Here’s one more #PenlandEverywhere entry from session 2 instructor Stephen Yusko. Stephen wrote to us to present a special project in support of the work of his co-instructor, Daniel Souto. The two met at Penland over twenty years ago—an incredible example of the deep connections forged in our studios! They are looking forward to working together in the Penland iron studio again–sometime in the near future. We are looking forward to that, too.
Daniel Souto and I were scheduled to co-teach Session 2 in the Penland iron studio in June, but, of course, our workshop was cancelled along with all the others. So, instead of working with my friend, I used that time to do something to raise funds to support his amazing project, LaCaravanaEscuela. I made four pairs of Volcano Candleholders and two pairs of Volcano Oil Lamps, which I am selling to support the project. They are $375 per pair with 100% of the funds going toward the purchase of essential tools—mainly anvils and vises, which are nearly impossible to find in Venezuela.
The tools will be used in Souto Studio to train the instructors who go into the mountain communities to teach blacksmithing to farmers so they can make their own farm implements and horseshoes, which are in short supply. LaCaravanaEscuela also donates tools to these communities so they can continue their journey of making and learning.
We are honored to share the work of blacksmith and session 2 instructor Daniel Souto as part of our #PenlandEverywhere series. Daniel’s story is nothing short of remarkable, a true testament to the fundamental power of craft and education. We are proud to have played a small part in his journey, and we can’t wait for a future opportunity to welcome him back to the Penland iron studio. We encourage you all to learn more about Daniel’s efforts at lacaravanaescuela.org or on Instagram at @lacaravanaescuela.
This story goes back to the summer of 1997 when I was 19 years old. I left my country Venezuela for the first time searching for a place where I could learn to forge iron. To my surprise I arrived at Penland School, and at that time I could not have asked for more. I was received by the Penland community, and my first teacher was Stephen Yusko, who became not only my blacksmithing idol but also my English teacher. After taking his class I wanted to stay, so I managed to be around for the rest of the summer learning all that the beautiful Penland community had to teach me… Many years have passed since then, and finally this summer I was invited to co-teach with Stephen Yusko. I could not ask life for more—after more than twenty years I was to be a teacher in that marvelous place, teaming up with my mentor.
Having experienced how education changed my life for the better, I started a few years ago to try to start a blacksmithing school in my country of Venezuela, where I have lived since I came back from Penland in 1999. Of course it has not been an easy journey to work in a country where blacksmithing has vanished from our history due to the discovery of petroleum. I tried in 2010 and invited Stephen Yusko to my workshop in Mérida to teach a class for eight friends in my place called SoutoStudio. It was a blast, but it had so little impact that I kept thinking of new ways to spread the craft.
Ten years have passed since then. Our economy has disappeared as well as our currency, food, gasoline, propane, electricity, medication, and so on. Five million people have emigrated; meanwhile, the ones who stay are trying to find a new way to survive. A few years ago I faced a personal crisis that put me on a split road between leaving or finding a way to stay afloat with my two kids. I sold some heavy machinery I had and started a plan to take a blacksmithing school to the rural areas where people see no way to keep feeding themselves—not for the lack of land or knowledge but for the lack of basic tools to work the soil.
There I was, with a pickup truck and an old VW bus for a week-long camping expedition to teach these farmers to forge their own tools out of scrap steel found on the riverside. Without the need of electricity we forged not only tools but a new future. Thriving is the class we teach and gratitude is the payment. Now that dream is called LaCaravanaEscuela, an educational platform that has transformed the lives of more than a hundred farmers from three different communities all above 10,000 ft high. They have forged all together more than one thousand horseshoes, hundreds of sickles for harvesting their wheat, oatmeal and barley, and there are more and more communities waiting for LaCaravanaEscuela to arrive.
So, since I could not be there at my dreamland place called Penland School of Craft, I remain here teaching more and more farmers to overcome one of the darkest episodes of our history, comparable only to the battle Simón Bolívar fought more than 200 years ago to free our South America from the Spaniards. I do apologize for not being able to be in the second session teaching, but teaching never stops here where a sickle forged out of rebar or a horseshoe set makes the difference to a remote Andean community. These communities now embrace the infinite and sacred power of the fire that transforms not only iron but a whole society pleading for help and knowledge…
Gracias to all of you for being part of my life and part of my new country’s history.
To see LaCaravanaEscuela in action, we highly recommend watching the short film below.
See other #PenlandEverywhere posts here and here for more content by summer 2020 instructors.
What do you do when you want to finish your large, hand-forged utensils with a coat of enamel but they’re too big to fit in any of the enameling kilns? Build a sifting tool, grab a friend, and apply the powder directly to red-hot steel, of course!
The spirit of ingenuity and problem-solving is one thing we cherish about January in the Penland studios. Winter residents are free to go in whatever directions they need to bring their ideas to life. Rachel Kedinger’s enameling experiments (with a little help from fellow blacksmith Meghan Martin!) are just one great example.
Across the country, there is a plethora of organizations doing incredible work to support underrepresented young people in the arts. In New Orleans, YAYA offers free after-school training to local teens in painting, glass, ceramics, mixed media art, and entrepreneurship. In Los Angeles, HOLA’s extensive visual arts programming connects hundreds of students in grades 1-12 with 115 free classes in twenty different art forms. In Newark, NJ, Glassroots provides glass and entrepreneurship programs to underserved youth and young adults in the area.
Similarly, there are incredible craft schools around the USA like Penland, Haystack, Arrowmont, and others that provide emerging and established artists with new skills, inspiration, and an engaged network of peers and mentors. Often times, workshops or residencies at these schools can be pivotal experiences for artists as they explore and establish their careers.
But between these influential youth programs and adult craft schools, a group of artists saw a gap: the many talented, inspired young people who never pursue careers in the arts. How can we continue to support promising young artists once they have aged out of youth art programs? they wondered. How can we better connect them to the incredible opportunities that craft schools offer? How can we enable more of them to thrive as professional artists?
To tackle these questions, they started Crafting the Future this spring, a fledgling collective of artists interested in addressing the lack of racial and ethnic diversity in the craft world:
The fields of craft, art, and design in the United States do not reflect the full spectrum of people in our country. When groups of artists go unrepresented, an inaccurate and incomplete story is being told, sold, and preserved—and everyone loses.
At Crafting the Future, our goal is to increase representation in these disciplines so that we all can benefit from a richer, more diverse story… Working together and combining our resources, we support the careers of young, underrepresented artists by connecting them to opportunities that will help them thrive.
As a first step, Crafting the Future started a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough money to send one alum from YAYA in New Orleans to a summer session at Penland. The campaign quickly drew enough support that they doubled the goal to $8,000, which would cover the costs for two YAYA artists to travel to Penland for a workshop. Thanks to the help of 141 backers, they reached that goal within two weeks.
A few short months later, Tyrik Conaler and Shanti Broom, both young alums of the YAYA program, arrived at Penland for session 2. Tyrik enrolled in Michael Dixon’s oil painting workshop, where he fine tuned both the technical and conceptual aspects of painting through the lens of self-portraiture. At the end of the session, a collaboration between Tyrik and the instructor sparked a bidding war at Thursday night’s scholarship auction. Meanwhile, Shanti was learning to work at the forge and anvil in Shawn Lovell’s iron workshop. “I’ve never done any forging before,” Shanti told me, “But I chose this workshop because it’s something that you don’t see a lot of women doing.” Two weeks later, she had gained enough skill to translate her drawings for an art-deco-inspired gate into metal, and she was eager to keep going.
So is Crafting the Future. The organization plans to raise money to send more students to craft school workshops in summer 2020 based on the success of their 2019 pilot. “I can’t emphasize enough the changes we’ve seen in Tyrik since he’s been back from Penland. Shanti, too,” says Meg, YAYA’s executive director. “It’s particularly cool to provide opportunities like Crafting the Future to older artists because the younger kids really look up to them. We’re now offering special Saturday night studio hours for a select group of artists, building on Tyrik and Shanti’s enthusiasm about being able to work any time of day or night at Penland—it’s quickly becoming something that the younger artists are aspiring to be a part of. The ripple effect is incredible!”
As Crafting the Future explained in their first campaign, “One scholarship won’t change the face of the art world, but it just might change the course of a life. It’s the best way we know to kickstart the change we want to see in our community.” Eventually, as the organization becomes more established, they’d like to work with additional craft schools and provide opportunities like internships, mentorships, and college prep to young artists.
Here at Penland, we’ll be cheering them on the whole way. We’re incredibly proud to build our relationship with Crafting the Future and to welcome the energy and perspective that students like Tyrik and Shanti bring to our studios and our community. We hope that many of you take some time to learn more about the Crafting the Future mission and get involved. You can read about the Crafting the Future vision here and follow them on Instagram here.
In a recent conversation with a student, she talked about her first time at Penland. “I was in a workshop in upper textiles. It was my introduction to screenprinting, and I was blown away,” she said. “Every time I walked up the stairs to the studio, I passed a poster that said ‘Penland changes lives.’ And every time I saw it, I smiled to myself like ‘Yeah, sure does.'”
It’s something we hear quite a lot, in fact: a workshop at Penland is a transformative experience that opens up new questions, new connections, and new paths.
Why not see for yourself? This March 8 – May 1, 2020 we’ll be offering seven different 8-week concentrations, each one an immersive dive into materials and techniques and ideas.
Clay:Parts Unknown with Jenny Mendes Glass:Intentions & Inventions with Dan Mirer Iron:Attention to Detail with Andy Dohner Metals:Wunderkammer with Suzanne Pugh Photo:Processing Process with Mercedes Jelinek Letterpress:Print/Process/Production with Jamie Karolich Textiles:Inside Out: Garment as Identity with Erika Diamond
These are the participants in our Sixth Session iron workshop. Led by instructors Claudio Bottero and Massimiliano Bottero, they spent two weeks working together to create this sculpture, which was designed by Claudio. This picture was taken just after they installed it in between the glass studio and the Northlight building.
Here’s a view of the installation.
Claudio’s concept was that the piece could be filled with wood, lit on fire, and become a torch — functional sculpture!
This steel feather was designed by sculptor Roberto Giordano and created by Roberto and the members of his fourth session workshop in the iron studio. It’s currently sitting on the lawn near The Pines. In a few weeks it will be installed behind the new Northlight building. It will live there until the 2019 auction when some lucky buyer will take it home.
Here’s one of the students working on it during the workshop.