As Penland begins to make plans for workshops in 2021, we are thinking about many things in a new way. Among the questions we have to answer are basic ones like how many people can we safely accommodate in each studio?
This particular question is not simple, as each studio layout is different and so are the activities that happen in them. Solving this involves, among other things, cartography. To figure out how many people can safely work together in a given space using particular equipment, it helps to start with a carefully-drawn map of the space, the furniture, and the equipment.
So, Amanda Simons, Penland’s studio operations manager, gave our studio coordinators a crash course in Adobe Illustrator, a widely-used graphic design program. The coordinators then carefully measured their studios and their contents and constructed these beautiful floor plans that can be manipulated to try different layouts. Each circle represents a person with a safe space around them. By arranging and rearranging the elements in these birds-eye diagrams, the coordinators can arrive at a COVID-conscious number for how many people can work safely in each space.
Meanwhile, other people on staff are rethinking our housing and developing plans for serving food. And the studios are retooling to facilitate socially distanced teaching—including installing video equipment so students can follow detailed demonstrations on a screen instead of huddling together.
We like to say that, along with teaching craft skills, Penland teaches creative problem-solving, and this pandemic is challenging us to practice it ourselves, in every part of our operation.
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.
The hardest thing about not holding workshops this summer is knowing that so many of you are missing out on the incredible interactions and relationships and skill building that time at Penland fosters. We believe there’s no substitute for this intense, in-person learning. But we also know that, wherever they are, our instructors are a generous group with a lot to teach and share. So, in that spirit, we’re checking in with a handful of them who would have been here teaching at the start of our summer sessions. We hope their words, images, and short videos light a creative spark in you—may you nourish it until the next time we can be together in the studios again! #PenlandEverywhere
I miss being part of the creative community at Penland this year. Since the pandemic I have been printing, making short videos and bending branches around the corners of my studio. There is something about a stick at 90-degree angle that feels so wrong and unnatural that somehow feels right. Some days I am completely focused in the studio and know where I am headed. On other days I am restless, totally lost and wander from one project to the next.
Sometimes being stuck, however frustrating, is a good thing. I have been reflective about my work, humanity and how we are all connected. My agitation has kept me moving and I have gotten back in touch with what really drives my creative practice. Exploring new materials with no particular outcome in mind is one of those places. With exhibitions postponed and projects cancelled having time to play has been a gift.
Wishing everyone good health and abundant creativity.
Right now I’m working on a series of three large-scale collages made from cloth I wove and dyed by hand. These works combine the slow, methodical and thoroughly planned process of weaving, which I use to create raw material for collage with the spontaneous and playful puzzle-like creation of the final piece. Because the handwoven cloth is so dense it has a real weight and presence as a material, and putting the cut pieces together truly feels like building or sculpting.
When I started this series (still working on the title), I had a few things in mind that have been guiding the work: landscape, mountains, language, atmosphere, air, ice and water, chaos and order. I began this work a few months before quarantine, with seven huge panels of handwoven cloth in whites and creams of seven different materials (cotton warp woven with: linen, alpaca, bleached cotton, natural cotton, mohair, silk, and merino), which I overdyed in seven colors. Those cloths were then divided for the three large collages: the one you see on the wall is the largest and only vertical of the three, the other two are landscape orientation. The second one is finished and partially rolled up on the table, and I’m about to start on the third from the remaining pieces!
This is an image of my work space at Sawyer Street Studios in South Portland ME, a ceramics facility I purchased and renovated with three other women artists in 1988. We’re still going strong after all these years! The work you see here is from my most recent firing. All of my pieces are slab constructed with glazes and slips applied in layers, fired to 04 in oxidation. My reference is to various kinds of structures, some as small as letters of the alphabet, others large scale architectural and industrial forms. The idea is to refer rather than replicate. Tarpaper is an integral part of my idea generation and working process, used as maquette, template and mold. The patterns you see in the back left help me to envision 3-D form. A visit to my website will show you closer images of pieces, most of which are primarily clay, but some incorporate other materials.
In German usage, a metal designer is also called an artist blacksmith—that means blacksmith and art, or craft and design, or hand and head, or art and skill.
As an artisan, it is very important to me personally that I first make sure that I have the techniques to realize my ideas with my hands. So, on the drawing board, I already have certain steps of realization in mind. However, this is not always possible, especially if the idea is completely new. I first try to create the idea in a different, softer material and then use a metal model to get closer to the original. Many of my works were created as models before I made the original in the workshop.
I would have liked to follow this approach in my workshop at Penland: Get to know techniques and then create an idea from head to hand.
In an alternate reality, right now I would be immersed in the intensity of studio practice, the richness of relationships, and the abundance of fantastic food that is Penland. I would be teaching Say It Softly, a workshop driven by my own studio work of the last three years. We would be translating words into physical textile forms with processes like appliqué, reverse appliqué, piecing, embroidery, and embellishment (with loads of sequins). Instead, I am making masks and preparing to teach weaving at Appalachian State University as it was never intended: online.
I can only mentally justify my creative practice right now if it in some way gives something to others. Part of that drive has resulted in masks to give away (though certainly not at the same mass scale as so many artists right now), but a larger part has been modeling for my weaving students that the woven world is bigger than looms.
When my students at Appalachian State University left for spring break, their first major projects were almost finished on their looms. They had just started learning the language of weaving in January, and were ready to start speaking in visual sentences when their progress was halted. I promised to show them that weaving can happen anywhere and with anything, and so—in the last two months of the semester—I wove patterns (both complex and simple) throughout my home, using the obvious choices of fabric and yarn, but also things like tights, exercise equipment, spaghetti, and toilet paper in temporary installations. This practice was incredibly cathartic for me. It challenged that side of my brain that craves problem-solving and physical making, while providing what feels like meaningful examples to my students.
Now, I am preparing for the next iteration of weaving instruction, this time 100% online in a condensed five-week summer session. After teaching weaving on treadle looms for years, I am rethinking the entire woven world, and—for the first time—preparing instructional videos for my students. I am also considering how to respond to the incredible limitations of teaching and learning in this format: there is no direct physical interaction, there is no studio community, there is no yarn inventory. I am certain that the class will not be perfect, but I am also certain that my thinking and teaching about weaving will be forever changed.
My studio is a hot mess right now, with half-finished projects scattered everywhere and finished work layered on the walls, as daily reminders of canceled exhibitions. Fabric from my extensive stash is washed, ironed, cut, and/or sewn as it makes the slow transformation into masks. Yarn—from the scrap bin of the ASU fibers studio—blocks my path through the room as I obsessively, painstakingly disentangle and organize it to send off to my summer weaving students. I have no idea when “normal” will return, nor what my “real” studio work will look like when it does. For now, though, I am content to make a tiny contribution toward simply surviving this time, and am grateful to have the space and resources to do so.
Music and chocolate keep spirits uplifted.
Muse and stupidity approach in the wee hours.
All the cards are held in my hand.
Playing with the game helps to shape the quality of my life.
Born and raised in Japan and now resident in the U.S., I am fascinated by the universality of human nature, on the one hand, and its unique individuality, on the other. My work inevitably reflects on my own personality, experiences, feelings, and beliefs. The discipline of Japanese ethics, aesthetics, and culture was embedded in me before I recognized it. Drawing on these cultural roots, my technical training, and decades of making, I seek to bridge the structure of the traditional craft and the freedom of contemporary art and design.
Whether I am channeling my inner chaos into an abstract sculptural form or a functional decorative object, the challenge is how to embed poetic qualities in work. Fabricating in wood with my own two hands is as essential to me as breathing. It is how I think, how I shape my life, how I relate to the world. In the hope of sharing compassion, encouragement, and inspiration, I play my hand as best I can.
Recently my studio practice has slowed down as I ramped up watching my two kids full time. Catching a few hours each day has changed the way I have approached my creative time. Reading more poetry, working on pots for the garden, visiting ideas that have been on the back burner, and enjoying my kitchen pots even more. Unlike a lot of my colleagues, I am finding that because of the kids, I am away from the computer way more than usual. This means my emails take a little longer to get responded to and I am not synced into all the zoom possibilities, but I am engaging in my home space in a way that I have not since we moved here 5 years ago. Anyways, all this to say- I miss you and look forward to face to face connections soon. Be well. Lindsay
It’s so easy to assume that life will continue as we imagine it will. Maybe the challenge of our changing lives is to become more comfortable with the unknown. After a bit of a roller coaster ride, I feel my equilibrium and buoyancy returning. I seek solace in my studio, and feel so fortunate to have this life of clay already established, and a safe place to explore and imagine. Seeking beauty and working with color is especially uplifting. Daily rambles outside have led me to explore some of the old cemeteries in the area. I find the strolls peaceful, cementing relationships between the past, the present and the future. The two jars fronting this image are the first in a series responding to the grace and simplicity of grave monuments. The new memory I’m adopting is that this space between us all can hold humor, delight, surprise, new solutions, and thinking before action or words.
For decades, Bobby Kadis has been one of Penland’s greatest friends: a donor, an advisor, a board member (four terms!), and, above all, a student. Bobby has taken clay workshops at Penland every year for the past 43 years. After he made a substantial gift to the studio during the Preserve Penland Campaign in 2001, a decision was made to name the clay studio in his honor. However, he didn’t want his name on the studio while he was still taking workshops.
Following a number of years of treatment for gradually advancing cancer, Bobby recently decided that he no longer had the energy for clay workshops. Everyone at Penland was saddened by this news, and it also meant the time had come to formally name the Bobby Kadis Clay Studio. The naming was held on March 14, just before we all stopped traveling or gathering. It was attended by Bobby and his wife Claudia and their immediate family, plus a small group of Penland staff and neighbors.
After brief remarks, director Mia Hall removed a clay-stained towel to reveal a beautiful mosaic sign made by Penland’s clay studio coordinator Susan Feagin. The sign incorporates pieces from some of Bobby’s pots, including one with his signature. Many of Bobby’s friends were not able to be there, so we made this video to share the special afternoon with everyone who missed it.
To the Kadis family, thank you for your unending support for Penland. And to Bobby, a giant hug and a giant thank you for your wise counsel, for the time and energy you have invested in Penland and the whole North Carolina arts community, and for giving us all an example of how to live a creative life. We’re proud and delighted that our clay studio now wears your name.