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Just an Average Morning in Hot Glass

Raven adding the final leaves to the bat sculpture

The Penland glass studio has seen decades of impressive work coming off its benches, but we’re pretty sure it had never seen a sculpture quite like the one instructor Raven Skyriver demoed this Wednesday. The piece, described by Raven as “bat on a branch munching mango,” was a breathtaking example of what glass is capable of in highly skilled hands.

Raven adds a rib to the second bat wingThe sculpture came together piece by piece over the course of the morning. Raven crafted each element separately—the leaves on the tree, the mango, the bat’s body, the two wings—and each of those pieces were built up from even smaller ones. To make the wings, for example, Raven added a small blob of hot glass onto a curved and colored spine, stretched and flattened it into the thin membrane of the wings, and then added a darker rib with a carefully controlled piece of cane. He repeated this process across the spine of the wing—membrane, rib, membrane, rib—until he had created a ruffling and expressive thing that had all the veining and texture you might find on a real bat.

Raven adds color to the branch by sprinkling it with powdered frit

The final piece of the sculpture was the branch itself. It started out much like a large blown vase or bowl might, a big egg of glass with a bubble inside. But over the course of the next few heats, it quickly morphed into something else entirely. Raven first added color with a generous sprinkling of frit, then rolled it over a textured plate to create the ridges of the bark, and then wrestled it into an elongated and twisting thing that might have blown down from any tree in a winter storm.

Raven uses his weight to elongate and shape the branch

The real excitement began next as Raven started assembling the many separate pieces together. Or, more specifically, Raven and his team started assembling them, as this stage required many hands—someone at the bench to rotate the piece, someone to keep it hot with the torch, someone to retrieve each leaf and wing from the garage, someone else to operate the doors of the glory hole. It was a sophisticated choreography of movement and timing and communication which remained, somehow, untouched by the mounting tension in the assembled crowd of onlookers.

Raven secures the first wing to the body of the bat

The bat’s body came first, followed by one wing and then another and then the mango with its little bite mark, which seemed almost miraculously to line up right at the level of the bat’s mouth. It was clear as Raven worked that he had an image in his mind, but it was loose enough that he was also composing as he went—a leaf here, a leaf there, an extra little twist to this branch, and a leaf or two left in the garage at the end.

The piece nears completion with the help of Raven's students and studio assistants

The final crescendo came after hours of focused work when the piece was ready to come off the pipe. While all of us watched without breathing, Raven and his assistants Emily Lamb and Jack Gramann heated the base of the sculpture, flipped the entire thing vertically, and cut it off the pipe into Emily’s waiting (and well insulated) hands. She carried the whole beautiful piece over to the annealer, gently set it inside, and closed the lid before the room erupted with applause.

Raven, Jack, and Emily prepare to cut the bat sculpture off the pipe.

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Re-Crafting the Craft House

Front view of the Craft House with its iconic log porch and red roof
Penland’s Craft House. D. R. Beeson, the architect, incorporated natural materials into the building so it would coexist peacefully with its surroundings.

Penland’s Edward F. Worst Craft House is one of the most iconic buildings on campus. Its red roof and rustic log siding are the unofficial welcome sign to visitors as they round the curve in the road and the expanse of the knoll opens up before them. It’s also one of the most beloved buildings, as anyone who has spent a lazy afternoon on the rocking chairs sketching, thinking, or chatting could tell you. In the eight decades the Craft House has been a part of Penland, it has housed everything from students and studios to offices and the campus supply store and has served as a gathering place for our community to perform music, dance, tell stories, and simply relax.

Weavers on the Craft House porch in the 1950s.

A little history: the Craft House was built to house Penland’s weaving studio, and its construction was a true community event. Penland students, instructors, staff, and friends helped to raise funds for the structure by contributing $2.50 to purchase a log or a window sash. The two-day log raising took place in May 1935, and the windows, doors, fireplaces, chimneys, and other touches to finish the building were added over the next few years. The Craft House was named in honor of Edward F. Worst, an early and influential weaving instructor at Penland, and it was home to Penland’s weaving program until 1949. In December of 2003, the Penland School Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places, in large part because of the Craft House and the history it holds.

back view of Craft House and entrance to the supply store
The back side of the craft house shows the structure’s unique log and stone facade.

Unfortunately, the old saying “all you need is love” doesn’t quite hold true, at least not for large log structures. Over time, many of the soft poplar logs that clad the Craft House have deteriorated, and Penland is now embarking on a complex project to restore this beloved building. Together with a team that specializes in historic preservation, we have developed a restoration plan that will address repair and replacement needs while maintaining the Craft House’s special character.

The most visible part of this restoration project is the logs themselves. In fact, anyone who has been to campus this spring will have noticed the impressive stack of long, straight trunks in the parking lot adjacent to the Craft House. These trees have been cut locally from Penland’s 420-acre campus and will be used to replace sections of the original logs that show significant cracking or decay—roughly 16% of the building’s total logs. This aspect of the project will also include repairs to the chinking and daubing and additional reinforcements to anchor the log siding to the Craft House’s internal structure.

logs stacked near the Craft House to be used in the building restoration
Logs stacked and ready to be used in the Craft House restoration.

The Craft House’s windows, doors, porch, and roof will also receive attention as part of the project. This includes restoring the original paint scheme, bringing the porch railing up to current building codes, replacing siding shingles and sections of roof that have deteriorated, repairing the original stonework on the building’s steps, and fixing or replacing the sixty-nine windows on the upper floors. And for any student who has stayed in the Craft House and battled with summer insects at night, you’ll be glad to know that each window will also be outfitted with a screen!

All this work will be happening in the coming weeks now that more spring-like weather has arrived. We are delighted to be able to give the Craft House the care and attention that it needs to continue to serve as an important touchstone for our community, and we are grateful to the many generous supporters who have helped to make it happen. We can’t wait to share this process—and especially the final outcome—with all of you. Stay tuned as those logs in the parking lot get woven into the fabric of the building we know and love!

Invitation to the raising of the Craft House
Using cant hooks to maneuver one of the building's sizable logs. The woman in the foreground is Lucy Morgan's sister Anna Barr.
Penland founder Lucy Morgan (far right) at the Craft House raising
A delivery of logs to the north wall of the Craft House
The building takes shape against the mountain backdrop
Edward and Evangeline Worst standing next to the Craft House
Craft House Interior, 1935 (no windows or doors just yet!)
Students, instructors, staff, and visitors at the 1935 weaving institute.
The completed Craft House, late 1930s

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Kalamkari

Kalamkari cloth by Lavanya Mani
Lavanya Mani, “The Emperor’s New Machine,” natural dye on cotton fabric, 6 x 9 feet

Some things just never get old, like the power of a good story or the draw of color and pattern. This helps to explain the enduring appeal of kalamkari, an intricate process of decorating and dying cloth that has been practiced in India and Iran for over 2,000 years.

This summer, we are thrilled to bring kalamkari to the Penland studios in a session 1 textiles workshop taught by Indian artist Lavanya Mani. What’s most exciting, perhaps, is the wide-ranging appeal of a process that seems quite specific at the outset. For weavers and natural dyers, there will be deep exploration of mordants, tannins, and natural dyes like madder and indigo and new insights into how to layer and combine them to create a vivid and expansive palette. For painters and storytellers, there will be the opportunity to use cloth as canvas and bring narrative to life through brush, block, and color. And for process nerds and material enthusiasts, there will certainly be new techniques to master and refine as Lavanya reveals the important sequence of steps used to build up a kalamkari cloth.

If kalamkari doesn’t sound familiar, then perhaps chintz does. The refined floral prints of chintz fabric that rose to such popularity in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries started as kalamkari imported from India. But the process itself can be used to achieve a much wider array of results. Take Lavanya’s own work as an example: her pieces are much closer to paintings, saturated with color and thoughtful details rendered in an expressive hand. Many draw on themes from literature or Indian history to build insightful narratives that speak to power dynamics, the experience of womanhood, and more.

Kalamkari piece by Lavanya Mani
Lavanya Mani, “Signs Taken for Wonders,” natural dye and appliqué on cotton fabric, 9 x 11 feet

In her piece “The Emperor’s New Machine,” Lavanya sets up a Vaudeville-esque theater of saturated curtains and trimmings and places the sewing machine at center stage. The work includes entertaining circus-like details, but it also speaks to India’s independence movement and the role the sewing machine played in enabling India’s people to produce their own garments without relying on British imports. Another piece, “Signs Taken for Wonders,” mixes colonial and Indian imagery amid the lush flora and fauna of the Indian landscape.

For artists who would like to tell their own stories in color and pattern on cloth, we invite you to join Lavanya in the studios May 27-June 8 for two weeks of intensive kalamkari exploration. Students can expect to make samples, create an extensive dye card, and produce kalamkari pieces of their own. They will leave with a complete toolbox of steps and techniques to continue their kalamkari practice at home.

See below for the complete course description for Lavanya’s Kalamkari workshop. Other open workshops during session 1 include:

  • WoodTable Talk with Jason Schneider
  • PrintSymmetry-Fold Intaglio & Kite Making with Koichi Yamamoto
  • LetterpressFreedom of the Press with David Wolfe
  • Hot GlassEssential Shape with David Naito

REGISTER HERE

kalamkari design of a cardamom pod
Lavanya Mani, “Cardamom,” natural dye on cotton fabric, 18 x 20 inches

Kalamkari

Lavanya Mani, May 27-June 8
This workshop will explore kalamkari, a traditional Indian drawing, printing, and dyeing process once known famously as chintz. Through lecture-demonstrations and hands-on application, students will learn how kalamkari was made historically, how it is practiced today in various parts of India, and how it can be adapted for the contemporary studio. We’ll create strong, vivid colors using classic dye. We’ll cover fabric selection and the procedures and techniques for preparing fabric so it is receptive to the dye, including scouring, and pre-treatment with tannins and mordants. All levels. Code 01TA

Studio artist; exhibitions: solo at Chemould Prescott Road (Mumbai), Victoria and Albert Museum (London), Kochi-Muziris Biennale (India), Galerie Pagoda (Paris), Pearl Lam Gallery (Shanghai).

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Handmade Bonnets, Handmade Eggs

This past Sunday, Penland students, instructors, staff, and friends celebrated Easter and the arrival of spring the best way we know how: with craft, community, costumes, and a bit of candy thrown in for good measure. The annual Easter Bonnet Parade included some impressively creative entries, including a panoramic “Bunny Retirement Home” hat that took first place in the 12-and-under division, a hat adorned with marshmallow peeps and layers of pink flowers, and a rather fashionable leather cap with a giant paper bow. The handmade eggs for the egg hunt were similarly impressive: a fried egg made of white and yellow leather, carved clay eggs with dinosaurs and roses, eggs decorated with hundreds and hundreds of sewn glass seed beads, and turned wooden eggs made on the lathe, to name a few. Take a look at the slideshow above for more views of the fun!

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Penland Core at the HOW Space in Boone

yellow steel sculpture, ceramic tumblers
Two pieces that will be on view at the HOW Space. Left: Thomas Campbell, Right: Luke Gnadinger

The HOW Space at Appalachian State University in Boone, NC is a gallery and education space that seeks to advance creativity, collaboration, and community. It’s used for workshops, talks, social events, and, this week, for an exhibition of work by Penland’s core fellows.

Core: Contemporary Selections from the Core Fellowship at Penland School of Crafts will open April 5 and run through April 12, 2018. The exhibition will feature Penland’s current and recent core fellows: Stormie Burns, Thomas Campbell, Luke Gnadinger, Rachel Kedinger, Elliot Earl Keeley, Kyle Kulchar, Sarah Rose Lejeune, Alexandra McClay, Corey Pemberton, Kento Saisho, Katherine Toler, and Devyn Vasquez. The work will range from clay and metal to paper and print, with the common thread being the creative exploration and inquiry that are at the heart of both Penland and the HOW Space.

Please join us at HOW this Friday, April 6 from 6:00-9:00 PM for a reception to celebrate Core and the work of these Penland artists. The HOW Space is located at 182 Howard Street in Boone, NC. More information here.

printed paper and thread sculpture, metal sculpture
Left: Alex McClay, Right: Sarah Rose Lejeune

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Now on View in the Penland Gallery

Tom Shields, “Mediation,” cast iron, 60 x 18 x 39 inches (photo courtesy of John Michael Kohler Arts Center)

The year’s first exhibition at the Penland Gallery is a collection of work by artists who, in the words of gallery director Kathryn Gremley, “have erased dividing lines or untethered themselves from material and creative constraints.” Titled I dwell in Possibility after a poem by Emily Dickinson, the exhibition includes work in ceramic, glass, metal, painting, photography, printmaking, and wood with considerable mixing of media. The fifteen artists represented will be teaching workshops at Penland in 2018. The show runs through May 13.

Ruther Miller, “The Evocation and Capture of Aphrodite,” hand-embroidered wool on fabric, 36 x 30 inches

Walking into the exhibition, visitors will be greeted by a three-foot tall, precisely rendered image of a young woman—leaves and geometric shapes float by her in the foreground. The piece can easily be mistaken for a painting, but closer inspection reveals that it is made entirely from embroidery thread. The artist, Ruth Miller, spends about a year stitching one of these pieces.

Photographer Dan Estabrook is represented by a series of tintypes, which are images created on a metal plate. Although tintypes have traditionally been treated simply as a type of photograph, this artist has chosen to also approach them as metal objects. Using a jeweler’s saw, he carefully cuts up different tintypes and recombines them to create metal collages.

A cast-iron teapot by Frankie Flood, who is a faculty member at Appalachian State University, has a surface texture that looks like the inner surface of tree bark, while the surface of a wooden platter by Matthew Hebert has been carved into a 3D image of a manhole cover. And an animated video by Noah Saterstrom is accompanied by several of the paintings he used to create it. These are just some of the wonders and possibilities presented in this exhibition.

Also on view in the Focus Gallery is an exhibition titled GATHER | Eat, Drink, Enjoy, which showcases elegant, functional glassware by Courtney Dodd and Nickolaus Fruin. Together, the artists have formed “Shaker + Salt,” a line of exquisitely-executed plates, bowls, cups, and more that are meant to be shared, enjoyed, and laughed over at the table. The exhibition highlights these pieces as they might be used at a dinner party, complete with a fully set table and cocktail recipes to go with each set of glasses. Admire the entire arrangement, and then lean in close to catch the special details that set each piece apart.

Place setting from “GATHER” by Shaker + Salt