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COVID-19 Update

cloudy view of Penland from across the knoll

Unfortunately, it’s time for the update we didn’t want to make: We are closing Penland School until further notice. Based on our governor’s latest orders and recommendations from our local health department, we concluded that we were no longer able to assure the health and safety of our students while delivering them the Penland experience they deserve.

We are now busy working with students and instructors to shut down the studios and get everyone home safely. It’s a strange time—our gallery is closed completely, the coffeehouse and The Pines are only serving food on a takeout basis, and our entire campus is winding down just at the time of year when the energy usually ramps up. It’s been painful and difficult, to say the least.

What is the status of summer workshops and the Annual Benefit Auction? The honest answer is that we do not know. We are proceeding with equal parts optimism and caution. It is our sincere hope that we’ll be back up and running within a couple months, but this crisis is evolving so quickly that we can’t say for sure. For now, please keep your plans to join us and know that we’ll give you as much notice as possible if anything has to change.

And now for a few bright spots:

– Our students and instructors have been amazing. This is a tough situation for all of us, but they’ve shown us again and again the power and strength of this community and what we all do here.

– The support we have received from all of you out there in our wider circles has been so uplifting. Know that your reassuring words matter as we navigate the unknown. And, to those of you who have reached out with a donation in the past few days—thank you. Your support in this time of immense financial upheaval reaches right to the beating heart of our school.

– We have an incredible staff, and we intend to keep them. Our team is scrappy and resourceful, and you can bet we’ll be putting all our creative juices to the test over the coming weeks as we come up with ways to keep Penland, well, Penland. Expect to hear a lot more from us as we find ways to stay connected to this invaluable community!

Want to help? Please visit our donation page to make a gift of any amount.

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Progress on the New Northlight

View of Northlight site under construction
A view of the Northlight building including the photography studio (upper left), papermaking studio (lower left), and social hall (right).


Now that the site is clear and level and foundations have been poured, the new Northlight building is growing like bamboo. Once completed, it will house brand new photography and papermaking studios and a large social hall for parties, scholarship auctions, movement classes, show and tell, and more.

There’s still a lot to do before the building’s estimated completion in summer 2018, but the bones of the spaces are in place. A tour through the site last week made it clear that this new complex is going to be a thing of beauty and a real treat for the whole Penland community. Have a look for yourself:


Inside the new social hall space

This is the inside view of the new social hall space, which has been designed with vastly improved acoustics, lighting, and temperature control in mind. We’ll see you here in 2018 for some epic dance parties!


Papermaking studio under construction

The new paper studio will include a dry classroom, a wet workroom, a covered and screened porch area, and even a separate space to house the beaters so the rest of the studio doesn’t get so noisy.


inside the 2nd floor photo studio construction

The photo studio will have plenty of space for darkroom and digital work, as well as some of the best views on campus.


Covered porch space will extend out from the social hall about ten feet

And for all of you with fond memories of the old Northlight porch, fear not! Porch space was the number one thing that people asked to keep in this new building, and the designers certainly listened. Here, facilities director Dave Sommer demonstrates how far the double-level covered porch will extend off the front of the social hall. Perfect for a rocking chair and a little knoll viewing, no?

We couldn’t be more excited about all the ways this new building will shape the Penland experience going forward, and we can’t wait to share it with you. Here’s a giant thanks to architect Louis Cherry, landscape architect Walter Havener, and Dave Sommer and his entire team for their vision and persistence in turning this idea into reality!

And finally, let’s finish with some more views because it’s just that lovely. Scroll to the end to see three renderings of the finished space.

A detail of the shaped wood columns that will support the covered porch areas outside the social hall.
Dave points out the exterior wall that can be used for outdoor movie projections.
The roof starting to take shape over the social hall.
This impressive stairway will connect the lower level of the social hall and paper studios with the upper level photography studio.
Framing out bathrooms and storage spaces behind the paper studio.
This beautiful wooden siding will clad part of the building's exterior.
Second floor photo porch in progress!
The space where these cranes are now will later be landscaped with native plants and inviting places to gather.
The views over the knoll and the mountains are pretty impressive from up here.
A look at the far side of the photo and paper studios.
Lots of space in the photo studio (soon to be filled with lots of great supplies and students!)
The corner of the photo studio looks out over the drawing and books studios.



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Two Views of the Craft School Experience

aerial views of the Haystack and Penland campuses
Haystack and Penland seen from the air.


When we say “Craft School Experience,” we’re referring to the total immersion workshops offered at Penland and our sister schools Arrowmont, Haystack, Peters Valley, and Pilchuck. We’re referring to the beautiful and often isolated environments of these schools, their deep history, their shared eating and living spaces, and of course their well-equipped studios that support top-notch instruction. The craft school experience means the special community atmosphere that inspires creativity and motivates new discoveries, new ideas, and new connections. It’s common to all these schools, but it’s also an experience that looks different for every individual who sets foot on our campuses.

Over at, the Craft School Consortium has been collecting stories and anecdotes to illustrate the craft school experience. Two recent ones on their blog are particularly near to our hearts. The first is by Robin Dreyer, who wrote a beautiful piece about a recent trip to Haystack from his perspective as a Penland staff member, instructor, and student of nearly twenty years. “Getting to the end of the road before I could see the school was a good indication that, while Haystack and Penland may be sisters, they are not twins,” Robin writes. He goes on to describe Haystack’s campus and facilities, its historical connections to Penland, and the little delights and surprises he experienced at this place that felt at once so familiar and entirely new.


Bill Griffith stands with a display of his pots
Clay artist Bill Griffith with some of his work in a recent show.


In another post, clay artist Bill Griffith describes the unexpected roads that opened up for him after a one-week workshop at Arrowmont in the summer of 1983. We won’t spoil the details of his journey, but we can give you a few hints by saying that he has spent many years at Arrowmont as the assistant director, program director, and now the outreach and partnership liaison. In addition, he’s a working studio artist and clay instructor. In fact, he’ll be teaching a slab-built pottery workshop at Penland during session 7 this summer!

If you haven’t had a craft school experience of your own yet, signing up for a workshop is the best way to start. We can’t be sure where it will take you, but it’s likely to be an intense and creative burst that you won’t soon forget.