Although Elizabeth Aralia has been an artist most of her life, she didn’t start coming to Penland until she was fifty: the year her son turned ten. “I came in 1998 for a class with Nick Cave and it was transformative,” she said. “I said to myself, ‘I’m going to come back here every year.’ And so far I have.” Elizabeth and her husband, photographer Nick Graetz, had moved to North Carolina about ten years before that, and Elizabeth says that she heard about Penland “in the air.”
Born in Detroit, she got an English degree at Indiana University and then went on to study art at the College of Creative Studies at the University of Santa Barbara in California. “It was a fascinating place,” she said. “The teachers there were all artists, and they just taught whatever they wanted. There was no set curriculum.” After finishing that program, she headed for New York. “I ran out of money near my mother’s house in Indiana, so I stayed there. I got this grant from the NEA where they paid you to do your art and to work with kids in the schools. During that time, I met and married my husband, and eventually we settled in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.”
Elizabeth works in textiles, painting, assemblage, and collage. One of her best-known projects is a tarot deck created through carefully-constructed collage. “I’ve been doing collage since 1978,” she said. “I don’t do it using a computer. I like to use things that there’s only one of; it’s more of a commitment.” Recent Penland workshops have reignited her interest in painting and introduced her to encaustic, which she has been integrating into her work.
In addition to her years of taking Penland workshops, Elizabeth and Nick have been generous annual supporters of the school, and they have recently created a scholarship in honor of Elizabeth’s late sister, Lynn Kerr Azzam. “She’s my half sister and we wouldn’t have known her except for the Internet. We only met her two years ago. We were together a few times and then she suddenly died. I didn’t know her well, but I felt very close to her. I wanted to do something for Penland in her name.”
“My husband and I give to a lot of things,” she continued. “We pick things that are close to our hearts, and Penland is at the top of my list. I want to give people the help I didn’t get when I was struggling financially and needed support as an artist. I imagine what it would have been like if someone had given me time at Penland back then.”
“Penland is magnetic and people who have the right metal get stuck.” Elizabeth said. “It draws me back every year. When the catalog comes, I get excited, and when I first drive in, I just think, ‘There it is.’” –Robin Dreyer