Penland as a core student when I was 31. I had so much time for being in discovery and problem-solving, which for me is where it's at."


Photographs by Robin Dreyer; writing by Elaine Bleakney


To view more of metalsmith, ceramicist, mixed-media artist, and tinker Ian Henderson’s work, visit Photograph of kefir not included.


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R.I.P., Professor Bobo

Bobby Hansson
Bobby Hansson
Bobby Hansson and Zac Lopez

Slideshow above, with pictures of Bobby Hansson by Dana Moore, Robin Dreyer, and Wes Stitt. Artwork by Bobby.


Here at Penland we will long remember Bobby Hansson (a.k.a. Professor Bobo) who died of Parkinson’s disease last week at a care facility in upstate New York. Bobby was a photographer, author, teacher, tin-can art genius, filmmaker, blacksmith, musician (of sorts), incomparable fashion maven, mail artist, renaissance man, teller of good stories and bad jokes, generous human being, and one of Penland’s great instructors.

Bobby was a photographer of craft and sculpture for thirty years, during which time he was the principal photographer for catalogs produced by the American Craft Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and he taught photography at the School of Visual Art. He started making sculpture, objects, furniture, and musical instruments from found objects in 1955. In 1996, he produced an excellent how-to book titled, The Fine Art of the Tin Can. It was a bestseller for Lark Books and a second, expanded edition was published in 2005.

Bobby started teaching tin-can-art workshops at Penland in 1997 and taught regularly until 2011. He also taught workshops at Arrowmont, Campbell Folk School, Haystack, Peters Valley, and Touchstone. His workshops were rollicking affairs that included metalsmithing techniques, design ideas, musical performances, long stories, piles of junk everywhere, and some of the most inventive work ever done by Penland students.

Bobby was a man of tattoos and loud (LOUD!) clothes. He was a continuous, walking performance. To call him a colorful character would be a serious understatement: nobody ever mistook him for anyone else. He was also a deeply creative person sincerely motivated by a desire to make something useful or interesting out of material that was being thrown away. We’ll miss him.

Bobby’s family has suggested that memorial donations be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research.

Here’s a short video about Bobby and his work with narration by his friend Tim McCreight. There are also lots of nice notes and pictures on Bobby’s Facebook page.

 -Robin Dreyer


From a letter to Bobby Hansson from Betty Oliver which appears at the end of Bobby’s  book:

Dear Bobby,
I was in a supermarket in Blacksburg, Virginia, thinking about your book, and what I might say about tin cans, when I saw a little boy carrying a big can of tomatoes for his father, who had just rounded the corner into the next section. Finding himself alone, the boy set the can on its side and
used his foot to roll it the rest of the way down the aisle. When he reached the end of the aisle, he picked up the can and disappeared around the corner.

How could I express our nearly worldwide impulse to create any better than this little boy’s spontaneous gesture of invention? From his hand to the floor, from the floor to his foot–in those instants, a can became a wheel.


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Photo(s) of the Week: Community Open House 2015

Mobiles in the school store
Metals (enameling)
Photo (in the darkroom)
Hot glass
Pastepaper painting


Penland’s 2015 Community Open House was a lovely, lively event. More than 350 visitors and 150 volunteers braved the ice and the cold on February 28 and worked together in Penland’s studios to make enameled buttons, clay pots, glass vessels and beads, rebus mobiles, black and white photographs, wooden train whistles, steel garden stakes, letterpress printed books, woven samples, and more. Here are a few pictures of the fun. Join us for next year’s open house on March 5.