In a normal year (yeah, we’re saying that again), we’d spend the first week of March getting ready for our annual community open house. We can’t do that this year, but we’d still like to offer up some creative family fun. Every Saturday in March, we’ll post a video of a Penland artist teaching an activity that can be done at home, by young and old, using easily available materials.
We want you to get in the mood with some Penland snacks so we’ve already posted videos featuring Penland’s baker, Alena Applerose, showing how to make two coffee house favorites: gingerade and gluten-free peanut butter cookies.
Our first craft activity is a perennial open house offering: paste-paper painting with Meg Peterson. This is a little like finger painting and uses colored paste to make durable, decorative papers that can be made into book covers, envelopes, wrapping paper, or just displayed on the wall. So put on your aprons, roll up your sleeves, and join us at the kitchen table. That video will be posted on Saturday, March 6.
Metalsmith Adam Whitney’s resident artist studio is a small building just behind the old dairy barn that houses five other resident studios. You can tell when he’s working by the ever-present sound of a hammer tapping on a metal sheet. “I think they put me back here so I wouldn’t drive everyone else crazy,” he laughed.
Although Adam joined the resident artist program last fall, he is no stranger to Penland. He has taught in the metals studio several times, he’s participated in every winter residency, and he was the school’s metals studio coordinator from 2007 to 2011.
He has experience in many kinds of metalsmithing, but his true love is raising: the craft of making hollow, three-dimensional forms from sheets of metal. His current projects are inspired by drinking vessels and the space program. He has made a series of cups that resemble a spacesuit helmet, and he is methodically developing a complex form based on the rhyton of the ancient Mediterranean. This is a horn-shaped vessel with a drinking hole at the bottom. The hole was often part of an animal head or torso fitted onto the end of the horn. Adam remembers seeing these forms in museums when he was first getting interested in metal work. “They were the metal shapes I was in awe of,” he said.
Adam’s rhyton will end with the torso of a spacesuit. While he is currently working on prototypes of the vessel and the suit in copper, the final piece will be silver. Raising the intricate form of the spacesuit is an admirable technical challenge, but that’s not the only thing that drew Adam to this image.
“I think the spacesuit is a phenomenal piece of technology,” he said. “It’s actually a vehicle. It’s the tiniest possible vehicle for a person, and it’s used in the harshest environment.
“Nobody really knows why the drinking horn with an animal on it exists, but it probably had to do with some kind of embodiment of the animal’s power through drinking. I wanted to put something on mine that would represent the culture I’m in now. For me, space exploration is the most fascinating thing that has happened in a long time. It’s a new frontier where we have just barely scratched the surface, and the space suit encapsulates that and puts it in human form.”
Courtney’s demo takes participants through her steps for creating a handbuilt tray form, complete with her signature cut handles and decorative carving details. Here’s a look at the process in three screenshots taken directly from her hour-long lesson.
15:04—Join the two ends of the coil that will form the walls of the tray.
41:32—Mark out the handle openings on the refined tray form.
59:03—Give the foot of the tray some personality with decorative carving!
We launched the videos for our second online demonstration this week! Participants have been following along as expert metalsmith David Clemons forms, welds, solders, and finishes an elegant pewter salt shaker. And this Saturday, 2/13, they’ll get to join David for a live Q&A to learn more about his process and get answers to their metalsmithing questions.
Barry Lopez, who died in late December, was a writer and thinker of great depth and clarity. He was known for writing about the relationship between the natural world and human culture and for his explorations of intimacy, ethics, and identity. His books include Arctic Dreams, which won a National Book Award, Of Wolves and Men, eight works of fiction, and his final collection of essays titled Horizon.
In the fall of 2011, Barry and his wife, writer/editor Debra Gwartney, spent two weeks at Penland as part of the Andrew Glasgow Writers Residency. He explored a number of studios, engaging with materials and tools, listening, and asking questions.
Barry gave a brilliant presentation—to a pin-drop-quiet, packed hall—about what he described as the “thorny problem” of how artists might choose to respond to social or political concerns. By way of examples, he read a short piece of fiction he wrote at the request of the climate change organization 350.org (available here) and a short essay on the subject of species diversity commissioned by the Kyoto Journal (available here). And he told a remarkable story about his involvement (along with potter Richard Rowland) in a project of reconciliation between the Comanche Nation and Texas Tech University.* It was an inspiring evening that will be long remembered by everyone who was there.
Near the end of the visit, Barry was interviewed by Penland’s communications manager Robin Dreyer about his time at Penland, his love of tools, and his writing process. We published a short excerpt from that conversation at the time. In honor of Barry’s passing, we’re sharing a longer version with you now.
Could you briefly describe what you did here?
I came with just a handful of ideas that I knew I would shape once I began to meet people and see what their interests were, and how I could participate here, how I could become a colleague of craftspeople and artists here. Those people with whom I developed some rapport were welcoming about me coming into their studios, and then at meals, having conversations with people, and having them say, “Well, why don’t you come by and see what we’re doing?” I know a little bit about some of these crafts and was eager to learn more, especially about iron work.
I had a terrific conversation one morning with [iron instructor] Vivian Beer and saw that a lot that was going through her mind was also going through my mind, but my thoughts had to do with writing. And that was a point of orientation for me; I realized that one thing I might be able to offer would be to talk about writing as a craft, and see how that might reverberate with what people were doing so it would be a mutually informing conversation. It seemed that a way I might make myself useful in this environment would be to provide another perspective about making. I know that in conversations people have here about printmaking, or metalsmithing, or woodworking, there are certain things that are shared, and one thing that we all share is we have an internal psychology or psyche and personal history, and we try to bring that to the work that we’re doing.
I think the last thing you want to do as a guest resident is stay locked up somewhere and have nothing at all to do with other people. If you’re going to come to Penland, part of the experience is geographical, part of the experience is aesthetic, and a third part of the experience is conversation with fellow makers.
In your book About This Life, you make a reference to the culture of hand tools. Could you talk a little bit about what you meant by that, and why you think it’s of value? Human beings, of course, have a very long involvement historically with tools and implements, and part of our sense of self-worth and sense of dignity as people comes from the skill with which we make and use tools. We make tools that are beautiful, we make tools that are useful, and often we make a useful tool that’s beautiful. That is a kind of calling to me, and certain tools suggest an intimacy with material that is the antithesis of an electronic involvement with material.
Part of what Penland seems to be about is people trying to stay in touch. By that I mean, through their tools, to stay in touch with the raw materials of the earth, with plants from which ink comes, with iron, with metals of other sorts, with stones, with the lead that’s in pencils, with all of these things that come up out of the earth and are used to keep going the idea that it is a good thing and probably fundamentally necessary for civilization to stay in intimate touch with the earth. That, for me, is a lot of what’s going on in craft.
When you see somebody in conversation with a piece of wood, in a conversation with metal or paper, the conversation is antiphonal. I think there is a way to imagine imposing your will on the material, but there is another way, and that is to have a conversation with the material. To, if you’ll permit the figure of speech, be asking the material what it wants; you know what you want. The part that’s very attractive to me about the crafts is the negotiation around a proposal, rather than a negotiation around an imposition. The difference would be instead of hammering on something to force it to be what you want, to work with something to find out what is within it.
What’s happening at Penland is people are maintaining a long history of using tools to stay in touch: with each other through the sharing of art, and with the materials that are used to make art and crafted things. I would say that Penland is a place that’s feeding the fire. There’s everything to feel good about at Penland because in addition to making all this beautiful work, it maintains a tradition of honest and good relationships with the earth.
Could you talk a little bit about your process as a writer?
It’s all intuitive. I don’t have a rigid schedule that I follow. The process is different in fiction than it is in nonfiction. When I’m trying to frame a piece of nonfiction, I’m always using my notebooks and, looking back, I seem to spend a certain amount of time collecting material—maybe years—and then there will be an intense period of reviewing all those notes, followed by a period of nonstop writing. In fiction, I’ll have a line in my head, maybe the first line of a story, and it’ll be there for an hour, or 25 years, and then I’ll pull on it, and I’ll start going, but I don’t have a process of preparation for writing fiction.
The keynote of the process for me is paying attention. I often say that the first rule of everything is to pay attention— the first rule of your marriage, the first rule of your work, the first rule of your spiritual practice is to pay attention.
Do you have a sense of what you might take away from being here?
Camaraderie. And another renewal of my commitment to a task that I see as fundamental to the preservation of a civilization. I think what goes on here, if we didn’t have this, the loss would be incalculable. I’m glad to have been a visitor, somebody just passing through, glad to be here.
*An account of the efforts at reconciliation between the Comanche Nation and Texas Tech University, written by Henry Chappell, can be found here.
Penland’s teaching artist, Meg Peterson, walks into her studio at the Ridgeway Building on a walkway flanked by a steel railing made by artist Paige Davis. The the top part of the railing includes a series of hand silhouettes. A couple of days ago, on a sunny morning after a light snow, she arrived just in time to see this remarkable combination of the shadow of the railing and the selective melting of the snow.
Although, like everyone else, we’re in a strange, in-between state at Penland right now, there is activity in our wonderful studios. Thanks to our productive core fellows and a limited program of studio rentals, things are still happening.
Here are a few of the people who have been animating our spaces the past few weeks.
Jenn Schmidt filled the letterpress studio with hundreds of multi-colored prints for an upcoming project. Jenn is a multi-disciplinary artist who lives in Brooklyn and is the chair of print, paper, and graphic arts at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University (Boston).
Tasha McKelvey is a ceramic artist from Richmond, Virginia. She was in the upper clay studio making some production work: brightly colored, tiny houses.
Core fellow Maria Fernanda Nuñez, a.k.a. Mo, makes evocative artwork in a number of different media. On this day, she was, very practically, making wedges for splitting wood.
Here in the print studio, safely distanced from each other, are Leslie Smith and Jean McLaughlin. Leslie is the director of graphics and textiles at the Sawtooth School for Visual Art in Winston-Salem, NC. Jean was Penland’s director for 20 years. Lately she’s been spending a lot of time with ink and paper.
And finally, here is some guidance for wood studio renters from our studio coordinator, Aspen Golann. Remember, you should only use the big belt sander between 7 and 11 with a buddy in the building, but you can make models and dream all night long!
The studio rental program, which is limited to people who have worked in our studios in some capacity in the past, has been extended to April 24. Complete information is here.