Penland’s mission is to “support individual and artistic growth through creative practice and discovery.” So we are a craft school, yes, but we are also advocates—for learning, for transformation, for supportive and generous community. And right now, that means we are advocates for the urgent changes that need to take place across this country. Black lives matter. Black joy and freedom and creative expression matter. Black grief and protests and injustices matter.
It’s difficult to support growth and creativity in a society where some people are unsafe, unequal, unvalued. And it’s hard to learn and share if we are not listening to all the voices that need to be heard.
This is a reminder to ourselves: There is so much work to do, and WE are the ones who have to do it.
This is a pledge to all of you: We will listen and learn and support and amplify and implement and question and use our resources to foster justice and equity in our community. We know that we still have work to do when it comes to issues of race, equity, and inclusion.
And this is an invitation: This work is not something that we can delegate, or finish, or brush off. It takes us all. Please, join in.
Early this week, Penland teamed up with our friends at Toe River Arts and an all-star crew of volunteers to get a second round of art packets out to students and families in our community. Much like our first round of packets, the goal was to provide inspiration and materials for creative activities that can be done at home by a range of age groups. All told, the Packet Mania team made a total of 590 art packets, the majority of which have been delivered to the Mitchell County Schools Central Warehouse to go out with their local food pickups on May 22.
Penland’s community collaborations manager Stacey Lane described these packets as “much more ambitious” than the first round. They contained a range of drawing supplies and papers, as well as tape, glue, scissors, origami paper, book-making materials, embroidery floss and fabric, needles, and even a small cardboard loom! Each packet also included a fun coloring sheet drawn by Mitchell High student Evelyn Kline and detailed instructions and suggestions for art activities and prompts using the materials. (Want to try them for yourself? Take a look here!)
Of course, a project like this is a big team effort, and we sure couldn’t have done it without the many people who contributed their time, energy, and talents. A big thank you goes out to:
Lisa Rose, Meg Peterson, and Stacey Lane, who coordinated the project through Penland’s community collaborations program
Mitchell County art teachers Melisa Cadell, Olivia Ellis, Leslie Dickerson, and Marisa Westall, who helped plan and provide content
Subs with SuitCASEs teaching artists Taylor Styles, Alena Applerose, and Sherry Lovett, who created lessons for the packets
Toe River Arts outreach coordinator Melanie Finlayson, who helped plan and coordinate this project and provided stickers and envelopes for the packets
Toe River Arts staff Debra Carpenter, JoAnn Townsend, and Tracy Maisch, who helped assemble packet materials
Kristie Autrey of Mitchell County Schools, who acted as liaison for the project
Cathy Adelman, Annie Evelyn, Kathie Sigler, and Sam Reynolds, who volunteered to prepare each packet’s pamphlet book materials
Penland core fellows Erica Schuetz, Mitsu Shimabukuro, and Scott Vander Veen, who cut burlap for the embroidery project
Mitchell High student Evelyn Kline, who created a special coloring sheet to include in each packet
Local student Lillian Kline, who helped with the shadow drawing project
The wonderful volunteers who helped with packet assembly, including Erica Schuetz, Michael Kline, Evelyn Kline, and Alena Applerose
And the generous donors who contributed funds to help make this project a reality!
We feel really lucky to be part of such a warm and generous community, and we can’t wait to see what creative ideas spring from these effort! We hope to share some of them with you in the coming weeks.
In early March, the Penland community lost a person who quietly made a deep impact on the school. Donna Jean Dreyer, who died at age 88, worked at Penland from 1986 through 1995 in publications, marketing, and fundraising. She kept the wider community informed through Penland’s newsletter, The Penland Line; she worked with designer Alicia Keshishian to define a basic format and tone for Penland’s workshop catalogs that persist to this day; she helped create Penland’s development office; and she was a trusted advisor to staff throughout the organization.
Donna Jean’s most significant contribution to the school, however, came several years after she retired, when the board asked her to step in as interim director in 1997. Earlier in her life, she had been the personnel director for the American Friends Service Committee, and, following that, she accepted a series of interim director positions in the Committee’s regional offices. This experience, combined with her strong Penland connection, made her uniquely qualified to guide the school through a moment of uncertainty and turmoil.
She gathered the staff together and clearly articulated some basic principles that would guide the next year. She carefully divided decisions and tasks between the ones she needed to deal with and the ones best left for the permanent director who would follow her. It was not a time for grand visions of the future. It was a time when wounds were healed, structural problems were addressed, and stability was restored.
After she turned the director’s office over to Jean McLaughlin, the staff commissioned resident artist Hoss Haley to make a beautiful concrete bench in her honor. It sits just above the volleyball court and includes a plaque that says, “She used her mind and her heart to nurture the work of our hands.” She lived the rest of her life in nearby Yancey County and maintained friendships with many in the school community. Various staff members continued to turn to her for advice and institutional history.
In 1996, after Donna Jean’s first Penland retirement, Dana Moore, who was program director for many years, wrote a tribute for The Penland Line. She distilled much of what was special about Donna Jean, and it seems appropriate to post part of that tribute here.
In trying to say something about Donna Jean, splashy anecdotes and knee slappers don’t come to mind. What I can tell about is this:
A person with uncommon wisdom who has an easy relationship with truth that the rest of us don’t always have.
A disarming honesty motivated by a deep compassion; if she has something difficult to say, she sticks with you until long after the shock has worn off.
An ability to distill and refine a complex situation into a well-posed problem.
A person who brings the same fairness and humanity to small choices that she brings to big issues.
A person who holds the center during times of flux and transition.
Donna Jean is simply the best thinker I know, with a way of taking a poetic route to the heart of a matter.
Though Penland shapes us all, some of us also shape Penland. In Donna Jean, Penland has been shaped by a force of goodwill that has warmed our future, and we thank her.
We are thrilled to announce that Penland has been included in a remarkable gift made to five of the nation’s leading craft schools to provide honorariums to the teaching artists whose workshops were cancelled in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Totaling nearly $1 million, the gift has been made by an anonymous donor to Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts (TN), Haystack Mountain School of Crafts (ME), Peters Valley School of Craft (NJ), Pilchuck Glass School (WA), and Penland. Over 550 artists, across the country and internationally, will benefit from this support in recognition of the time they have spent preparing and planning their workshops and their ongoing commitment to craft education. The schools are not retaining any part of the gift; it will all go to our instructors. In Penland’s case, the honorariums will include spring and summer instructors, movement instructors, and Kids Camp instructors.
Since 2012 these five schools have worked together as a consortium to promote craft education on a national level. In recent months we have continued to support each other in new ways: thinking together about how to respond to the pandemic and learning from each other as we move through difficult times. This ongoing collaboration created an opportunity to advocate for the teaching artists who are central to our mission, and we are profoundly grateful for this unprecedented support to our community. This gift is truly an act of transformational philanthropy.
At the end of March, we posted a video of the ceremony to name the Penland clay studio in honor of Bobby Kadis. On April 6, we were notified that Bobby had died from the cancer he had been wrestling with for seven years. He was 83. Back in 2015 Penland archivist Carey Hedlund and Jasmin McFayden, the director’s assistant, spent an afternoon talking to Bobby and prepared a tribute for that year’s auction catalog. We have adapted that tribute here to honor Bobby.
“I was sort of all business and this Penland experience shook me up.”
Bobby discovered clay more than forty years ago at a Sunday in the Park festival in Goldsboro, North Carolina. “There was a guy out there on a kick wheel, throwing pots,” he remembered. “I stood there and watched for a long time and within a week my wife Claudia had signed me up for his class at the arts center.” In 1978 Bobby came to Penland as a beginner—he’d just graduated from pinch pots to the kick wheel. His first workshop here was taught by the great ceramist Robert Turner, and Bobby found himself in a position he recognized as “far away from anything that I had ever experienced.”
“Bob Turner was a philosopher. All he wanted to do was get into your head, to make sure you understood what you were making and what you should be thinking about when you do it.”
Bobby was baffled by this new experience and Turner’s teaching style, but he came to recognize and value what Turner was doing: challenging his students to see, perceive, and to care in new ways. The two men forged a friendship and shared an ongoing conversation about life and clay. Bobby said that this first Penland workshop changed his life. Over the years he studied with many of the important artists of late 20th century ceramics. He reached beyond the boundaries of his career as a commercial real estate developer and became a maker in his own right.
“Why in the world would I want to be on this board? I go up to Penland and it’s Magic Mountain and everything runs gorgeously and I have a fabulous time.”
In addition to being a student, Bobby served for sixteen years on Penland’s board of trustees, including two years as chair. He was a voice for the student experience, a friend to the staff, and deeply involved as an advisor for the school’s operations. He also co-chaired, with Cynthia Bringle, the 2001-2004 Preserve Penland Campaign, which raised $11.5 million for the school’s infrastructure, endowment, and operations.
“I’ve been a part of a lot of history with this school. I feel like I’m—amazingly—always around when something interesting happens.”
Bobby forged an extraordinary relationship with Penland and maintained a unique vantage point. He knew every director except founder Lucy Morgan, and was a friend and advisor to most of them. He was a voice of reason in difficult times. And he had fun: attending dance parties in Bill Brown’s living room, Poly Proms at Northlight, and an impromptu modern dance performance on the porch of Dora’s Place. He experienced the many charms of Penland’s housing–over the years, he slept in almost every building–and, before the whole clay studio was named for him, he was honored with the Bobby Kadis Slop Bucket.
“Right away, I feel like if I can delve into it, I can be helpful.”
In addition to his work with Penland, Bobby was a tireless advocate for the arts across North Carolina, serving on the North Carolina Arts Council board for twenty years and creating the North Carolina Arts Council Foundation. From 2008 to 2013, he was a member of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, which honored him with their 2014 Distinguished Public Service Award. And we always knew which car was Bobby’s after he was given the Arts North Carolina license plate number 0001.
Bobby Kadis had a generosity of spirit accompanied by enthusiasm, clarity, modesty, and ambitious determination. His generosity, expertise, and advocacy touched scores of people–locally, regionally, and nationally. He made countless friends and colleagues while championing the arts with an energy and passion few individuals could muster.
Hello World: we posted this earlier and the e-mail version didn’t work right. We have reformatted, so if you are seeing this in e-mail, it should be better this time. We hope.
We confess that we’ve let some weeks go by since the last Photo of the Week. It’s been a weird time. The studios are closed down, people are working from home, the campus is almost deserted. Nevertheless, spring continues unabated, and there are things to see. Here’s a little selection from a recent walk-through.
Here’s a bit of art, almost hidden on a shelf in the clay studio kiln shed.
The glass flag still flies optimistically.
Tulips gonna bloom!
A slightly perplexing view of/through a book studio window.
The wood studio basketball will be waiting for you.
Penland’s Community Collaborations Program is dedicated to bringing art opportunities to students and neighbors in our local community. Sometimes, this work takes place on campus through our summer kids camps and events like our Community Open House. But more often, it happens in local classrooms thanks to longstanding partnerships with our Mitchell County schools. And now that our local schools are closed and a stay at home order has been issued in North Carolina, our Community Collaborations staff have pivoted their work toward new approaches that can help bring art opportunities right to our neighbors’ homes.
One of these efforts is an adaptation of Penland’s Teaching Artist Initiative. For decades, Penland’s Meg Peterson (pictured above) has been working with local students and teachers to create involved handmade journals that weave art into classroom studies of science, history, writing, and more. It’s hands-on, material-intensive work that encourages individual exploration and discovery. And now, Meg hopes, it’s something that her 3rd and 4th grade students can continue working on at home. This week, Meg has been busy creating 166 packets for them that include materials and prompts that mesh with the science curriculum in their classrooms—investigations of soil and landforms in one school, and explorations of body systems and nature observation in the other. “Students at Gouge Elementary are getting a whole kit to make natural earth paints,” Meg explains. The kits include gesso board, instructions, information on prehistoric cave painting and aboriginal earth painting, and a sample of a prevalent local rock. “The rock easily grinds to powder,” Meg says. “Then students can turn that powder into the most beautiful red-orange pigment.”
A second initiative is tied to the food distribution service recently established by Mitchell County Schools. The service has been delivering an incredible 1000 meals per day to families in our area, and it will now be delivering art materials, too! Penland staff members Stacey Lane (above) and Lisa Rose teamed up with local art teachers Leslie Dickerson, Melisa Cadell, and Olivia Ellis, as well as some of Penland’s Subs with Suitcases teaching artists, to create a set of prompts that can engage students and their family members of all ages. “Find an object from outdoors in nature…take a close-up look at the object and draw only the part your eyes have zoomed in on,” suggests one prompt. “Challenge yourself: Draw a glass of water with or without ice,” suggests another. Stacey, Lisa, and Penland core fellows Mitsu Shimabukuro, Erica Schuetz, and Mo Nuñez put in long hours this week to package the prompts together with materials such as colored pencils, a sharpener, paintbrushes, paper scraps, and book board. All told, they created 434 art packets that will go out to Mitchell County families this week.
This is certainly a difficult time for communities across the country, and our rural corner of North Carolina is no different. We hope that these efforts will bring a bit of creativity and fun to the next few weeks as we all try to adapt to the difficulties and uncertainties of this new normal.
For anyone else out there who would like some fun art ideas, you can find the prompts here: Art at Home Activities.