Penland’s resident artists are full-time artists who spend three years living and exploring their studio work as part of our school’s community. Many use this time to explore new ideas and directions, undertake ambitious projects, or develop new bodies of work.
We are thrilled to welcome Daniel, Sean, and Sarah, and we look forward to watching their progress over the next three years!
Daniel Garver “I approach my casting process with the notion that each piece is unique and stands as a canvas into which I can apply casting slip with a variety of methods from incising, painting, or inlaying colors and designs. In addition to ceramics, I maintain a dedicated drawing practice that stands alone in finished pieces, but also plays a vital role when designing my ceramics.”
Sean O’Connell “One of my most sincere beliefs is that ‘Making is Thinking’, in other words, the act of learning is not strictly a function of the mind acting independently, but instead responding to what our body is experiencing. I have an immense appreciation and feeling of gratitude for the skills I’ve learned and can express through my hands.”
Sarah Vaughn “I have devoted myself to learning techniques to manipulate the remarkable material of glass—but I truly found my voice through casting and cold forming processes…I [create] sculptures that balance technique and concept, subtly pausing to reveal unexpected moments and visualizing the precarious balance of life.”
A huge thank you to our 2021 review panelists who generously offered their collective expertise and insight to rich discussions and difficult decisions.
Susie Ganch, head of metals in the Department of Craft and Material Studies, Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond); metalsmith/sculptor; former Penland resident artist.
Ché Rhodes, head of studio glass at University of Louisville, (KY); glass artist; Penland trustee
Abraham Thomas, Daniel Brodsky Curator of Modern Architecture, Design, and Decorative Arts in the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (NYC); Penland trustee.
Sarah Turner, president of North Bennet Street School (Boston); educator/craft artist/designer.
Right at the moment, Ellie Richards’s Penland studio is a riot of color, texture, and a bit of chaos. Her large shop tools are tidy and in order, but the tables are strewn with garden tools, toys, games, hoses, and other materials not usually found in a wood studio. On the wall behind her bench are a group of hybrid objects including a shovel that is completely covered with magnetic plastic letters.
Ellie is making work for a two-person show at the Vision Gallery in Phoenix, Arizona titled Play Hard. Each piece, she explains, combines a tool (of the DIY suburban garage variety) with materials of play (the kind that might be part of summer games: bubbles, blocks, balloons etc.), in an effort to create something new, maybe something absurd, certainly something imaginative. “Ten years ago,” she says, “I started exploring how the opposing worlds of work and play could be interrelated. Since then, my work has gone in many directions, but each series seems to maintain a connection to each and their effect on the other. This exhibition is an opportunity to explore this exchange more directly, working in the format of ready-mades and altered found objects.”
“Life’s responsibilities and too many other barriers stand in the way of simply allowing oneself to have ‘free’ time,” she continued. “In other words, play doesn’t always come easy and usually there is a cost. However, it is my belief that free time, free from expectations and free from obligations or even an agenda, makes way for an increased sense of curiosity and connection with the tangible world.”
Ellie joined the resident artist program in September, 2020, and she was Penland’s wood studio coordinator from 2014 to 2019. Needless to say, she’s a highly skilled woodworker, so this current work might be surprising to some. “For a time all I wanted to do was learn how to build well made structural objects, and in that pursuit I picked up some valuable technical skills. It has always been my intent and one of my biggest challenges to have those skills supplement and support my ideas but not overstate themselves or hinder a more raw form of expression. This balance of seriousness and spontaneity is at the core of my practice.
“In this work, the place where two objects merge is the site where I’m focusing on the specifics of craft. Whether that happens with a traditional joint, JB Weld, or a special knot, these tactics of making connections are done with an equal amount of care and sensitivity toward the intent and outcome. This language used to transition one object into another serves as a conversation starter between the materials and new forms created.
“My identity as an artist has always been rooted in using wood as a raw material and woodworking as a field for its historical and technical context. At this juncture, I’m keen to use these experiences in woodworking as a framework for translation into other materials and modes of expression.”
With Ellie at at the beginning of her three-year residency, we can’t wait to see where this takes her.
Ellie also just concluded an imaginative multimedia sculpture/furniture installation in Charlotte, which is featured on her website.
Way back in 2012, Penland School was planning a new house for its core fellows: those energetic and committed artists who live and work at Penland–taking classes and doing work for the school–for two years. They amaze us, we fall in love with them, and they move on to other things. Fortunately, as illustrated in this picture, some of them move on to things that keep them at Penland.
The design for the new house, by architect Louis Cherry, includes a feature called a trombe wall, which is a dark-colored masonry wall that collects and radiates solar heat in the winter. Jean McLaughlin, who was Penland director at that time, along with the design committee for the project proposed that this wall should also be an artist-generated design feature.
The artist selected was Ian Henderson, who had completed the core fellowship earlier that year. Ian is a bit obsessive about pattern, and he had done quite a bit of slip casting while he was in the core program. Out of those interests grew a proposal for a relief tile installation with an underlying design based on a set of shapes known a girih tiles, which are the basis for a centuries-old system of ornamentation used throughout the Middle East. Ian readily points out that it is a derivative design. “Plenty of people before me have been exploring these same shapes and patterns. If the design for this installation is innovative, it is in the creation of a topography for each tile that is made up of triangular facets.”
With able assistance from fellow core alumni Daniel T. Beck, Andrew Hayes, and Mark Warren, Ian made about 1,000 ceramic tiles during a 2013 residency at the Kohler factory in Wisconsin. He documented that residency in a fascinating blog that covers both the design process and the making of the tiles. At the end of three months, the tiles were packed up and shipped to Penland where they were put into storage to wait for the house to become a reality.
This took a little while. Construction at Penland always waits for fundraising, and then it takes as long as construction takes. Fast forward to February of this year, and the house had finally reached a stage where the tiles could be installed. Ian Henderson is now Penland’s director of operations, and Daniel Beck has been iron studio coordinator for almost a decade. Their plan had always been to install the tiles together when the time came, and when the time came, they were both working at Penland.
The wall sits just inside the front entrance where future generations of core fellows will walk past it as they retreat to their lovely house for some much-deserved rest or head up to campus to work on some equally ingenious project.
Metalsmith Adam Whitney’s resident artist studio is a small building just behind the old dairy barn that houses five other resident studios. You can tell when he’s working by the ever-present sound of a hammer tapping on a metal sheet. “I think they put me back here so I wouldn’t drive everyone else crazy,” he laughed.
Although Adam joined the resident artist program last fall, he is no stranger to Penland. He has taught in the metals studio several times, he’s participated in every winter residency, and he was the school’s metals studio coordinator from 2007 to 2011.
He has experience in many kinds of metalsmithing, but his true love is raising: the craft of making hollow, three-dimensional forms from sheets of metal. His current projects are inspired by drinking vessels and the space program. He has made a series of cups that resemble a spacesuit helmet, and he is methodically developing a complex form based on the rhyton of the ancient Mediterranean. This is a horn-shaped vessel with a drinking hole at the bottom. The hole was often part of an animal head or torso fitted onto the end of the horn. Adam remembers seeing these forms in museums when he was first getting interested in metal work. “They were the metal shapes I was in awe of,” he said.
Adam’s rhyton will end with the torso of a spacesuit. While he is currently working on prototypes of the vessel and the suit in copper, the final piece will be silver. Raising the intricate form of the spacesuit is an admirable technical challenge, but that’s not the only thing that drew Adam to this image.
“I think the spacesuit is a phenomenal piece of technology,” he said. “It’s actually a vehicle. It’s the tiniest possible vehicle for a person, and it’s used in the harshest environment.
“Nobody really knows why the drinking horn with an animal on it exists, but it probably had to do with some kind of embodiment of the animal’s power through drinking. I wanted to put something on mine that would represent the culture I’m in now. For me, space exploration is the most fascinating thing that has happened in a long time. It’s a new frontier where we have just barely scratched the surface, and the space suit encapsulates that and puts it in human form.”
Courtney’s demo takes participants through her steps for creating a handbuilt tray form, complete with her signature cut handles and decorative carving details. Here’s a look at the process in three screenshots taken directly from her hour-long lesson.
15:04—Join the two ends of the coil that will form the walls of the tray.
41:32—Mark out the handle openings on the refined tray form.
59:03—Give the foot of the tray some personality with decorative carving!
We launched the videos for our second online demonstration this week! Participants have been following along as expert metalsmith David Clemons forms, welds, solders, and finishes an elegant pewter salt shaker. And this Saturday, 2/13, they’ll get to join David for a live Q&A to learn more about his process and get answers to their metalsmithing questions.
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.