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Spring with Sunshine Cobb

Sunshine Cobb’s mugs, jars, and bowls have the sort of effortless personality that can only come through great skill, a highly refined process, and, yes, a good deal of effort. Their soft, matte surfaces play up the textured forms and rich, red clay underneath. They’re quirky, bright, and inviting—much like Sunshine herself. It’s hard to mistake this work for anyone else’s, which is a large portion of its brilliance.

This spring, Sunshine will be returning to Penland to teach our 8-week spring clay concentration March 11 – May 4, 2018. Israel Davis was originally scheduled to teach in the slot, but Sunshine graciously stepped in when he had to cancel. The workshop will be an intensive look at building forms on and off the potter’s wheel and the wide range of surface options to complement them. For beginning students, it will be a guided jump-start into the world of clay. For those with more experience, it will be a valuable opportunity to develop new ideas and refine personal style, as well as get practical advice on the business side of making a living as an artist.

Registration is currently open on a first-come, first-served basis for spring workshops. Scholarships are available for all spring concentrations—apply by November 28!


ceramic trays by Sunshine Cobb


Wheelthrowing and Handbuilding Techniques

Sunshine Cobb, March 11 – May 4, 2018
This intensive workshop will be explore form and content through functional ceramics by diving deep into a combination of both handbuilding and wheelthrowing techniques. And we will cover a broad range of surface solutions. Participants can also expect creative exercises and critical discussions relative to form, surface, and the balance of both. We’ll also have sessions on developing online and social media content and discussions of business models that working artists are using today. You will delve into your makers’ mind and develop new approaches and ideas to your work. All levels. Studio fee: $245. Code S00CA

Studio artist; teaching: Red Clay Lodge (MT), Santa Fe Clay (NM), Anderson Ranch (CO), Penland; Archie Bray Foundation (MT) long-term residency; named 2013 Emerging Artist by Ceramics Monthly and NCECA; author of the forthcoming Mastering Hand Building: Techniques, Tips, and Tricks for Slabs, Coil, and More (Voyageur Press, 2018).


clay  |  letterpress  |  painting  |  metals  |  textiles  |  wood  |  sculpture
Scholarship applications due November 28, 2017







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Photo of the Week: Work-Study Rules!

This is the lunch work-study crew on October 4 posing for our Giving Day campaign. Work-study scholarship students are a critical part of Penland’s labor force. They balance their time and energy between making beautiful work in the studios and washing dishes, staying on top of things in the dining hall, helping in the garden, etc., etc. We love our work-study students; they really do make Penland go.


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The Snow Leopard Departs

The Penland kitchen crew
The Penland kitchen crew in 2015: (left to right) David Chatt, Big John Renick, Richard Pleasants, Day Dotson, Kirk Banner, Y-Sam Ktul, Bill Jackson

Sometime between Penland’s summer and fall sessions, we said goodbye to Richard Pleasants, who has retired after eight years as our food services manager and at the end of a long career working in kitchens, restaurants, and hotels. Richard moved to Manhattan where he is living with his son and family. Under his guidance, the food has been great and the kitchen and coffee house have been well-managed and efficient. Most importantly, however, Richard created a calm and supportive place to work, and he empowered the skills and creativity of the people around him. The affection that developed between Richard and his staff was a beautiful thing to see, so we invited the folks who worked most closely with him to offer a few words of tribute.


To simply say that Richard was my boss would be a complete disservice to his tenure here. Richard was my boss; but he is also my friend, my champion, my life coach, my spiritual consigliere, my guru. He taught me about the kind of manager I want to be, the kind of friend I want to be, the kind of human being I want to be. He taught me to respond instead of react and to look at all sides of a problem. Simply put, he taught me to be better.

When I remember Richard’s time here I think of inside jokes, Neil Young radio, fresh tomato soup, and French macaroons made from scratch. I think of his kindness and his generous nature, his sense of humor, and his willingness to do what’s right instead of what’s easy. I can’t help remember how he would come into the kitchen to work at unnatural hours because he liked the solitude or his desk stacked with so many papers it made my brain itch wanting to organize everything. While Richard was here at Penland he fed us food for our bodies, but he also helped nourish our spirits. Knowing Richard for the eight years he was here, I can anticipate the eye roll that statement will produce. But it’s the truth, and I’ll stand by my sappiness.

Working at Penland offers us all a chance to meet and work with so many people. We overlook that a lot, but in this instance I can’t. Richard made our lives better, and I’ll always be grateful that he wanted to move to the mountains and live a quieter existence. It gave us all the opportunity to get to know an amazing human being. He may not be here in body anymore, but his steady guidance still quietly leads us.

-Crystal Thomas, coffee house manager


Richard for President 2020
The fearless leader. One of the most intelligent, suave individuals on the face of the earth. He is kind, patient, and understanding. He made sure we did everything to the best of our abilities and supported growth in anybody. (He also loves Neil Young.)

-Y-Sam Ktul, former prep crew


Richard, I’m pissed!

Where is my morning coffee? My Neil Young? Who am I going to talk to about Social Security? The 60’s? Arthritis? And our favorite, those cute fifty-somethings in the lunch line? Who? Oh, I guess I have to make the oatmeal and grits now too! Thanks a lot. But don’t worry about me, I’ll get by somehow.

-Bill Jackson, prep crew


Richard, you are an aptly named man, as it was certainly my pleasure to work for and with you these past two years. Thanks for being a kind and caring individual, traits I’d say carry over into your management style. I wish you a joyful next adventure.

-Alena Applerose, baker


Richard Pleasants in the Penland kitchen
Richard Pleasants: master of the kitchen, wearer of berets, reader of many books, honorary core fellow, and a guy you’d be lucky to work for.


Richard and Pearl. Just now I was thinking about Penland without the two of them…

You see…at Penland School the years kinda seem to just slide off the wall in one of those cool, Western North Carolina mountain breezes. Three hundred and sixty-five days will be gone before you’ll ever even know that it happened.

Here in Pearl’s Kitchen and the Penland Coffee House, though, we can rip through ‘em like they’re a cheap, dime store daily affirmations calendar. And each year, as the thin sheets of paper are falling away we see over 7,200 hungry faces fill their plates, countless work-study students learn a new job, nine core fellows trudge through their work requirements while pining for their time in the studios. We help flocks of resident artists and their broods nourish their lives, their art, and their careers. We serve coffee to a ridiculously wonderful and motley gathering of coworkers.

Oh yes, there are others we serve as well: Penland trustees, teachers, volunteers, interns, grade school kids, at least one of almost any ethnic group you could imagine, every gender and sexual orientation possible, as well as every age group you could think of. There are state, national, and international dignitaries and maybe even a few local folks from down in the holler or from over the mountain.

Yeah, The Pines is a busy place. It takes all different types of people to keep it running. I have personally been involved with that rat race in some form or another for going on twenty-five years. And you know what? I never saw anyone slide so easily and effectively into a leadership position than when I first saw Richard walk down that stone path from The Craft House on a cold winter’s day in February, some eight odd years ago. Nor have I ever seen anyone exit so graciously as when he quietly slipped out of town just as this fall was rolling in on the wind. But ya’ll want to know what sticks in my craw? It’s that there ain’t been nobody that’s been missed more up in this kitchen since the lovely and esteemed Pearl Grindstaff, herself, passed away.

Bless her Heart!

And ya’ll know what else? I think we should just go on ahead and bless ol’ Richard while we’re at it, ‘cause although he still walks among the living, he is moving on up to New York City and he might just need the blessings over there…

But, yeah, anyway…
I sure do miss ‘em both. Pearl and Richard, ya know…
I miss ‘em both…really, really bad!

Big Love, Richard!

Big John

-a.k.a. John T. Renick, III, interim food services manager

Editor’s note: Pearl Grindstaff was a wonderful and wise woman who worked in the Penland kitchen for 75 years–a remarkable tenure that lasted until 2009.


I was recently asked as part of an interview process to name someone I had worked for in the past whom I admired or particularly enjoyed working with. It was not hard to answer. A few years ago, my life needed some shaking up and the irregular ebb and flow of my art income was not going to be reliable enough. I was more than a little apprehensive as I contemplated a return to the work-a-day world after having spent the previous twenty years as a studio artist. I found out that Penland was in need of a baker and reached out to Richard. I was not sure he would have me and learned later that some had cautioned him not to hire me because I would probably not last the summer. Richard decided to ignore that advice and offered me the job. I arrived with some trepidation of my own. The changes in my life had left my confidence a little bruised. I need not have worried. Working in Richard’s kitchen was a perfect fit for me at a time when I needed it the most.

When the person conducting the interview asked what it was about working for Richard, I said he created an environment that made all of us who worked for him want to do our best.

I have come to love Richard, not just because he offered me a soft place to land in a tumultuous time, not just because he ran one of the best kitchens I have ever had the privilege to work in, not just because of his impressive mane of snowy white hair, though all those things are worthy of admiration. I love Richard because of the way he treats his people and the way he managed to create an environment where people felt valued, supported, and free to be a little weird. If I am ever in a position where other people rely on me for leadership, I hope I will remember how it felt to work for Richard and provide that kind of generosity for someone else.

Richard, thank you. I am better for having had the chance to work with you for those four years. I hope the next chapter of your life is the best yet. Please keep in touch. I love you like someone we both know loves a go-plate!

-David Chatt, former Penland baker


Richard’s parking spot. Sign by Ian Henderson and Daniel Beck.

I swear Richard has led dozens of lives. He is as likely to launch into a story about dining with celebrities in the Caribbean as he is about a penniless stretch on the streets of DC. There was the time he was a personal chef to a jet-setting billionaire and the time he’s awfully vague about that involved multiple crossings of the Mexican border. The point is that he is a changeling, renewing himself regularly, and, I hope, endlessly. And when his abilities combined with the transfigurative powers of Penland School of Crafts we got our Snow Leopard, for a too short eight years—leader, reader, kneader, and as good a friend as I ever expect to find. He’ll be sorely missed around here, and I believe he’ll miss us, too, though I’m sure he’s already transformed into some timeless hep cat on some Manhattan street corner with a devoted following wondering “where did this magical creature come from?

-Ian Henderson, metals studio coordinator and former core fellow


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#WeMakePenland on October 4

Two women working with natural dyes

Thanks to everyone who made Penland’s first giving day a great success. We received 309 donations (exceeding our goal of 250), and together we raised $29,165 in support of Penland’s scholarships, studios, and other programs. Gifts started at $1 and went up from there, and we are grateful for every one of them. Thanks so much to everyone who donated, posted pictures and stories, were part of our on-campus photo booth, liked and shared our posts, or cheered us along. And we were so touched by the many little stories posted by friends of the school. You can see them all at #WeMakePenland.


Today, together –
#WeMakePenland a center for growth, creativity, and community.

On October 4, our first ever Giving Day, we’re bringing our community together to strengthen Penland’s programs, facilities, staff, scholarships, and more. We have until midnight tonight to reach 250 donors in 24 hours, and we need your help!

Here’s what you can do:

  • Make a gift – any amount counts! Donate here.
  • Share our campaign stories on InstagramFacebook, and Twitter or via text and email. Get your friends and family involved!
  • Post your own stories from Penland. Use the hashtag #WeMakePenland and include the link to the campaign:
  • Create a matching gift or challenge on the campaign page. Your generosity motivates others. Even a $25 challenge can be a big inspiration!
  • Become an advocate to amplify your impact. Creating an account on GiveCampus allows you to see how many clicks, gifts, and dollars your outreach has generated.

We chose #WeMakePenland as the theme of our campaign because Penland really is a community effort. Thank you for helping us make this day a success, and thank you for making the Penland experience richer for everyone. We couldn’t have Penland without people like you.

Join the #WeMakePenland Campaign