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Presenting: A Penland Digital Archive!

A frame from the film Penland Summer 1969
This is a frame from the film “Penland Summer 1969,” which included in Penland’s new digital repository. The person falling is sculptor Don Drumm. Next to him is Penland’s second director, Bill Brown, and his wife, Jane Brown.

Penland School of Craft recently unveiled an exciting archival project that will be of use to scholars, historians, and craft enthusiasts for many years to come. The core of the project is the preservation of 250 hours of material contained on at-risk 16mm film and magnetic tape that had accumulated in the school’s Jane Kessler Archives over many years. In addition to several old films, there were audio and video tapes in multiple formats. Included in this material were interviews with Penland artists, instructors, and staff from the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s.

The earliest material is films made by Allen Eaton in the 1940s that present a decidedly dated view of Appalachian culture while documenting traditional craft in Western North Carolina, including early footage of Penland. A film with no soundtrack captures Penland in the 1950s, and a final 16mm film, shot in 1969, highlights Penland’s second director, Bill Brown, glass artist Billy Bernstein, sculptor Don Drumm, potter Byron Temple, and others.

There is also a collection of artist interviews filmed by Chris Felver in 1985 (complete list of interviewees is here) and a series of videos made in the early 2000s by Joe Murphy, a documentary filmmaker and professor at Appalachian State University. These move through Penland’s teaching studios, recording the activities of students and instructors, including demonstrations and lively interviews.

Reels of 16 millimeter film on a desk
Reels of 16mm film being prepared for digitization. Photo by Leila Hamdan.

Color film and magnetic media are both subject to deterioration, even if they are not actively used, and Penland’s former archivist, Carey Hedlund, saw the need to catalog all of this material and have it transferred to digital formats. A successful proposal to the National Endowment for the Humanities brought the funds necessary to execute the project, and Penland hired Leila Hamdan, an experienced archivist and collections manager from Memphis, Tennessee as the project archivist.

Leila began work in early 2000, just as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down most of Penland’s normal operations, creating a challenging and isolated work environment for her. She quickly discovered that many of the tapes were not properly labeled or described, making it difficult to identify the contents.

Enter Sallie Fero, a nearby neighbor of the school who had recently retired after 30 years as a Penland employee. Sallie was hired to watch and listen to hours and hours of material with Leila and identify people and subject matter.

Painter Beverly McIver in a frame from a video interview
Painting instructor Beverly McIver in a frame from one of the many videos made at Penland in the early 2000s by Joe Murphy.

Leila selected a vendor to digitize the tapes and films and created metadata for 350 items. She designed and built a data asset management system, a Linux-based content management system hosted on site, and a digital preservation system. She created industry-standard finding aids for individual items and placed all of the files in cloud-based storage. She worked with Penland’s former IT manager Mark Boyd and website designer Jennifer Drum to create the publicly available digital repository.

The repository was expanded beyond the films and videos to include a collection of historic photographs of eighteen of Penland’s buildings. Most of these buildings contributed to Penland’s campus being designated as a historic district by the National Register of Historic Places.

A historic photograph of the Lily Loom House at Penland School of Craft
An early photograph of the Lily Loom House on the Penland campus.

During the the two years she worked on the project, Leila also created a Penland Archives Instagram account where she posted a treasure trove of photographs owned by the archives along with a few photographs of objects in the archives.

The digital repository, which is linked from the archives page of the school’s website, currently houses 113 historic photographs and 76 videos ranging in length from a few minutes to more than an hour. These were selected based on their copyright status and streaming permission as well as the relevance of the content. More video and audio may be added in the future, and the complete list of digitized audiovisual material can be viewed by contacting

A favorite video of Leila’s is A Penland Story from 1950. “This one was, for me personally, the most impressive to uncover because it brings so many of the old still photos to life and color,” she said. “It has cameos from everyone who was anyone at the school during the time—even Henry Neal cooking in the kitchen, which is remarkable. We see Penland’s founder, Lucy Morgan, in her apartment watching a clown act with friends, work being made in every studio, the list goes on and on.”

We hope you will explore this special resource, and we will continue to highlight parts of the collection on the blog and our social media over the next year.

A frame from the 1950 movie A Penland Story
A frame from “A Penland Story,” made in 1950. This woman is using a yarn winder in the room that is still used as Penland’s weaving studio.


BONUS: Here’s a video of Harvey Littleton, one of the founders of the Studio Glass Movement, blowing glass in 1985.

This project has been made possible by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Democracy demands wisdom.

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Re-Crafting the Craft House

Front view of the Craft House with its iconic log porch and red roof
Penland’s Craft House. D. R. Beeson, the architect, incorporated natural materials into the building so it would coexist peacefully with its surroundings.

Penland’s Edward F. Worst Craft House is one of the most iconic buildings on campus. Its red roof and rustic log siding are the unofficial welcome sign to visitors as they round the curve in the road and the expanse of the knoll opens up before them. It’s also one of the most beloved buildings, as anyone who has spent a lazy afternoon on the rocking chairs sketching, thinking, or chatting could tell you. In the eight decades the Craft House has been a part of Penland, it has housed everything from students and studios to offices and the campus supply store and has served as a gathering place for our community to perform music, dance, tell stories, and simply relax.

Weavers on the Craft House porch in the 1950s.

A little history: the Craft House was built to house Penland’s weaving studio, and its construction was a true community event. Penland students, instructors, staff, and friends helped to raise funds for the structure by contributing $2.50 to purchase a log or a window sash. The two-day log raising took place in May 1935, and the windows, doors, fireplaces, chimneys, and other touches to finish the building were added over the next few years. The Craft House was named in honor of Edward F. Worst, an early and influential weaving instructor at Penland, and it was home to Penland’s weaving program until 1949. In December of 2003, the Penland School Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places, in large part because of the Craft House and the history it holds.

back view of Craft House and entrance to the supply store
The back side of the craft house shows the structure’s unique log and stone facade.

Unfortunately, the old saying “all you need is love” doesn’t quite hold true, at least not for large log structures. Over time, many of the soft poplar logs that clad the Craft House have deteriorated, and Penland is now embarking on a complex project to restore this beloved building. Together with a team that specializes in historic preservation, we have developed a restoration plan that will address repair and replacement needs while maintaining the Craft House’s special character.

The most visible part of this restoration project is the logs themselves. In fact, anyone who has been to campus this spring will have noticed the impressive stack of long, straight trunks in the parking lot adjacent to the Craft House. These trees have been cut locally from Penland’s 420-acre campus and will be used to replace sections of the original logs that show significant cracking or decay—roughly 16% of the building’s total logs. This aspect of the project will also include repairs to the chinking and daubing and additional reinforcements to anchor the log siding to the Craft House’s internal structure.

logs stacked near the Craft House to be used in the building restoration
Logs stacked and ready to be used in the Craft House restoration.

The Craft House’s windows, doors, porch, and roof will also receive attention as part of the project. This includes restoring the original paint scheme, bringing the porch railing up to current building codes, replacing siding shingles and sections of roof that have deteriorated, repairing the original stonework on the building’s steps, and fixing or replacing the sixty-nine windows on the upper floors. And for any student who has stayed in the Craft House and battled with summer insects at night, you’ll be glad to know that each window will also be outfitted with a screen!

All this work will be happening in the coming weeks now that more spring-like weather has arrived. We are delighted to be able to give the Craft House the care and attention that it needs to continue to serve as an important touchstone for our community, and we are grateful to the many generous supporters who have helped to make it happen. We can’t wait to share this process—and especially the final outcome—with all of you. Stay tuned as those logs in the parking lot get woven into the fabric of the building we know and love!

Invitation to the raising of the Craft House
Using cant hooks to maneuver one of the building's sizable logs. The woman in the foreground is Lucy Morgan's sister Anna Barr.
Penland founder Lucy Morgan (far right) at the Craft House raising
A delivery of logs to the north wall of the Craft House
The building takes shape against the mountain backdrop
Edward and Evangeline Worst standing next to the Craft House
Craft House Interior, 1935 (no windows or doors just yet!)
Students, instructors, staff, and visitors at the 1935 weaving institute.
The completed Craft House, late 1930s

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The Penland Archive: Linking Past and Present

Dan Bailey Penland image

Carey Hedlund’s office is packed from floor to ceiling with shelves and boxes, each carefully labeled and filled with a piece of Penland history. When you enter the room, your eye spends a few moments taking in the sheer density of the files before settling on a large framed photograph on the far wall. The image, created by Dan Bailey in 1983, is a piece that Carey cites as one of her favorites in the Penland archives. It’s a familiar view of the Penland knoll with The Pines behind it, but with a long-exposure twist: the photographer took a light and moved it in concentric rings so that the knoll looks like it is covered in a layer of glowing topographical lines. There are no people in the picture, but the gentle kinks of the ribbons of light record the path of a person walking a hill at night.

Carey’s own path to Penland was similarly circuitous: “a long and twisted one” as she describes it. Growing up, she spent time at the Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan, where she learned crafts such as ceramics and metalsmithing. She’d heard of Penland by the time she was in high school, but it wasn’t until the fall of 2014 that she finally arrived for the first time as a new member of the Penland staff. In between, she got an undergraduate degree at Oberlin College, spent a few years in the visual collections of MIT’s architecture program, obtained a graduate degree in landscape architecture, worked for two decades as a landscape architect, teacher, and illustrator, and eventually found her way back to working with collections.

headshot of Carey Hedlund against a historic Penland doorAs collections go, the Penland archives are a bit unusual. “There are some archivists who believe that objects have no place in a collection,” Carey explains. “But how would you tell Penland’s story without them?” Indeed, in addition to the many thousands of pages of old publications and photographs and letters, the Penland archives include a rich array of objects, from textiles and pottery to more humorous items like a knit doll of an eccentric woman who worked at Penland years ago. “I’m still seeing things for the first time,” Carey adds. “Whenever I pull a box out and start reading, I find something that’s fascinating or funny or moving. There are real people in those boxes.”

For Carey, one of the primary challenges now is to make the existing Penland archives more pertinent and accessible. “It’s not a collection to hold close to myself,” she said, “it’s a collection to spread out and share.” She would like to see the archives cataloged in an online database where they would be visible. “That would also make them sustainable,” she notes.

One of the things that drew Carey here was Penland’s deep living history. “All archives are about a certain continuity,” she explains, “but there really is this fascinating tie between the early history here and what we do now.” Carey sees Penland as a school, but also a web of people and connections that make up a rich community. Reflecting on her first year here, she concludes, “It was a joy to find work in a rural community—that was a goal. The mountains are glorious. And Penland itself is what most people say: an incredibly beautiful place with an incredible energy.”

–Sarah Parkinson