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Inviting Creativity

Bevelyn at Penland Winter Residency

Bevelyn Ukah’s journey to becoming an artist and an arts advocate began with an invitation to make art outside her community co-op. In just two years, she has blazed her own path by being open, proactive, and asking for help along the way.

During Penland’s 2022 winter residency, we had the pleasure of meeting Bevelyn Afor Ukah and admiring her powerful work. She is killing it! “Every day I have been getting so much good news around my art practice,” she told us. In addition to participating in winter residency, she is preparing for several upcoming opportunities. (There’s a list at the end of this article.) A self-taught artist who is passionate about the power of art to heal and empower, Bevelyn brings creative expression to others, both through her personal work and through her extensive community outreach. 

Bevelyn was kind enough to share the story of how she arrived where she is today, under her own steam and with the enthusiastic support of people she met along the way. We hope this story will remind us all to take on new challenges and to invite others into the spaces and activities that have enriched our own lives, like craft and Penland!

“Naija Body,” completed during Penland winter residency

In February of 2020, just before the COVID-19 pandemic would upend everything, Bevelyn was running errands when she came across Karen Archia, sitting at a table covered in art supplies outside the Deep Roots Community Co-op Market in Greensboro, NC. This was one of 60 free art-making sessions that Karen hosted between September of 2019 and March of 2020 through her project “Public Art Practice,” which seeks to “liberate, encourage and affirm the creative spirit in all people.”

Karen invited Bevelyn to have a seat and create. While she had been excited about art as a child, it had been some time since she had expressed that side of her creativity, and it felt great! “Karen had recently been at Penland,” Bevelyn told us. “It was a huge transformation for her, and she thought everyone should have access to art. She built Public Art Practice out of her imagination.” Bevelyn attended two of these sessions before the pandemic, but the seed was planted. “Whatever I was creating, it was just making me feel better,” she said. She experimented with new media and new ideas. Her roommates encouraged her. “I started liking what I was making, and I just didn’t stop,” she told us.

Bevelyn began to feel like she could call herself an “artist” about a year into her creative practice when she sold her first piece. “That was so exciting,” she said. “I was like, let me just go ahead and put myself out there.” The person who purchased Bevelyn’s work was Tema Okun. Tema and Bevelyn had met professionally some years before and eventually became friends. Tema, who is a collage artist, had a close-up view of Bevelyn’s artistic awakening. “She was really called to it and took that calling very seriously,” Tema said. “In a short period of time I could see the way her work was developing.” One of the joys of Tema’s life is collecting artwork that speaks to her. “I am someone who likes to look at things on my walls and be moved and feel joy,” she told us. And for Bevelyn, selling her first piece of art felt “glorious.”

“New Moon,” completed during Penland winter residency

In the summer of 2021, Bevelyn attended Wild Abundance, a permaculture and homesteading school located in Weaverville, just outside of Asheville, NC. There, she learned the carpentry skills that would allow her to make and sell a tiny house. She also met Ellie Richards, a Penland resident artist and Wild Abundance instructor.

Ellie was struck by Bevelyn’s ability to bring people together. “She was really kind of like the glue,” she said. As the class drew to a close, the group gathered in a circle to consider what they had learned and the challenges they had overcome. Ellie remembers that it was Bevelyn who “got us all in tears.” “She has that sort of vulnerability and way of expressing herself that allowed everyone to open up,” she said.

During the workshop, Ellie talked to the class about Penland. Later on, Bevelyn followed up with Ellie, who was able to put some color on the Penland experience (It’s very rural… You take one class at a time in one of 16 different studios…) and help Bevelyn prepare for next opportunity on the Penland calendar: winter residency, which she had already heard about from her friend Tema! Bevelyn put together a strong proposal and was selected out of hundreds of applicants.

Bevelyn spent two weeks at Penland during winter residency. “I didn’t know what to expect, but it was perfect,” she said. In the drawing and painting studio, she enjoyed working alongside the other winter residents. She was the studio DJ, playing “everything from the nineties to all over the place.”

“We had a really great balance between talking and respecting each other’s space. It was great to be able to talk to my studio mates about what it means to be an artist, to strategize and share ways that we have been successful.” Studio assistant Caryn gave thoughtful feedback, made sure Bevelyn had the supplies she needed, and inspired through her own work. “I felt really cared for,” said Bevelyn.

“I love the work that I made,” she told us. “I started ten pieces and completed eight” A riot of color, Bevelyn’s work deals with body image, body positivity, and her relationship to the natural environment. “Our human-created systems have so many toxic images around body image that isolate people from their bodies and physical experiences, messages of inadequacy. They tell us that you’re not beautiful, that you’re not enough. The natural environment does the exact opposite,” said Bevelyn.

“Rest Queen,” completed during Penland winter residency

Bevelyn’s outreach work is imbued with as much positivity as her artwork. It’s hard to sum up all of her projects, but the short story is that she is making things happen! As the founding consultant of AFI Oak Consulting and co-founding consultant of the Auralite Collective, she trains youth and adults in skills that encourage equity, organizational efficiency, cultural connection, and collaboration. She is also the co-founder of Mekafi, a social enterprise that supports Black farmers and a member of the Black Women’s Art Collective of Public Art Practice. She coordinates the Food Youth Initiative Program and co-coordinates the Racial Equity in Food Systems initiative, which are both programs of the Center for Environmental Farming Systems. And she serves on the boards of Transplanting Traditions Community Farm, Rooted in Community, and the NC Climate Justice Collective!

Just over two years into her journey as an artist, Bevelyn is on a roll. Her personal work is evolving, she has made wonderful friends and connections, and she is finding innovative ways to connect her climate and food equity work with her art practice, despite the challenges of the pandemic. She is now a member of Public Art Practice, the outreach program that initiated her art journey. She hopes to return to Penland and to help connect others to the experience as well. “I want to learn everything,” she told us. “Woodworking, printmaking, oil painting… I want to make masks. Penland is like Hogwarts for artists!”

While at Penland, she requested a meeting with Yolanda Sommer, Penland’s Manager of Diversity Recruitment and Partnerships. Together, they are looking for ways to collaborate. Said Yolanda, “I look forward to working with Bevelyn in the future because of her energy. The fact that she is new to craft gives her a special, fresh perspective.” When it comes to Bevelyn, we are certain that her openness will continue to bring many and varied opportunities and that she will be a stepping stone for others as they have been for her.

 Bevelyn has upcoming exhibitions and residencies with the Durham Art Guild, the Center for Visual Arts Greensboro, Creative Greensboro, and Pink Dog Creative in Asheville.

You can find more of Bevelyn’s work at
Follow her on Instagram at @afioak

“Dysmorphia,” completed during winter residency
Bevelyn in the drawing and painting studio at Penland
“Alien Babe Flexin’,” completed during winter residency

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Penland School on the Artsville Podcast

Artsville is a new podcast series that highlights contemporary art and craft from Asheville (a.k.a. Artsville) and the surrounding area. We’re honored that the first episode is all about Penland School of Craft. Podcast host Scott Power hosts a lively conversation with Penland’s director Mia Hall and communications manager Robin Dreyer. 

In just under an hour, they cover a lot of ground, including information about Penland’s workshops, the importance of the setting, how Mia sees the school progressing over the next few years, the gallery and visitors center, and even a few thoughts on the difference between art and craft (and whether there really is one). 

Artsville released its first six episodes at the same time. The other five episodes cover some of Asheville’s greatest hits: The Center for Craft, Momentum Gallery, The Village Potters, Blue Spiral I Gallery, Black Mountain College, and Grovewood Village and Gallery. 

The podcast is a co-production of Sand Hill Artists Collective (Asheville) and Crewest Studio (Los Angeles). 

You can download all of the episodes wherever you get podcasts, or you can listen on the Artsville website. 

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Wearable Black History

A young, African American woman working at a jewelry bench
Nancy Sanderson working in the Penland metals studio during the 2022 winter residency.

Nancy Sanderson did not have the typical reaction to the souvenir shop at Mount Vernon. Nancy is African American, and she was visiting the home of President George Washington with her husband’s family. She had been thinking about souvenirs because the metals class she was taking at Virginia Commonwealth University had given her an assignment to create a souvenir. (That class was taught by Adam Atkinson, who is currently a Penland resident artist.)

She had been thinking about the people who were enslaved at Mount Vernon and how some of them were the laborers who built the place. “And then I just thought, it’s crazy that there is a souvenir shop here,” she remembers. “To me, and I know this is a big jump, it was like if there was a souvenir shop at Auschwitz or Guantanamo Bay or some other place where people have suffered, and people are like, hey, let’s grab a shot glass or a needlepoint. I do understand that the institutions have to have income if they are going to preserve these places, but I would like to see it done in a more respectful way.”


Two hands hold a metal brooch that depicts a brick wall with a barred window. A chain hangs from the window. Behind the window is the profile of a white house with a red roof.
Souvenir for the Enslaved by George Washington at Mount Vernon

A previous metals assignment already had her thinking about architectural elements as jewelry components, and so she responded to the souvenir assignment with her brooch called “Souvenir for the Enslaved by George Washington at Mount Vernon.” The piece includes a small profile of George Washington’s house made from painted wood. This is seen through a barred window in a brick wall made of copper. Chains, ending in a shackle, hang from the wall. The shackle, she explains, is silver, because that’s the part that would have touched the body. 

Making this piece caused Nancy to imagine a series of jewelry works inspired by the estates of other slaveholding American presidents. Her studio access is limited currently as she is on hiatus from VCU, caring for her newborn daughter and navigating the pandemic with her family. But she was able to participate in Penland’s winter residency, giving her the opportunity to start work on the second piece. 


A sheet of copper with a relief image and three holes sits in front of an architectural model made from small copper bars
Components in progress for Souvenir for the Enslaved by John Tyler at Sherwood Forest Plantation

More ambitious in scale and complexity than the first, this piece will be the “Souvenir for the Enslaved by John Tyler at Sherwood Forest Plantation.” The John Tyler house is a 301-foot-long structure that is essentially seven buildings attached end-to-end and is claimed to be the longest frame house in America. Nancy’s piece will be a three-finger ring with a simple model of the whole house sitting on top of it. 

The ring itself will be a hollow form that contains a relief image of an enslaved man with arms crossed and head bowed. Two children stand in front of him. “It’s a play on Atlas,” she explains, “and the house will rest on his back. There are children in the image because it’s not just about the enslaved, it’s also about that legacy and how it goes to the next generation and the next generation.”


A sketch on graph paper
Nancy’s original sketch for the John Tyler piece

“It’s truly heartbreaking,” she continues, “to imagine that you’d probably be proud of what you contributed to that house and that plantation, but then to not be allowed to be proud and to not have any type of ownership of your contribution. To live your whole life and to know that no matter how hard you work, you will never have this. It’s not allowed. That’s what I’m thinking about in making this.”

Nancy is rendering these ideas as jewelry because, she explains, “I want them to be wearable and not just sculptures because I want people to touch them and interact, and that’s how they bring you in.” She hopes to complete five pieces in the series; she already has a vision for a piece based on James Monroe’s Highlands. “I think that enslaved people are just overlooked in their contributions to architecture and building,” she says. “So I want to highlight the architecture that enslaved people helped create and combine this with what I enjoy doing with metals.” 


A man and a woman in a grassy field in winter, pulling a sled with a baby sitting in it
Nancy with her husband, Adam, and their daughter, Mary-Sue, at Penland

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Penland Trustee Sharif Bey Named 2022 USA Fellow

Portrait of Sharif Bey with a large sculpture
Sharif Bey with his piece Louie Bones-Omega, which is in the collection of the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum.

Penland is excited to report that ceramic sculptor and educator Dr. Sharif Bey, who is a Penland trustee and friend, has been selected for a 2022 USA Fellowship from United States Artists. The US Artists website describes this prestigious, $50,000 award as celebrating “artists and cultural practitioners who have significantly contributed to the creative landscape and arts ecosystem of the country.”

Sharif, who is an associate professor of art at Syracuse University, grew up in a large African American family in Pittsburgh. He says that, while many of the men in his family left school for jobs in industry, he had a pivotal experience at Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild while he was in high school. That organization gave him a foundation of skills and connections in the ceramics world that helped chart his life’s path.

Among those connections was ceramic artist Norman Schulman, a long-time Penland neighbor and instructor. It was from Norm that he first heard of Penland. “We stayed in touch on and off,” Sharif remembers. “He screened his calls, and it always made me feel special that aging Norm remembered me. I could hear him in the background saying, ‘Gloria, I’ll take Sharif’s call.’”

He also met Penland instructor Winnie Owens-Hart during a studio visit in 1989, and in 2000, he took a workshop with her at Penland. “She was surprised that this kid from 11 years prior was still working in clay,” he remembers. A few years later, he was teaching at Winston-Salem State and arranged several times to bring groups of students to Penland for a visit. In 2007, he taught his own workshop at Penland. 


Raptor Quilt series #2, 2021, Earthenware and mixed media, dimensions 24 × 23 × 4 inches. Photo courtesy of Albertz Benda, New York.

Fast forward to 2108 when Sharif, now in his current position at Syracuse University, was one of four artists featured in an exhibition titled “Disrupting Craft” at the Renwick Gallery in Washington, DC. At that show’s opening, he met Penland staff member Yolanda Sommer (she is currently manager of diversity, recruitment, and partnerships). They were talking about Penland’s efforts to attract students of color, and he pitched the idea of the school partnering with several historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) to bring groups of students and instructors for multi-day visits to Penland. 

This conversation was the genesis of Penland’s HBCU tour (read about it here and here), which had its third iteration in 2021. Sharif was one of the artist/mentors for the first tour in 2018. Around that same time, he was invited to join Penland’s board of trustees. 

Sharif describes his ceramic sculpture as inspired by functional pottery, Oceanic and African art, and art of the African diaspora, and investigating the cultural and political significance of adornment and the symbolic and formal properties of archetypal motifs while questioning how the meaning of icons and function transform across cultures and time. 

He holds a BFA from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania, an MFA from the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and a Ph.D. in art education from Pennsylvania State University. He’s had residencies at the McColl Center in Charlotte, NC, the Archie Bray Foundation in Montana, and the Kohler Arts Center in Wisconsin. In addition to the USA Fellowship, he has received a Pollock-Krasner grant and a Fulbright scholarship. His work is in the collections of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, and Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum among others. 

Congratulations, Sharif, on this well-deserved honor!

Participants in the 2019 Penland HBCU tour, an idea originally suggested by Sharif Bey, who is seen at the far right.

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The Kent McLaughlin Scholarship for Working Potters

Kent McLaughlin

First: A reminder that the application deadline for summer scholarships is February 17. Details are here.

Second: Penland School is thrilled to announce the Kent McLaughlin Scholarship for Working Potters.

Kent McLaughlin was a wonderful potter, neighbor, human, and friend of the school. He succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2021. Kent had a vision for a Penland scholarship that would meet the needs of studio potters who make their living selling their work, and in five short months, with contributions from 117 donors, Kent’s friends and family have created a $100,000 endowment to fund this scholarship in perpetuity, The first scholarship will be awarded this summer.

The scholarship will cover the full cost of a Penland summer workshop—in any studio—and will grant a stipend of $1,000 per week to offset the artist’s time away from their studio production. The scholarship does not have a work requirement. To be eligible, applicants must have had a full-time studio practice for at least one year and will need to provide a résumé that demonstrates that they have been making their living solely by selling their work. They will also be asked to provide five images of their work.

In announcing the successful fundraising for the scholarship, Kent’s wife and studio mate, Suze Lindsay, said, “I am unable to find the words to say how much this means to me personally and to our family and community as we honor Kent’s legacy as a working potter and workshop instructor. Penland School is near and dear to our hearts. Kent and I both trained there early in our careers and found the experience an invaluable gift.”

Please share this information with anyone who might benefit from the opportunity.

General summer scholarship information and the link to the application form can be found here.  

Here’s how to apply for the Kent McLaughlin scholarship.

  • Open the scholarship application form in Slideroom.
  • Fill out the first two pages, which are required for all applications.
  • If you would also like to be considered for non-merit scholarships, fill out page three.
  • Go to page four, answer Question 1, and upload five images of your work.
  • Click the button under Question 5. This will open a number of secondary questions.
  • Check Box 5.7, which applies only to this scholarship.
  • If you would also like to be considered for other merit scholarships, check any other boxes that apply to you.
  • Submit your application by 11:59 ET on February 17.

About Kent McLaughlin

In the early 1990s, Kent (a.k.a. Chet, Chester) worked at Penland as services coordinator and then as facilities manager. In 1995, Kent and Suze bought a farmhouse in Bakersville, added a studio, and opened their doors as Fork Mountain Pottery in 1996.

Kent taught at Penland a number of times, sometimes by himself and sometimes with Suze. He also taught at Haystack, Anderson Ranch, Arrowmont, the Curaumilla Art Center in Chile, and the Jingdzhen Ceramic Institute in China. He helped start the Potters of the Roan, Spruce Pine Potters Market, and MICA Gallery.

Kent made functional pots in stoneware and porcelain. He described the look of work as “simple and quietly decorated surfaces made with a wax resist technique, layering glazes while using my own studio-made deer tail brushes.”

But most importantly, he was a funny, warm-hearted, positive person who always had time for other people and welcomed everyone into whatever he was doing. Any day that involved seeing him was a better day.


Kent McLaughlin memorial
In September 2021, many of Kent’s family and friends gathered at Penland for a beautiful celebration of his life.

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Summer 2022 Scholarships!

Apply by February 17.
326 summer scholarships will be selected by application.

Penland scholarships are integral to creating an inclusive and dynamic creative community—one that values the energy that comes from mixing many artistic visions and personal backgrounds. Scholarships help make Penland’s workshops accessible to people who could not otherwise afford them, and they create opportunities for people who have been historically underrepresented in the craft world. Included among our scholarships are 31
 specifically reserved for people of color, and an additional 10 that are reserved for people of color, people with disabilities, or veterans. For more information about other scholarships that target specific demographics, please click HERE.

We have other scholarships that are awarded through different selection processes, but 326 will be awarded through the Slideroom application process.

We have made some changes to reduce barriers in our scholarship application process:

  • No images required for most scholarships:
    Most of our full scholarships no longer require images of the applicant’s work. There are some exceptions: studio assistantship applications require images, and a few scholarship funders have asked that we include artistic ability as a factor in selection. Of the 326 scholarships offered through the Slideroom application, only 71 require images of work. This number includes the 38 studio assistantships available by application. 
  • No letters of recommendation:
    Letters of recommendation are no longer required. Instead, we just ask applicants to provide contact information for two references, which may be professional, academic, or personal. 
  • Only $5 to apply:
    The scholarship application fee has been reduced to $5. (If selected for a scholarship, applicants will be charged a non-refundable $25 processing fee.) 
Penland offers scholarships in five categories:

Room and Board?
-Housing: hostel-style accommodations, accommodating up to 13 students.
-Meals: three meals each day provided at The Pines dining hall.

Work Requirement?
During the session, work-study students work on a variety of service tasks, usually cleaning, food service support, or dishwashing. Studio assistants have a work assignment within their workshop. Read more details HERE.

We hope you will apply!

Details about scholarships and the application process can be found HERE.

  • All applications require:
    -Nonrefundable $5 Slideroom fee.
    -Contact information for two references
    -Minimum age of 18
    -Statement of need
  • Some applications require:
    -Images of your work
    -A statement about your artistic experience and your interest in the particular workshop(s) you are applying for.
  • Recipients of scholarships:
    -Will be notified by April 10 and asked to pay in full by April 15.
    -Pay a $25 application fee

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Sleigher; a Sleigh in a Day

Sleigh-in-a-Day! Winter residents Avery Newt and Maria Fernanda Nuñez prepared for our recent snowstorm by creating their custom sled… “SLEIGHER!” Constructed of kerf-bent plywood, it is lined with cork, embellished with colored pencils, and made extra speedy with shellac and wax!

We checked in with Avery and Mo ahead of the storm as they were putting on the finishing touches in the Penland Wood Studio spray booth. They walked us through the custom colored penciled dashboard, flames, and “wheee” license plate.

Avery Newt is the wood studio assistant during winter residency and Maria Fernanda Nuñez has been a Penland Core Fellow since February of 2020. During winter residency in the Wood Studio, “Mo” has been working on a juicer that was begun over the summer during Sylvie Rosenthal’s workshop. In addition to his studio assistant responsibilities, Avery has been working to create a walnut box with compound angles.

We are happy to report that “Sleigher” wooshed down the knoll most elegantly. Well done, Mo and Avery!

This is an embedded video. If you are having trouble viewing it, please click HERE.