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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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Planting Time!

A view of the Penland garden from the knoll.

Yes, there’s snow in the forecast for tonight. But no, it’s not too early to start planting the Penland vegetable garden. In fact, thanks to a basement propagation room and the careful planning of Penland gardener Casara Logan, seedlings are already in the soil and sprouting!

Though the Penland garden often goes under the radar, it’s one aspect of our school that touches nearly everyone who sets foot on campus: Penland-grown vegetables go into hundreds of meals at The Pines spring through fall, herbs from the beds flavor drinks in the coffee shop, and the food scraps collected from everyone who dines here get composted and worked back into the rows to enrich the soil. This is no small thing: last year, nearly twenty tons of food waste were redirected into our steaming compost piles.

Some of the first seedlings of the 2018 season. (Photos: Casara Logan)

The Penland garden is a modest 100 ft x 100 ft of soil tucked into the curve of the road below The Pines. It is worked mostly by hand—or, more specifically, by the diligent hands of Casara, Penland WWOOFer Irvin Carsten, core fellow Luke Gnadinger, and a handful of work-study students. What can such a small team do in a small space? We’ll let the numbers speak for themselves: during the 2017 season, the garden produced over 25 varieties of vegetables and herbs, including 7 lbs of mint, 36.5 lbs of radishes, 96.25 lbs of arugula, 100 lbs of broccoli, 245 lbs of lettuce, 580 lbs of kale, and 765 lbs of chard, for a grand total of nearly 1.5 tons of produce!

Irvin and Casara harvesting chard last summer.

The vegetables are tasty, to be sure, but what’s the connection between cultivation and craft? A lot of it comes back to care, to love of process, and to appreciation for material. Like throwing a mug from a lump of clay, growing vegetables takes a commitment of time and attention. There are rows to turn, seedlings to water, weeds to pull, and pests to manage. Doing any of these steps well requires a real focus on the the task at hand and a sensitivity to the sun, the soil, and the rain. We can (and do) buy vegetables, but we believe that—as with a handmade mug—growing them ourselves provides real value to our gardeners, our students, our community, and this little piece of the Blue Ridge Mountains we love. It’s probably no coincidence that, before they were farmers, Casara and Irvin were both artists first.

A harvest waiting to be turned into lunch outside The Pines last summer.

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About Us

Penland School of Crafts

Penland School of Crafts
Penland School of Crafts is a national center for craft education located in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains. Penland’s focus on excellence, its long history, and its inspiring, retreat setting have made it a model of experiential education. The school offers workshops in books and paper, clay, drawing and painting, glass, iron, metals, photography, printmaking and letterpress, textiles, wood, and other media. Penland sponsors artist residencies, a gallery and visitors center, and community education programs.

Penland’s programs engage the human spirit which is expressed throughout the world in craft. Penland enriches lives by teaching skills, ideas, and the value of the handmade. Penland welcomes everyone–from vocational and avocational craft practitioners to interested visitors. Penland is a stimulating, transformative, egalitarian place where people love to work, feel free to experiment, and often exceed their own expectations. Penland’s beautiful location and historic campus inform every aspect of its work.