At the end of March, we posted a video of the ceremony to name the Penland clay studio in honor of Bobby Kadis. On April 6, we were notified that Bobby had died from the cancer he had been wrestling with for seven years. He was 83. Back in 2015 Penland archivist Carey Hedlund and Jasmin McFayden, the director’s assistant, spent an afternoon talking to Bobby and prepared a tribute for that year’s auction catalog. We have adapted that tribute here to honor Bobby.
“I was sort of all business and this Penland experience shook me up.”
Bobby discovered clay more than forty years ago at a Sunday in the Park festival in Goldsboro, North Carolina. “There was a guy out there on a kick wheel, throwing pots,” he remembered. “I stood there and watched for a long time and within a week my wife Claudia had signed me up for his class at the arts center.” In 1978 Bobby came to Penland as a beginner—he’d just graduated from pinch pots to the kick wheel. His first workshop here was taught by the great ceramist Robert Turner, and Bobby found himself in a position he recognized as “far away from anything that I had ever experienced.”
“Bob Turner was a philosopher. All he wanted to do was get into your head, to make sure you understood what you were making and what you should be thinking about when you do it.”
Bobby was baffled by this new experience and Turner’s teaching style, but he came to recognize and value what Turner was doing: challenging his students to see, perceive, and to care in new ways. The two men forged a friendship and shared an ongoing conversation about life and clay. Bobby said that this first Penland workshop changed his life. Over the years he studied with many of the important artists of late 20th century ceramics. He reached beyond the boundaries of his career as a commercial real estate developer and became a maker in his own right.
“Why in the world would I want to be on this board? I go up to Penland and it’s Magic Mountain and everything runs gorgeously and I have a fabulous time.”
In addition to being a student, Bobby served for sixteen years on Penland’s board of trustees, including two years as chair. He was a voice for the student experience, a friend to the staff, and deeply involved as an advisor for the school’s operations. He also co-chaired, with Cynthia Bringle, the 2001-2004 Preserve Penland Campaign, which raised $11.5 million for the school’s infrastructure, endowment, and operations.
“I’ve been a part of a lot of history with this school. I feel like I’m—amazingly—always around when something interesting happens.”
Bobby forged an extraordinary relationship with Penland and maintained a unique vantage point. He knew every director except founder Lucy Morgan, and was a friend and advisor to most of them. He was a voice of reason in difficult times. And he had fun: attending dance parties in Bill Brown’s living room, Poly Proms at Northlight, and an impromptu modern dance performance on the porch of Dora’s Place. He experienced the many charms of Penland’s housing–over the years, he slept in almost every building–and, before the whole clay studio was named for him, he was honored with the Bobby Kadis Slop Bucket.
“Right away, I feel like if I can delve into it, I can be helpful.”
In addition to his work with Penland, Bobby was a tireless advocate for the arts across North Carolina, serving on the North Carolina Arts Council board for twenty years and creating the North Carolina Arts Council Foundation. From 2008 to 2013, he was a member of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, which honored him with their 2014 Distinguished Public Service Award. And we always knew which car was Bobby’s after he was given the Arts North Carolina license plate number 0001.
Bobby Kadis had a generosity of spirit accompanied by enthusiasm, clarity, modesty, and ambitious determination. His generosity, expertise, and advocacy touched scores of people–locally, regionally, and nationally. He made countless friends and colleagues while championing the arts with an energy and passion few individuals could muster.