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.
Last Friday, at an otherwise happy, end-of-session show-and-tell, there were some red-rimmed eyes and sad faces as we tried to process the news that Anthony Bourdain had died. Not only that he was gone, but that a man who embodied a full embrace of life had died by his own hand.
We admired Bourdain for the same reasons other people did: his intelligence, his curiosity, his storytelling, his low-tolerance for bullshit, his excellent writing, his great voice, his charismatic persona, and his eager willingness to eat noodles on a street in Taiwan in the middle of night and tell the rest of us all about it. We also admired him for his deep appreciation of skilled making, perfected attention — in other words, craft.
Bourdain was identified mostly with food and travel, but in recent years, thanks to his association with The Balvenie scotch company, he had also become a spokesperson for craft. As part of a generous campaign to identify itself as a craft business, The Balvenie has partnered with the American Craft Council to establish a major craft award.And they created Raw Craft, a series of beautifully produced video profiles of people who make knives, shoes, furniture, saxophones. A 2016 episode featured blacksmith and Penland neighbor Elizabeth Brim. Bourdain hosted the series, engaging these makers in the same kind of intelligent and appreciative conversation he brought to decades of interactions with cooks, chefs, and eaters all over the world.
Elizabeth was teaching a Penland workshop when Bourdain and the production crew spent a day filming her. Half of the piece takes place in Elizabeth’s studio; the other half is at Penland with her students. The producer asked us to keep Bourdain’s visit quiet so they wouldn’t be interrupted by a fan mob, but during the time he was on campus, a steady trickle of admirers passed through with words of appreciation. Bourdain was low-key, friendly, and kind to everyone. He introduced himself to each person by saying, “Hi, I’m Tony.” The last bit of video was shot at a Spoon in Spruce Pine, and when it was finished, he hung out for a couple of hours, chatting with whoever sat next to him and trading opinions with the bartender about the right way to make barbecue. It was clear to everyone that he was a person with high standards but no pretense.
There have been many tributes written in the past few days, including this beautiful piece by his friend Helen Rosner, who writes about food for the New Yorker. In a recent conversation with chef David Chang (also a friend of Bourdain’s) Rosner was asked what advice she’d give an aspiring food writer. Her answer was inspiring: “Don’t become a food writer,” she said. “Just become a writer….Be a really good journalist. Be a really good thinker. Be a person who wants to know how all the threads in the world connect to all the other threads.”
Anthony Bourdain was an excellent writer and a brilliant TV personality. But, above all, he was that person Helen Rosner described: a good thinker who wanted to know how all the threads in the world are connected. Some of us may never understand the way he died, but that won’t keep us from appreciating a life so well lived. Thanks, Tony.
Will Maguire, from Elderslie, Australia, and Sven Bauer, from Womrath, Germany, spent the last two weeks of January in the Penland iron shop as part of this year’s winter residency. They met a decade ago when they worked for a time in the same blacksmith’s shop in England. After returning to their respective countries and being out of touch for a few years, they reconnected through their mutual friend Rick Smith, who is a Penland instructor and a former resident artist. Rick had told both of them about Penland, and they decided to use the winter residency as a chance to work together again.
“We work in small shops by ourselves, and this was a good chance to do some work around other people,” Will said. Their plan was to make collaborative work, but the projects they set up for themselves didn’t really gel. The attempt did result, however, in great conversations and useful critiques. And everyone who passed through the studio could attest to the fact that they each made some beautiful work.
Asked why they wanted to have this reunion at Penland, Sven answered, “I don’t know of any place in Europe where we could do this—to be able to do an artist residency of a few weeks in a shop with this kind of equipment. This does not exist for blacksmithing. There are programs like this for musicians, writers, and painters, but not for what we do. It’s also been great to visit the other shops, see what everyone else is doing, and talk to people working on other mediums with a similar intent.”
They expect to meet up at Penland again, and we hope they will.