“I’m from Anderson, Indiana, about half an hour north of Indianapolis. I’m the chair of the art department at Pike High School in Indianapolis; it’s a large high school, about 3000 students.
“The Eli Lily Company-they’re a drug company, best known for insulin and penicillin-has a granting program for teachers, called the Lily Teacher Creativity Grant, which focuses on teachers being renewed as people. In that renewal process, which takes place over the summer, they hope that teachers will also return as better teachers. It’s usually a $10,000 grant. The goal is to provide whatever the teacher might need for their renewal process.
“The ceramics teacher in my department wanted to study figurative sculpture; he’d hoped to go to the Kansas City Art Institute for college, because they’re known for that, but he had to stay in Indiana to afford college. He went to Herron, which has a good sculpture program, but the focus wasn’t what he was looking for. When he became a teacher, he found out about the Lily grant, so now he’s going to use it to study figurative sculpture. He applied for a workshop in Italy, which he leaves for soon, and then he’s going to be working at a foundry in South Bend, putting some more pieces of work together. The grant is paying for all of that. I’m sure that in the sculpture and 3D classes he teaches, he’s going to be a better teacher for it.
“In my case, I wanted to do a project representing the insects of Indiana. I originally wanted to sculpt these insects, but when I saw Charity Hall’s class here at Penland (Enamel It, Set It!, 1st Session in the Metals studio), I thought that since she was representing insects in enamel applied to metal, it sounded close enough, and at the same time I received a bunch of enamels from other teachers, and I thought “Hmm, I’ve gotten all these free materials that fit a Penland class about insects… this might be too much of a coincidence to pass up.” So I had to come.
“I teach jewelry and photography. I’ve never taught metals in much depth, but this year I have an intermediate jewelry class. So as I’ve taken notes in class, I’ve made two columns: assignments for myself and assignments for my students.
“My wife, Stephanie, introduced me to Penland. She just graduated with a degree in glass from Anderson University. It was recommended to her to take classes at Penland because of the glass facilities here. She first came two years ago, and she recommended that I come, too.
“This class has been tremendous. I’ve loved it here. I had to go back home over the weekend, to attend my niece’s graduation, and I was sad when I left; it felt like I was leaving forever or something. I was just so happy to be here, with all the instruction and all the techniques that I was learning so quickly, so many that I haven’t yet had a chance to practice them all.
“The class has been a key component in my renewal project. The other students in the class – most of them are around my age, 54ish – they’re very helpful, very talented, they’re very competent, and they’ve been here more than once. A lot of times when I was stuck with a particular technique, they would jump in and say “You could finish this class a lot better if you used this,” or “I took a workshop two years ago in this technique and I think you could use it in your process.” So just being here with this high caliber of students, you learn from being around them, and from them being so helpful and engaged in the work.
“I’ll spend the rest of the summer making my insects of Indiana. I feel sort of guilty; I spent the first week here making test cells, trying out drawing with the enamel, but it wasn’t jewelry. So when I came back from my trip, I decided, “This is a jewelry class and I need to make some jewelry.” When I get home, I’ll go to the Indianapolis Arts Center which has a lot of workshops and great programming there for artists, and I’ll be making those test tiles into metal boxes. It’s going to be a good thing.
“The things that I think are really great about Penland are:
* Limited cell phone reception, so you’re not getting called by your kids or work; you can get a connection, and you can get wi-fi, but it’s a little bit harder, so you’re concentrating instead on the work that’s here.
* The slide shows. I teach photography too, so I’ve talked to the photo instructor, and I liked her presentation. It’s a good chance for someone, even if it’s not their medium, to see what others are doing and increase their vocabulary about other mediums. I think that’s been really helpful.
* Being here in the mountains, on top of a mountain, far away, being this reclusive is really great. You can’t just do a little bit and then run away, come back, and then run away again. You are actually here. This is the experience. I think it’s a life-changing program for me. My wife said it was a life-changing program for her, and I believed her. It was true; she didn’t exaggerate. So I’m very pleased to be her.
* And the food is great”