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Photo of the Week: Experimental Drawing

working on a collaged sketchbook

Up in the drawing and painting studio, Evie Woltil Richner and her students are experimenting with mark making, process, and play. They workshop is called Experimental Drawing & Sketchbook Development, but a quick look around the room reveals that the first week has gone far beyond drawing to include collage, photography, brushwork, and more. Above, student Amy Robinson adds text to the richly detailed book she is creating. Meanwhile, core fellow Kento Saisho experiments with 3D forms in cardboard and gesso. The goal of it all is less about a product and more about revitalizing each artist’s flow of ideas and energy.

developing maquettes with cardboard and gesso

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Painting Northlight

The new Northlight Building at Penland School

With the photo and paper studios scheduled to be in use during fifth session, and annual benefit auction events planned for the social hall, the new Northlight building is nearing completion. On Friday, June 22, these guys were busy with exterior painting.

A nice touch is this siding on the south side of the social hall. It looks pre-weathered because it is; these boards were salvaged from the old Northlight building.

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Thread, Color, Attention

Two embroidered tapestries by Ruth Miller. Left: “The Evocation and Capture of Aphrodite,” 36 x 30 inches. Right: “Blue Peace,” 38 x 25 inches. The piece on the left was on display this spring at the Penland Gallery.

This spring, visitors to the Penland Gallery got the chance to see a piece by Ruth Miller as part of the exhibition I dwell in Possibility. The work’s vivid colors and rich texture were the first things that drew the eye upon stepping through the doorway, and many visitors were overheard exclaiming something along the lines of, “I need to get a closer look at that painting!” It wasn’t until they were within a few feet that they realized the work they were admiring was embroidery.

Through a lifetime of needlework, careful observation, and inquisitive self-reflection, Ruth Miller has mastered the art of embroidery as portraiture. She works large and with impressive realism, combining the precision and color sense of a pointillist painter with the narrative skill of a novelist. Her work, above all, is thoughtful and thought provoking, and it’s been a thrill to gain a deeper sense of her process this session as she’s been teaching in our textiles studio.

Ruth (in the red shirt) talking through her process during a demonstration in Upper Textiles.

In her workshop Embroidered Portraiture, Ruth and her students are approaching needle, fabric, and yarn as tools to transmit what they see, not merely what they think they see. In the process, Ruth has presented them with a crash course in observational drawing, color theory, stitching patterns, and more. To see the tables strewn with reference photos and pencil sketches and yarn samples doesn’t fully illustrate the time and care that go into these works—a full portrait generally takes Ruth about a year to complete!—but it does help to deepen our appreciation for the craft and mastery behind each one.

Stitching samples, color theory explanations, and colored pencil drawings from Ruth's Penland workshop

If you’re intrigued, we’d highly recommend taking a few minutes to read Ruth’s own description of her process and motivations on her website.

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Photo of the Week: Koichi Takes Flight

Instructor Koichi Yamamoto "flying" with one of his kites in the printmaking studio

We kicked off Penland’s 2018 summer sessions with fourteen high-energy workshops across our studios. And here in this photo by student Gregory Jundanian, two of them came together in a wonderfully surprising way. Gregory was in the Word & Image workshop with Christopher Benfey and Neal Rantoul, and he created this image of printmaking/kitemaking instructor Koichi Yamamoto in flight in the printmaking studio. There may or may not have been a little Photoshop involved, but who are we to reveal an artist’s secrets?

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Bourdain and Craft

Anthony Bourdain at Penland
Anthony Bourdain with instructor Elizabeth Brim, studio coordinator Daniel Beck, and students in the spring 2016 iron workshop.

Last Friday, at an otherwise happy, end-of-session show-and-tell, there were some red-rimmed eyes and sad faces as we tried to process the news that Anthony Bourdain had died. Not only that he was gone, but that a man who embodied a full embrace of life had died by his own hand.

We admired Bourdain for the same reasons other people did: his intelligence, his curiosity, his storytelling, his low-tolerance for bullshit, his excellent writing, his great voice, his charismatic persona, and his eager willingness to eat noodles on a street in Taiwan in the middle of night and tell the rest of us all about it. We also admired him for his deep appreciation of skilled making, perfected attention — in other words, craft.

Bourdain was identified mostly with food and travel, but in recent years, thanks to his association with The Balvenie scotch company, he had also become a spokesperson for craft. As part of a generous campaign to identify itself as a craft business, The Balvenie has partnered with the American Craft Council to establish a major craft award. And they created Raw Craft, a series of beautifully produced video profiles of people who make knives, shoes, furniture, saxophones. A 2016 episode featured blacksmith and Penland neighbor Elizabeth Brim. Bourdain hosted the series, engaging these makers in the same kind of intelligent and appreciative conversation he brought to decades of interactions with cooks, chefs, and eaters all over the world.

Elizabeth was teaching a Penland workshop when Bourdain and the production crew spent a day filming her. Half of the piece takes place in Elizabeth’s studio; the other half is at Penland with her students. The producer asked us to keep Bourdain’s visit quiet so they wouldn’t be interrupted by a fan mob, but during the time he was on campus, a steady trickle of admirers passed through with words of appreciation. Bourdain was low-key, friendly, and kind to everyone. He introduced himself to each person by saying, “Hi, I’m Tony.” The last bit of video was shot at a Spoon in Spruce Pine, and when it was finished, he hung out for a couple of hours, chatting with whoever sat next to him and trading opinions with the bartender about the right way to make barbecue. It was clear to everyone that he was a person with high standards but no pretense.

With Elizabeth Brim at Spoon in Spruce Pine.

There have been many tributes written in the past few days, including this beautiful piece by his friend Helen Rosner, who writes about food for the New Yorker. In a recent conversation with chef David Chang (also a friend of Bourdain’s) Rosner was asked what advice she’d give an aspiring food writer. Her answer was inspiring: “Don’t become a food writer,” she said. “Just become a writer….Be a really good journalist. Be a really good thinker. Be a person who wants to know how all the threads in the world connect to all the other threads.”

Anthony Bourdain was an excellent writer and a brilliant TV personality. But, above all, he was that person Helen Rosner described: a good thinker who wanted to know how all the threads in the world are connected. Some of us may never understand the way he died, but that won’t keep us from appreciating a life so well lived. Thanks, Tony.

–Robin Dreyer

Here’s the piece shot at Penland.

Also well worth reading is this reflection on Bourdain’s activism.

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Photo of the Week: One Log at a Time

For years, we’ve been talking about the renovation of The Craft House, Penland’s iconic log structure. (About 20 percent of the logs needed replacement.) For just as long we’ve all been wondering how it would be done. Now that contractor Richard Huss and crew are deep into the job, we are starting to get the answer.

And the answer is: log by log. They take out a log or two, put in some props, cut a new log to length, lay it in the space, mark it, cut notches, put it in place, refine the cuts, put it back in place, and then do it again.

It helps that the building has a quite a bit of structure inside of the logs and it’s nailed together every which way. But the secret seems to be patience and methodical application of craft—things we respect.

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Personal | Universal

exhibition view of "Personal | Universal"

The new exhibition at the Penland Gallery has stories to tell. Titled “Personal | Universal: Narrative Work in Craft,” the show includes pieces by eleven artists working in a variety of media who have created images or objects that hint at a story of some kind. The exhibition runs through July 15 with an opening reception on Saturday, June 2 from 4:30 to 6:30 PM.

In a sense, this exhibition is posing a question: how much does it take to make a story? These pieces are primarily visual, they don’t have sequences like a comic book, and most of them do not contain text. Yet they are filled with references and possibilities that suggest something that may have happened or may be about to happen; they may nudge the viewer toward a memory or experience of their own. Gallery director Kathryn Gremley says, “In this work, the artist provides the narrative genesis, and the viewer completes the story.”

The exhibition includes work in ceramic, glass, painting, collage, printmaking, metal, cast plaster, mixed-media, and found objects. Among these pieces is a work by sculptor David Chatt, titled “1982,” which is an iconic boom box cloaked in white beads that have been painstakingly stitched together to form a tight skin on the object. Corey Pemberton, who is currently a core fellowship student at Penland School, is represented by two wall pieces—each of them depicting a young woman sitting in a room—that combine painting with photographic images and collaged materials such as wood veneer and wallpaper. Shawn HibmaCronan has created a large wreath made entirely of used, leather work gloves that carry the patina of thousands of hours of labor. Each piece pulls the viewer into a different little world.

Work from “Personal | Universal” by Shawn HibmaCronan, Corey Pemberton, Anne Lemanski, and Shoko Teruyama

Running concurrently with this exhibition is a smaller show of ceramic work by Jenny Mendes. This show will include sculpture focused on animal and human forms and highly-decorated functional pieces. The Visitors Center Gallery has an ongoing display of objects that illuminate the history of Penland School, and the Lucy Morgan Gallery presents a selection of work by dozens of Penland-affiliated artists. On display outside the Penland Gallery are large sculptures in stone and steel by Daniel T. Beck, Hoss Haley, and Carl Peverall, plus a structure designed by artist Meredith Brickell that invites visitors to stop for a few minutes and observe the clouds.