Northlight has long served as a community hub here at Penland. For over twenty-five years, students have started their mornings there with early yoga classes, enriched their evenings with instructor slide talks, and celebrated the end of sessions with auctions and show and tell displays. It has also hosted dances, parties, symposiums, weddings, memorial services, benefit auction art displays, theatrical performances, core shows, lectures, and other events. The planning for the original building began around 1984, they broke ground in 1987, and construction was completed by 1991 thanks to a big push of community energy led by then-director Hunter Kariher and maintenance man Harold Jones. Shortly thereafter, the Fall 1991 issue of the Penland Line praised the project with these words:
The Northlight Building has added to the quality of the experience for Penland students because there is now a place in a central location where everyone can fit under the same roof at the same time. Northlight has enabled us to bring all of the studios to the center of campus.
Northlight earned a special place in many of our hearts, but it also caused a few headaches in its time. To name a few, it tended to flood in heavy rains; its heating, ventilation, and electrical systems could be lacking; the acoustics left something to be desired; it was the only building we’ve ever seen with a gutter on the inside (long story); and current building code requirements had long since left it behind. Nevertheless, it served us well for a long time.
Now, thanks to the gifts of many generous supporters and friends, we are building Northlight 2.0. The new Northlight complex will house state-of-the-art papermaking and photography studios and two levels of social space for slides, exhibitions, orientation meetings, auctions, movement classes, and more. The studios have been planned with close participation from Penland staff and instructors to allow increased flexibility and range in our workshop programming. The social area will enhance Northlight’s important role as a place to build community and bring people together at Penland, complete with a kitchen, gallery space, common room, landscaped outdoor areas, porches, and yes, those beloved rocking chairs looking out over the mountains. Floods will be a thing of the past and landscape features will help mitigate runoff problems in the lower part of campus. The new space will be accessible and adaptable. In short, we think it will be an amazing addition to the Penland campus, and we are eagerly anticipating its completion (planned for summer 2018).
Of course, as with all dear friends, we prefer to say “see you later” to the old Northlight than to wish the structure a permanent goodbye. We are excited that members of the Penland community have been carefully salvaging siding, rafters, windows, and other materials to give these pieces new life in other projects. Former resident artist and woodworker Tom Shields has been collecting hemlock boards from the exterior to use in the construction of his new studio in Asheville. Penland grant writer Nancy Lowe has saved some of the big windows from the face of the building to create a greenhouse in her garden. Wood studio coordinator Ellie Richards has recovered flooring and windows with the hope of incorporating them into a tiny house someday. And some of the siding and flooring will be used in the new building.
So in a summer or two, when you’re at Penland for a workshop or an artist talk or a July 4th community celebration, we hope your enjoyment of Northlight will be twofold—once in appreciating the beauty and functionality of the new structure, and once again in knowing that the old building lives on in the hearts, minds, and creative endeavors of our community.
See more photos of the Northlight deconstruction project in the slideshow below. (If you are reading this post as an email, we recommend viewing it on the blog.)