Penland was saddened by loss of fiber artist, wood sculptor, and teacher Dorothy Gill Barnes, who died on December 2 at age 93 after a short battle with COVID-19. As an artist, Dorothy’s consistent points of reference were the methods and materials of basketry. Working with natural materials that she harvested herself, she created beautiful, soulful, innovative forms and textures. She was also a beloved and generous teacher of workshops, include many at Penland. She continued to teach well into her 80s and amazed her students with her energy, enthusiasm, and ideas. She wanted students to be intimate with their materials, and her workshops were built around harvesting trips—always being mindful of what could be taken without damaging the local ecology.
Dorothy was a fellow of the American Craft Council and a recipient of a lifetime achievement award from the National Museum of Women in the Arts. Her work is in the collections of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York City, the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in DC, and the Racine Art Museum in Wisconsin.
In 2013, she was honored as Penland’s Outstanding Artist Educator. In that year’s auction catalog, writer and artist Eva Tuschman, who was in Dorothy’s 2010 Penland workshop, wrote this: “Just as a bird gathers fibers to build its nest, or bees instinctually know the patterns to construct their hives, Dorothy’s relationship to natural materials, from harvesting bark to weaving it into sculptural baskets, seems entirely intuitive. Dorothy was born to be a maker. Her life’s work embodies an expression of reverence for the natural world—its forms and textures, an ongoing dialogue with its lines and structures. One could say Dorothy is the Mary Oliver of the craft world: a poet whose words take the form of bark curling off a limb, or the gentle shaping of tree skin around a stone. Each piece is a poem, an object that invites us to pause and settle our attention, with delight and gratitude for what her hands have touched.”
You can read Dorothy’s obituary here. The American Craft Council has a beautiful page about her with more pictures of her work. And there is an extensive oral history interview on the website of the Archives of American Art.
UPDATE 12/18: The New York Times just posted an article about Dorothy as part of their series on people we’ve lost to COVID-19.