We normally kick off spring at Penlandwith an open house that brings 500-600 visitors to campus for hands-on activities in our studios. We couldn’t do that this year, but we hated to let the spring go by without offering some creative fun to the community.
So we arranged for five local makers to demonstrate activities that can be done at home with easily available materials, and we turned those demonstrations into step-by-step videos. We posted these during the month of March, and they will be available indefinitely, not just for our local community, but for anyone with an internet connection. All of these activities are suitable for children–with varying degrees of supervision needed.
In a normal year (yeah, we’re saying that again), we’d spend the first week of March getting ready for our annual community open house. We can’t do that this year, but we’d still like to offer up some creative family fun. Every Saturday in March, we’ll post a video of a Penland artist teaching an activity that can be done at home, by young and old, using easily available materials.
We want you to get in the mood with some Penland snacks so we’ve already posted videos featuring Penland’s baker, Alena Applerose, showing how to make two coffee house favorites: gingerade and gluten-free peanut butter cookies.
Our first craft activity is a perennial open house offering: paste-paper painting with Meg Peterson. This is a little like finger painting and uses colored paste to make durable, decorative papers that can be made into book covers, envelopes, wrapping paper, or just displayed on the wall. So put on your aprons, roll up your sleeves, and join us at the kitchen table. That video will be posted on Saturday, March 6.
Barry Lopez, who died in late December, was a writer and thinker of great depth and clarity. He was known for writing about the relationship between the natural world and human culture and for his explorations of intimacy, ethics, and identity. His books include Arctic Dreams, which won a National Book Award, Of Wolves and Men, eight works of fiction, and his final collection of essays titled Horizon.
In the fall of 2011, Barry and his wife, writer/editor Debra Gwartney, spent two weeks at Penland as part of the Andrew Glasgow Writers Residency. He explored a number of studios, engaging with materials and tools, listening, and asking questions.
Barry gave a brilliant presentation—to a pin-drop-quiet, packed hall—about what he described as the “thorny problem” of how artists might choose to respond to social or political concerns. By way of examples, he read a short piece of fiction he wrote at the request of the climate change organization 350.org (available here) and a short essay on the subject of species diversity commissioned by the Kyoto Journal (available here). And he told a remarkable story about his involvement (along with potter Richard Rowland) in a project of reconciliation between the Comanche Nation and Texas Tech University.* It was an inspiring evening that will be long remembered by everyone who was there.
Near the end of the visit, Barry was interviewed by Penland’s communications manager Robin Dreyer about his time at Penland, his love of tools, and his writing process. We published a short excerpt from that conversation at the time. In honor of Barry’s passing, we’re sharing a longer version with you now.
Could you briefly describe what you did here?
I came with just a handful of ideas that I knew I would shape once I began to meet people and see what their interests were, and how I could participate here, how I could become a colleague of craftspeople and artists here. Those people with whom I developed some rapport were welcoming about me coming into their studios, and then at meals, having conversations with people, and having them say, “Well, why don’t you come by and see what we’re doing?” I know a little bit about some of these crafts and was eager to learn more, especially about iron work.
I had a terrific conversation one morning with [iron instructor] Vivian Beer and saw that a lot that was going through her mind was also going through my mind, but my thoughts had to do with writing. And that was a point of orientation for me; I realized that one thing I might be able to offer would be to talk about writing as a craft, and see how that might reverberate with what people were doing so it would be a mutually informing conversation. It seemed that a way I might make myself useful in this environment would be to provide another perspective about making. I know that in conversations people have here about printmaking, or metalsmithing, or woodworking, there are certain things that are shared, and one thing that we all share is we have an internal psychology or psyche and personal history, and we try to bring that to the work that we’re doing.
I think the last thing you want to do as a guest resident is stay locked up somewhere and have nothing at all to do with other people. If you’re going to come to Penland, part of the experience is geographical, part of the experience is aesthetic, and a third part of the experience is conversation with fellow makers.
In your book About This Life, you make a reference to the culture of hand tools. Could you talk a little bit about what you meant by that, and why you think it’s of value? Human beings, of course, have a very long involvement historically with tools and implements, and part of our sense of self-worth and sense of dignity as people comes from the skill with which we make and use tools. We make tools that are beautiful, we make tools that are useful, and often we make a useful tool that’s beautiful. That is a kind of calling to me, and certain tools suggest an intimacy with material that is the antithesis of an electronic involvement with material.
Part of what Penland seems to be about is people trying to stay in touch. By that I mean, through their tools, to stay in touch with the raw materials of the earth, with plants from which ink comes, with iron, with metals of other sorts, with stones, with the lead that’s in pencils, with all of these things that come up out of the earth and are used to keep going the idea that it is a good thing and probably fundamentally necessary for civilization to stay in intimate touch with the earth. That, for me, is a lot of what’s going on in craft.
When you see somebody in conversation with a piece of wood, in a conversation with metal or paper, the conversation is antiphonal. I think there is a way to imagine imposing your will on the material, but there is another way, and that is to have a conversation with the material. To, if you’ll permit the figure of speech, be asking the material what it wants; you know what you want. The part that’s very attractive to me about the crafts is the negotiation around a proposal, rather than a negotiation around an imposition. The difference would be instead of hammering on something to force it to be what you want, to work with something to find out what is within it.
What’s happening at Penland is people are maintaining a long history of using tools to stay in touch: with each other through the sharing of art, and with the materials that are used to make art and crafted things. I would say that Penland is a place that’s feeding the fire. There’s everything to feel good about at Penland because in addition to making all this beautiful work, it maintains a tradition of honest and good relationships with the earth.
Could you talk a little bit about your process as a writer?
It’s all intuitive. I don’t have a rigid schedule that I follow. The process is different in fiction than it is in nonfiction. When I’m trying to frame a piece of nonfiction, I’m always using my notebooks and, looking back, I seem to spend a certain amount of time collecting material—maybe years—and then there will be an intense period of reviewing all those notes, followed by a period of nonstop writing. In fiction, I’ll have a line in my head, maybe the first line of a story, and it’ll be there for an hour, or 25 years, and then I’ll pull on it, and I’ll start going, but I don’t have a process of preparation for writing fiction.
The keynote of the process for me is paying attention. I often say that the first rule of everything is to pay attention— the first rule of your marriage, the first rule of your work, the first rule of your spiritual practice is to pay attention.
Do you have a sense of what you might take away from being here?
Camaraderie. And another renewal of my commitment to a task that I see as fundamental to the preservation of a civilization. I think what goes on here, if we didn’t have this, the loss would be incalculable. I’m glad to have been a visitor, somebody just passing through, glad to be here.
*An account of the efforts at reconciliation between the Comanche Nation and Texas Tech University, written by Henry Chappell, can be found here.
Every year, Giving Day is a celebration—of the creativity and exploration that thrive in our studios, the skills and materials that form the basis of our craft, and the community of makers/artists/friends at the heart of it all. It’s 24 hours for us to reflect on the techniques we’ve learned, the inspirations we’ve gained, and the connections we’ve made, and it’s 24 hours for us to express our gratitude by giving back!
Tomorrow, October 7, please add your gift and add your voice to the #WeMakePenland chorus. Our goal is to reach 350 gifts in just 24 hours—and to make the internet feel like one big Penland hug while we‘re at it!
Here’s how YOU can help:
Make a gift – Every donation gets us closer to our goal and helps support Penland studios, instructors, scholarships, staff, and more. (If you want to donate early and have it count, you can do that right here!)
Share your story–Use #WeMakePenland to share your favorite Penland photos and memories to social media. We want to hear about your first Penland workshop, your best studio buddy, or that project you’re working on now thanks to a long-ago Penland idea!
Tune in on Zoom – Join us at 8:15 PM on October 7 for a special Giving Day Gathering. We’ll kick off the event in everyone’s favorite campus hub, the Penland Coffeehouse! From there we’ll share some exciting news about what’s on the horizon at Penland, introduce you to our newest studio coordinator, and take you through a few of our favorite Penland moments over the years. Come with a warm beverage and a cookie or two* and get cozy! Zoom info below.
To each of you who has contributed your creativity and energy and love to Penland, thank you. You are each a vital part of what makes this community so vibrant, supportive, and inspiring. Together, #WeMakePenland.
*Penland’s baker, Alena Applerose, shared a couple of her favorite cookie recipes with us for the occasion. If you’ve been missing the Coffeehouse peanut butter cookies, this is your chance! Get the recipes here.
Now that the confetti has settled, we’re excited to revisit this summer’s 35th Annual Penland Benefit Auction. It was certainly one to remember—we swapped out tents and live bidding for online auctions and livestreams—but the heart and friends and community at the center of it all remained rock solid. And we’re happy to report that it was quite a success, too!
Thanks to you and the many, many artists, volunteers, supporters, and attendees who contributed to this year’s festivities, we raised a whopping $378,518 to support Penland’s creative programming. Here are a few more facts for all you quantitative-leaning number lovers:
177 pieces up for bidding
186 donating artists
$193466 raised in art sales
$103,235 raised towards our $100,000 Fund-A-Need goal
$296,587 in net proceeds!
But we’re artists at heart, you know? And a picture is worth a thousands words, so we thought we’d summarize the fun with a few highlights from our livestream as well. Thanks to all who tuned in and made it such a memorable celebration!
1. A Penland Production—Party clothes on, masks up, and we’re ready to go! (Also please note the “Lost and Found” box painted in The Pines fireplace as part of the set)
2. First piece—We kicked off the bidding with Lauren, a lidded stoneware jar by Dan Finnegan. Look at that expressive eye!
3. Playing with scale—As a fun nod to featured artist Annie Evelyn’s practice of constructing models of her furniture ideas, we auctioned off Annie’s Golden Windsor Flower Chair in miniature.
4. Let’s hear it for our hosts!—Auction co-hosts Jesse Miller and SaraBeth Post led the bidding and kept the energy high all afternoon. Here they are trying out James D.W. Cooper’s Two Wheel Bench.
5. Fund-A-Need—Penland student, studio assistant, former staff member, and neighbor Shae Bishop introduced the fund to support pandemic-related updates to the Penland campus and studios—and quickly helping us surpass our $100,000 goal!
6. A peek into a blacksmith’s studio—During this short video about featured artist Dan Neville, we got a window into his process and the inspirations behind his piece Footing Box.
7. How’s the weather?—The rainbow auction umbrellas made a quick appearance, despite the watertight ceiling at Northlight.
8. “Everyday Jewelry”—After a short video about featured artist Tara Locklear, we got to see a close-up view of her stunning Graduated Golden Teardrop Collet—made from recycled skateboard decks!
9. The final few pieces—We couldn’t resist this shot of Katherine Gray’s blown glass candelabra against the backdrop of Eleanor Anderson’s colorful weaving. These two pieces were followed up by bidding on the final item, an elegant brass and silver container by Adam Whitney and Seth Gould.
10. Clappers and confetti—We pulled out all the celebratory stops at the end of the bidding, including the Penland clappers from last summer’s live auction under the tent!
11. Just kidding, there’s more—We decided to pop a few bottles of champagne to mark the occasion, too! (If you watched the livestream, you may remember this was not quite as easy as we’d anticipated…)
12. That’s all, folks—A big THANK YOU wave to everyone out there watching and supporting and cheering Penland on from afar. You all are the heartbeat that keeps this place alive, and for that we are ever grateful!
And finally, though he was not part of the livestream itself, we can’t finish this post without recognizing longtime auction volunteer and photographer extraordinaire, David Ramsey. In addition to photographing all the work for the catalog, he took on this year’s new challenge of creating 115 short videos to show the 3D pieces in the round.
Want to see more or relive the auction fun? The entire livestream is still available to watch right 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.
It has been the custom for a number of years for winter residents in the wood studio to challenge each other to make a table in a day. It’s a fun and furious day of making and encouragement. These were made on January 12, and some people think this group may have raised the bar on this event. Back row: Colin Pezzano (with socks), Heather Dawson (she made two but insists they are simple); middle row: Christina Boy (with woven shelf), David Bohnhoff (fancy top!), Chance Coalter (curvy with big joints); front: Aspen Gollan (short and wavy). Thanks for inspiring us all, woodworkers.