What does a team of cooks and bakers do all summer with no one to cook and bake for? At Penland, at least, they get creative!
Our incredible Pines crew may not have been making breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for students and instructors, but they stayed busy nonetheless. A few lent their energy and talents to other areas of campus—Alena Applerose, our baker, moved down to Horner Hall to help with preparations for this summer’s online benefit auction, while Bill Jackson, Kirk Banner, and Chad Mohr have been helping out with campus landscaping, painting projects, and other maintenance tasks alongside our facilities crew. They also cooked up a much-needed staff pizza day at the end of August.
For others, their daily Penland jobs have sometimes taken them farther afield. Keith Moir, who you may know from his gorgeous chalk drawings on the menu board in The Pines, was able to use his artistic talents on a project for The Historic Orchard at Altapass, a nearby nonprofit up on the Blue Ridge Parkway dedicated to preserving local culture, traditions, and the land that supports them. Keith designed and painted a series of stand-up props that have been installed around the orchard’s trails to delight visitors, offer them opportunities for interaction, and remind them of the orchard’s mission to protect and educate. Thanks to Keith, you can now explore the orchard and take a photo as a monarch butterfly, an apple, a banjo player, a honeybee, or even the engine from the historic Clinchfield Railroad!
Meanwhile, Day Dotson and John T. Renick III (yep, that’s Big John!) spent the month of July working with our local Mitchell County School Nutrition Program preparing and packaging meals for the Summer Food Service Program. Each day, they helped make about 550 meals that got delivered across the county to local students and families in need. “I’m so glad to be a part of this process supporting our community and making new relations,” Day said of the opportunity. “Also, weird tidbit: I got to eat a watermelon flavored golden raisin today. WOW!”
In past summers, we’ve been grateful for the hard work and heart of our kitchen team every time we sit down to a meal at The Pines. And this summer, it has been a real honor to get to offer their talents to give back to our community. Thanks to the whole crew, and especially to Keith and Day and Big John, for bringing so much grace and enthusiasm and care to Penland and Mitchell County this summer!
This strangest of Penland summers included a milestone that has not been mentioned publicly, so we’re going to fix that now. Sallie Fero retired on June 30 after more than twenty years of working at Penland. Although she briefly worked as office secretary and later as services coordinator, almost anyone who has been here since the mid-1990s will remember Sallie as a friendly face in Penland’s supply store, always ready to help.
“My first summer in the store was a rollercoaster ride of learning about the supplies and each studio’s unique processes,” Sallie remembers. “Helping students and instructors find what they needed was very rewarding. To see the culmination of the students’ creations at Show and Tell was the icing on the cake. I almost felt like I had a hand in the ‘baking.’”
When long-time store manager Kat Conley retired in 2010, Sallie took over as manager and held that position until she retired in June. Anyone who spends a session at Penland visits the store at least once or twice, which means that Sallie has met countless members of the wider Penland community — probably more than any of the rest of us.
In addition to serving students, the store is open to the public, and many artists who live nearby depend on being able to access the thousands of tools, supplies, and other items packed into the store’s tight and tidy space. It’s the school’s UPS hub, handling a constant flow of parcels, and it’s where you get your Penland T-shirts, caps, hoodies, water bottles, and aprons — which means the store literally helps Penland get its name out into the world.
Along with all the tasks in her job description, Sallie was also determined to keep the store interesting for repeat customers. She was always looking for new items to stock and was constantly reworking the displays. Sallie especially loved to mark holidays and the seasons with special decorations and new outfits for Lloyd, the store skeleton.
She was an enthusiastic participant in Penland’s annual Community Open House — each year she found a new art project that could be done on a table in the back of the store. And we must never forget that in the fall of 2011, when Penland was finally about to tear down Homosote, a building that had long since outlived its utility, Sallie was the instigator of a plan to use it one last time — as a haunted house. She played the part of a corpse. It was a memorable scare show, and nobody had to clean up when it was over!
Reflecting on all this, Sallie said, “I spent over twenty years working in the Craft House, and I love her like an eccentric, great aunt. As I look back, I realize what I will miss most are the people — the students, instructors, core fellows, resident artists, and staff I have interacted with all these years. Because, really, that is what Penland is all about.”
The house that Sallie shares with her husband, glass artist Shane Fero, is practically on campus, and she’s a committed dog walker, so, while we do want to thank her for her many years of service to the school, we’re not saying goodbye. We’ll be seeing her on the road.
In 2016, we had a great workshop led by printmaker Susan Webster and poet Stuart Kestenbaum. Susan taught a variety of printmaking techniques and Stuart led daily writing exercises. Meanwhile, in the paper studio Mary Hark and her students were busy making beautiful sheets of paper. Several times during the session, Stuart had people give him a series of words, which he then used in a poem.
All of this came together in Penland How-to Manual, which presents a poem Stuart wrote incorporating words supplied by his students, their printed images, and paper made in Mary’s workshop, all put together as a boxed accordion book that Mary designed. The book was sold in the scholarship auction, but the poem and this set of photographs remain.
The Penland How-to Manual
Consider it an experiment.
Even the wind that moves
the weeds and bees invites
ecstasy. Listen to the process.
Hug the inner fool and get
to work, not in isolation
but in community, where
at night you can invite memory
to carve an empty plate,
make paper out of air, make
a family from nothing.
Look through the isinglass
of this day see how clear life can be:
In the field fireflies alight, moon rises,
llamas ears listen and twitch.
Words and images from Dan Bouthot, Roberta Durham, Kayleigh Efird, Shan Ellentuck, Nelida Flatow, Elizabeth Guinn, Sandy Hartmannsgruber, Frank Lortscher, Laura Martin, Mia Mueller, Jro Robinson, Mary Smyer, Susan Webster
Handmade paper by Beverly Ayscue, Yoen Hee Cheong, Melissa Cowper-Smith, Sarah Evenson, Jasmin McFayden, Rosemary Peduzzi, Alyssa Sacora, Tony Santoyo, Sophie Smyer, Autumn Thomas, Holland Williams. Book design by Mary Hark.
NOTE: If you are seeing this by e-mail, you may be getting it for the second time. We had a website glitch yesterday and the original post was lost, so we had to post it again and these things get sent out automatically.
Here’s one more #PenlandEverywhere entry from session 2 instructor Stephen Yusko. Stephen wrote to us to present a special project in support of the work of his co-instructor, Daniel Souto. The two met at Penland over twenty years ago—an incredible example of the deep connections forged in our studios! Stephen and Daniel are hoping to work together again in the Penland iron studio in the near future. We are hoping for that, too.
Daniel Souto and I were scheduled to co-teach Session 2 in the Penland iron studio in June, but, of course, our workshop was cancelled along with all the others. So, instead of working with my friend, I used that time to do something to raise funds to support his amazing project, LaCaravanaEscuela. I made four pairs of Volcano Candleholders and two pairs of Volcano Oil Lamps, which I am selling to support the project. They are $375 per pair, with 100% of the funds going toward the purchase of essential tools—mainly anvils and vises, which are nearly impossible to find in Venezuela.The tools will be used in Souto Studio to train the instructors who go into the mountain communities to teach blacksmithing to farmers so they can make their own farm implements and horseshoes, which are in short supply. LaCaravanaEscuela also donates tools to these communities so they can continue their journey of making and learning.
The weather is warm, the mountain views are dense with green, and the food is great—but the biggest joy of summer at Penland is welcoming students and instructors to our studios. We’ve really missed getting to foster the creative discoveries and connections that happen regularly in our workshops this summer. Even so, finding new ways to stay inspired and connected with you all has been a highlight of 2020.
We are reaching out to each of our summer 2020 instructors with an invitation to share a bit of their recent creative endeavors with the Penland community. Our hope is that these windows into their studios and explorations will spark something exciting in you, too. Enjoy, stay safe, and keep making! #PenlandEverywhere
Session 2 Metals—Fabrication for Sculptural Jewelry
With shelter-in-place orders in effect in North Carolina, April and May were somewhat challenging months because my jewelry studio is not in my home. I was only able to bring some of my equipment home to continue working. After a bit of discombobulation, I started focusing on work I could make in a reduced capacity studio. I’ve been revisiting old pieces, exploring new ideas and new materials, and (finally!) fixing up my website, things that I don’t normally get to do when I’m busy preparing for craft shows. The sterling silver and paint pieces in the first image are from about 8 or 9 years ago—work I’d forgotten about until recently. The second image contains elements made from brass tube with gold vermeil and some test pieces in enamel. I miss the camaraderie and excitement of craft shows and classrooms, and I find myself thinking a lot about what the future holds for artists and makers, but I also think that the challenges of these bizarre times can be seen as opportunities to consider new ways forward.
It’s been surprisingly hard to concentrate over the last few months. What might have seemed like an ideal opportunity to get work done was in fact a haze of anxiety, attempts at online teaching and dealing with the sadness and turmoil of the students whose last two months of the semester had been torn away from them, heavy-duty parenting and attempting to homeschool my 8-year-old daughter, and latterly, facing up to what has always been here: the pandemic of racism and white supremacy. Having said that, I found working in my shop, when I could get there, to be therapeutic and calming. A chance to be out of myself. I don’t mean to suggest that craft is not connected to the world in all its wonderfulness and awfulness, but that sometimes, its role for an individual can be to allow focus on material and physical being.
1. A wall hung cabinet nearing completion, just a couple of doors to go on. Inspired by the paintings of Nathalie Du Pasquier. Exploring 2 and 3 dimensional conventions of representation, and part of an intermittent ongoing series. Title: Interrupted. The painting is Formagramma by Nathalie Du Pasquier.
2. A small sketch model of a chair. I’m thinking about two coopered shells, one for the back and one side, the other for the seat and the other side.
3. Poignantly, some boxes I had started to prepare for my class at Penland, partially made. I was going to bring them along to various stages of completion when the pandemic restrictions hit and cancelled classes. The finished box is titled Fool’s Gold.
When I was doing my master’s degree at the Corcoran School in DC around 2012, I constantly heard about Penland in the studios and in the hallways, a new word that became stronger as the summer approached. As a Latin American student at that time and today as a Brooklyn-based immigrant artist, my practice has constantly been focused on the search for new learning and experimentation processes through printmaking, a medium that appears not just as a technique but rather an aesthetic; a conceptual medium to study history, memory and trauma through a variety of representation strategies. When I was invited to teach at Penland, I couldn’t believe I was going to try those studios with my own hands to teach, and share some Book Arts concepts, and surrounded by that extensive nature!
During quarantine, far from the shared studios I work in in the city, I was more connected to printmaking than I have ever been before. With the aim of making visible the injustices produced by the pandemic and especially in the most vulnerable sectors of the population, I started to use printmaking as a critical tool to think about the social and political order and its effects throughout the crisis. These relations resonate with printmaking processes as metaphors of resistance between oil and water, the action of carving a surface of wood, and drawing in an etching plate. With the lack of a professional studio/equipment, I explored alternative techniques and materials using what was “in place”: I used a bottle of vodka instead of alcohol, a window instead of a plate, and kitchen food and stuff as solvents.”
Session 2 Glass—Form, Color & Professional Practice
In the past few months we have been working together in our home studio in Seattle. Being in the shop has helped us maintain a positive outlook while allowing us to escape through the creative process; focusing on a bright and cheerful color pallet has been healing. In light of our course cancellation at Penland this summer, we plan to meet with our class virtually this month to get to know each other, talk shop and share the beauty of Penland with them!
Before the lockdown, I was working on the possibility of inserting willow branches in my creations. I was dedicating myself to the realization of some prototypes. Glass and willow jewels, an initial idea, a hint of something that could be interesting and poetic. There was barely time to take some photos and then the project stopped, but not in my mind.
Photo credits: Chiara Nicolosi e Francesca Nicolosi, @pretaphoto
Ben sent us a touching, thought-provoking story about a recent print project he completed and distributed in his community. It was such a lovely example of the power of craft and the written word that we made a whole blog post about it! Read the whole thing here.
Daniel wrote to us about his 20-year history with Penland and his co-intructor Stephen Yusko and the traveling school he started to bring blacksmithing to rural areas of his native Venezuela. His story is craft at its most powerful, and we decided to feature it in its own blog post. Please read about Daniel and LaCaravanaEscuela here.
As many people know, Penland’s annual benefit auction has gone online this year, and it will conclude with a streaming live auction on August 8. This may sound simple, but to do it well, we’ve had to turn the Gorelick Social Hall into a makeshift TV studio. Figuring all this out is our IT manager and resident video tinkerer, Mark Boyd. The photo studio has some sweet lighting equipment, which was set up by studio coordinator Tom Condon. Needless to say, we’ve never done anything like this before, so we’ve been rehearsing. Hope you’ll tune in. Details about the livestream will be posted on the auction page closer to the event.
We are honored to share the work of blacksmith and session 2 instructor Daniel Souto as part of our #PenlandEverywhere series. Daniel’s story is nothing short of remarkable, a true testament to the fundamental power of craft and education. We are proud to have played a small part in his journey, and we can’t wait for a future opportunity to welcome him back to the Penland iron studio. We encourage you all to learn more about Daniel’s efforts at lacaravanaescuela.org or on Instagram at @lacaravanaescuela.
This story goes back to the summer of 1997 when I was 19 years old. I left my country Venezuela for the first time searching for a place where I could learn to forge iron. To my surprise I arrived at Penland School, and at that time I could not have asked for more. I was received by the Penland community, and my first teacher was Stephen Yusko, who became not only my blacksmithing idol but also my English teacher. After taking his class I wanted to stay, so I managed to be around for the rest of the summer learning all that the beautiful Penland community had to teach me… Many years have passed since then, and finally this summer I was invited to co-teach with Stephen Yusko. I could not ask life for more—after more than twenty years I was to be a teacher in that marvelous place, teaming up with my mentor.
Having experienced how education changed my life for the better, I started a few years ago to try to start a blacksmithing school in my country of Venezuela, where I have lived since I came back from Penland in 1999. Of course it has not been an easy journey to work in a country where blacksmithing has vanished from our history due to the discovery of petroleum. I tried in 2010 and invited Stephen Yusko to my workshop in Mérida to teach a class for eight friends in my place called SoutoStudio. It was a blast, but it had so little impact that I kept thinking of new ways to spread the craft.
Ten years have passed since then. Our economy has disappeared as well as our currency, food, gasoline, propane, electricity, medication, and so on. Five million people have emigrated; meanwhile, the ones who stay are trying to find a new way to survive. A few years ago I faced a personal crisis that put me on a split road between leaving or finding a way to stay afloat with my two kids. I sold some heavy machinery I had and started a plan to take a blacksmithing school to the rural areas where people see no way to keep feeding themselves—not for the lack of land or knowledge but for the lack of basic tools to work the soil.
There I was, with a pickup truck and an old VW bus for a week-long camping expedition to teach these farmers to forge their own tools out of scrap steel found on the riverside. Without the need of electricity we forged not only tools but a new future. Thriving is the class we teach and gratitude is the payment. Now that dream is called LaCaravanaEscuela, an educational platform that has transformed the lives of more than a hundred farmers from three different communities all above 10,000 ft high. They have forged all together more than one thousand horseshoes, hundreds of sickles for harvesting their wheat, oatmeal and barley, and there are more and more communities waiting for LaCaravanaEscuela to arrive.
So, since I could not be there at my dreamland place called Penland School of Craft, I remain here teaching more and more farmers to overcome one of the darkest episodes of our history, comparable only to the battle Simón Bolívar fought more than 200 years ago to free our South America from the Spaniards. I do apologize for not being able to be in the second session teaching, but teaching never stops here where a sickle forged out of rebar or a horseshoe set makes the difference to a remote Andean community. These communities now embrace the infinite and sacred power of the fire that transforms not only iron but a whole society pleading for help and knowledge…
Gracias to all of you for being part of my life and part of my new country’s history.
To see LaCaravanaEscuela in action, we highly recommend watching the short film below.
See other #PenlandEverywhere posts here and here for more content by summer 2020 instructors.