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Pysanky Party

Decorating eggs with wax resist

This Sunday, Penland will hold its annual Easter celebration and egg hunt, which always includes an impressive range of handmade eggs by students and instructors. Many are crafted using the materials at hand in the session’s workshops—wood, glass, iron, clay, and more—but there are often wildcard entries made by Penland’s friends and neighbors, too. This year, thanks to an egg decorating party hosted by Penland’s Community Collaborations Manager Stacey Lane, the hunt will also include a bunch of eggs dyed using the traditional Ukranian method of pysanky.

The pysanky technique is a layered wax resist technique, something like batik on eggs. With a skilled hand, highly complex patterns can be built up with successive applications of wax and dye, wax and dye, wax and dye. The final step is to warm the egg over a small flame, wipe off the hot wax, and reveal the vibrant pattern hiding beneath. Keep an eye out for these beauties tucked around campus this Sunday!

Finished eggs in a variety of colors

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John Ehle: Writer and Visionary

John Ehle and Rosemary Harris with ceramist Tom Spleth at a Penland event in 2002.

Novelist John Ehle has died at age 92. He was the author of 17 books of fiction and nonfiction, including “The Winter People” and “The Journey of the August King.”

As a special assistant to North Carolina Governor Terry Sanford he helped create the North Carolina Governor’s School and the University of North Carolina School of the Arts. He is also counted, along with Sanford and Governor James Hunt, as one of the founders of the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.

John shared a long marriage with the actress Rosemary Harris; the actress Jennifer Ehle is their daughter. The Ehle family often spent time at their cabin near Penland School, and John and Rosemary supported the school over many decades. John was particularly close with Penland’s second director, Bill Brown, and worked with him on some of Penland’s first fundraising campaigns. He served on the board of trustees from 1981-1985 and was made an honorary trustee in 1987.

John Ehle will be remembered as a great writer, a great citizen of North Carolina, and a visionary of education. At Penland School of Crafts, he will also be remembered as a neighbor and a friend.

Read more about John Ehle’s remarkable life in this article from the Winston-Salem Journal.

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Molding James

Penland resident artist Dean Allison making a mold of James Haley's head

This is Penland resident artist Dean Allison beginning the process of creating a mold from the head and shoulders of 10-year-old James Haley. The mold will be used in the creation of one of Dean’s mesmerizing cast-glass portraits. James’s mother, Penland program director Leslie Noell, was close at hand to coach him through the 45-minute process. James got to pick the soundtrack, so Hamilton was playing throughout.

Penland resident artist Dean Allison making a mold of James Haley's head

The first step was to coat James’s hair with cold cream. Then Dean began to carefully cover his face with a silicone rubber that starts to set up in about about 10 minutes. He used his fingers to make sure all the details of James’s face would be well molded. He also took care to maintain breathing holes for James’s nose.

Penland resident artist Dean Allison making a mold of James Haley's head

With his whole head and shoulders covered, James began to acquire a Halloween-enviable, Creature from the Black Lagoon look. At this point it was important for him to sit very still as the material began to set up. “Pretend you are thinking about the hardest math problem you’ve ever had to do,” Dean instructed.

Penland resident artist Dean Allison making a mold of James Haley's head

The next step was to create a two-part plaster shell that will be used to keep the flexible mold rigid later when filling it with hot wax. Dean and his assistant Sarah Beth Post formed the shell using the same kind of cloth/plaster strips that are used to make a cast for a broken bone.

Once both halves of the shell were complete, they were left briefly to harden and then were carefully removed.

Here’s the front half of the shell coming off.

Penland resident artist Dean Allison making a mold of James Haley's head

Dean carefully slit the mold up the back while Sarah Beth separated the rubber from the shirt.

Penland resident artist Dean Allison making a mold of James Haley's head

And with Mom’s assistance, the mold was removed as gently as possible.

Penland resident artist Dean Allison making a mold of James Haley's head

There it goes.

Penland resident artist Dean Allison making a mold of James Haley's head

And James emerged intact!

“I was thinking about bagels the whole time,” he said to Leslie, “so now we need to go get a bagel.”

Hmm…well played.

This process is just Dean’s first step. Here’s the rubber mold back inside the plaster cast (upside down on the chair). The next step is to fill it with hot wax to make a wax positive.

Here is the wax model of James. Dean will clean this up quite a bit and do some additional sculpting—particularly on the hair.

He will use this wax model to create a new mold made of reinforced plaster, which will retain all the detail that’s in the wax. Finally he will melt out the wax and fill the plaster mold with molten glass to create the glass sculpture. After the glass cools Dean will put in hours of polishing and cold work to refine the piece before it will be ready for mounting.

Before joining the Penland residency, Dean Allison was Penland’s glass studio coordinator. He has a Masters of Art in Visual Art from Australian National University. His work has been exhibited recently at the National Portrait Gallery in DC, SOFA Chicago, and Blue Spiral I in Asheville, NC. You can see many examples of his portraiture on his website.

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Planting Time!

A view of the Penland garden from the knoll.

Yes, there’s snow in the forecast for tonight. But no, it’s not too early to start planting the Penland vegetable garden. In fact, thanks to a basement propagation room and the careful planning of Penland gardener Casara Logan, seedlings are already in the soil and sprouting!

Though the Penland garden often goes under the radar, it’s one aspect of our school that touches nearly everyone who sets foot on campus: Penland-grown vegetables go into hundreds of meals at The Pines spring through fall, herbs from the beds flavor drinks in the coffee shop, and the food scraps collected from everyone who dines here get composted and worked back into the rows to enrich the soil. This is no small thing: last year, nearly twenty tons of food waste were redirected into our steaming compost piles.

Some of the first seedlings of the 2018 season. (Photos: Casara Logan)

The Penland garden is a modest 100 ft x 100 ft of soil tucked into the curve of the road below The Pines. It is worked mostly by hand—or, more specifically, by the diligent hands of Casara, Penland WWOOFer Irvin Carsten, core fellow Luke Gnadinger, and a handful of work-study students. What can such a small team do in a small space? We’ll let the numbers speak for themselves: during the 2017 season, the garden produced over 25 varieties of vegetables and herbs, including 7 lbs of mint, 36.5 lbs of radishes, 96.25 lbs of arugula, 100 lbs of broccoli, 245 lbs of lettuce, 580 lbs of kale, and 765 lbs of chard, for a grand total of nearly 1.5 tons of produce!

Irvin and Casara harvesting chard last summer.

The vegetables are tasty, to be sure, but what’s the connection between cultivation and craft? A lot of it comes back to care, to love of process, and to appreciation for material. Like throwing a mug from a lump of clay, growing vegetables takes a commitment of time and attention. There are rows to turn, seedlings to water, weeds to pull, and pests to manage. Doing any of these steps well requires a real focus on the the task at hand and a sensitivity to the sun, the soil, and the rain. We can (and do) buy vegetables, but we believe that—as with a handmade mug—growing them ourselves provides real value to our gardeners, our students, our community, and this little piece of the Blue Ridge Mountains we love. It’s probably no coincidence that, before they were farmers, Casara and Irvin were both artists first.

A harvest waiting to be turned into lunch outside The Pines last summer.

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Announcing Our Newest Resident Artists

We are very happy to announce three new resident artists and welcome them into the Penland family. They will arrive on campus in September to begin their three-year residencies.

Nate Cotterman

“My position in the glass world is to use the material to solve problems and pay homage to the craft tradition. I strive to make work that is intriguing, functional, and timeless while looking for the unique in the mundane.”

Nate Cotterman currently lives with his family in Los Angeles, CA, where he works as a professional gaffer at 141 Penn Studio. A native of Ohio, Nate graduated from the Cleveland Institute of Art with a BFA in glass and has taught and demonstrated across the US at institutions such as the University of Montana, Cleveland Institute of Art, Pittsburgh Glass Center, Pilchuck School of Glass, and Penland. As a glass designer/maker, Nate brings a modern interpretation to glass objects using traditional Venetian glass blowing techniques, challenging low-end production with innovative design and handmade quality. During the residency at Penland, Nate plans to explore larger ideas in both complexity and scale and looks forward to the opportunity to be influenced by and collaborate with “a community of exceptionally skilled and creative people” in a range of media.

Jason Hartsoe

“I believe good art has a firm foundation in the work that came before it. It is by building on and blending the influences of historic ceramics and by varying these themes into new translations and experimentations that my work and career will progress.”

Jason grew up in NC in a home full of pots made by his grandfathers and their fathers before them. After receiving a BA in English from Belmont College, in NC, Jason chose to pursue a ceramic education by apprenticing with master potters; he learned on the job as an assistant in England at Winchcombe Pottery, in Virginia with Dan Finnegan, and as an apprentice with Michael Hunt and Naomi Daglish at Bandana Pottery just down the road from Penland. Jason’s work reflects these influences and experiences and has continued to evolve during short residencies in Star, NC; Shigaraki, Japan; and Cortona, Italy. During his residency at Penland, Jason is looking forward to the opportunity to build a wheel in order to explore larger forms, establish his own studio for the first time, develop his voice as a maker, and seek an audience and market for his work.

Kit Paulson

“[In transitioning from furnace glass to flameworking] I learned that in unfamiliarity with a process or material can lie great freedom and possibility….I want to make meaningful, intentional objects.”

Kit’s interest in glass started in the hot shop and led her to earn a BFA at Alfred University. She followed her degree with years of assisting other glass artists and developing a production line of functional glass. Though her love for the material persisted, she began to feel disillusioned with what she was making. At that time she discovered flameworking and began to shift her process and intention to include time-based work incorporating flameworked glass. With this new direction, Kit made the commitment to earn an MFA at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, where she will culminate her studies in May. Kit’s most current work uses ornament and intricate, time-intensive constructions as a way to collect and tell stories. During her residency Kit will build a flameworking studio to support her new creative direction as she seeks balance between making meaningful work and supporting her career as an artist.

Our 2018 Resident Artist Program selection process was, as always, thorough, thoughtful, and difficult! There were many outstanding candidates but only three available positions. This year we received 71 applications from across the US and abroad. Our selection committee did an outstanding job reviewing and evaluating applications; they generously offered time, energy, and perspective to the entire project. Thank you to everyone involved in this year’s selection.

We do not anticipate any openings in the Resident Artist Program in 2019; our next application deadline will be January 15, 2020 for artists working in all media except hot glass.

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Penland at VisArts!

work by Susan Feagin, Ellie Richards, Ian Henderson, and Amanda Thatch
Ceramic tray by Susan Feagin, wooden boxes by Ellie Richards, metal hammer by Ian Henderson, indigo sample by Amanda Thatch

Penland’s studio coordinators keep everything ticking in the studios—they communicate with instructors, order supplies, ensure that our spaces are equipped and ready for a wide variety of workshops, and troubleshoot on the fly. They’re an incredible source of knowledge in their areas and a primary point of contact for our students. But outside of their jobs, each coordinator is also a talented artist, and we’re thrilled whenever they get an opportunity to show their work or teach a class.

This spring, we’re excited to have seven Penland studio coordinators heading up to Virginia for a weekend “Penland Takeover” at the wonderful Visual Arts Center of Richmond. Their workshops will run Saturday, May 12 and Sunday, May 13 from 10 AM until 4 PM. If a weekend of learning something new with some of our favorite people sounds like time well spent, then we’d encourage you to sign up! Registration for each of the following workshops is open now.

The Sculptural Box
Ellie Richards, All Levels

Indigo Paste Resist
Amanda Thatch, All Levels

Slip Transfers on Clay
Susan Feagin, Intermediate Level

Exploring Letterpressed Objects
Jay Fox, All Levels

Blacksmithing Spoons + Bottle Openers
Daniel T. Beck, All Levels

Tool-Making for Jewelers
Ian Henderson, Intermediate Level

Printing + Manipulating Cyanotypes
Betsy DeWitt, All Levels

Over the years, so many artists have benefitted from time at both VisArts and Penland. We’re grateful to VisArts for putting together this awesome weekend of programming and for strengthening the connections between our two organizations!

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Community Open House 2018

Every year, the Penland Community Open House falls on a Saturday afternoon in March, one week before our spring workshops begin. With the help of over a hundred expert volunteers, we run activities in each studio that highlight the different mediums we teach at Penland, from ceramics and letterpress to hot glass and wood. All afternoon, visitors come through to watch and learn and—especially—to get their hands dirty and make something themselves. It’s the perfect way to wake up our studios after the sleepy weeks of February and to celebrate the craft and community that have been at Penland’s heart since the very beginning.

This year, we welcomed roughly 700 visitors to the Community Open House—young, old, experienced, and complete beginners alike. Some activities were returning favorites, like learning to throw a clay pot on the wheel, forging a steel hook with hammer and anvil, casting a small object in pewter, decorating a sheet of paste paper, and blowing a glass cup. But there’s always something new, too, even for those who come back to enjoy the open house year after year.

In the photo activity, for example, visitors got to decorate their very own cyanotype tote bags to take home. The process started in a “dim room” where UV light had been blocked from the windows with a red film. There, visitors laid out patterns on their coated bags from cut paper stencils—geometric shapes, their initials, mountainscapes, and more. Once complete, the patterns were held in place by sheets of clear plastic and exposed in the sun for twelve minutes. The coated areas that saw sunlight turned a deep, rich blue, while the areas under the black paper remained white.

Also new this year was a raku activity on the kiln pad of the clay studio. Visitors got to choose a bisqued pot, glaze it, and then watch as our expert volunteers loaded it into the kiln, heated it up to a glowing orange, and then quickly transferred it to a smoking barrel of wood chips and sawdust. The whole process took under an hour, and a certain aura of magic seemed to cling to the pots as they emerged with shiny coats of bright red and jewel green. Not a bad souvenir to take home with you!

We couldn’t make all this fun happen without the dedication and hard work of our wonderful volunteers. We also owe a big thank you to Dr. Taylor Townsend, DDS of Spruce Pine, who generously supports the Community Open House each year. And finally, thanks to all our visitors for joining us—we love sharing Penland with you!

See more of this year’s activities in the slideshow below.