Chip Thomas, a.k.a. Jetsonorama, is a physician, artist, and activist who lives and works in the Navajo Nation. He spent 10 days at Penland as a visiting artist this spring. Chip gave a beautiful presentation about his art and his life, and he created this piece, which covers two sides of a small storage building called Green Acres.
Chip made the photograph in the Penland clay studio. It was printed in 3-foot-wide vertical strips on an architectural plotter. He carefully applied the strips to the building using acrylic matt medium. He was assisted by Kristyn Watson, who is a student in the spring textiles workshop. Chip developed this method as he created numerous installations on roadside stands, abandoned buildings, and other structures in the Navajo Nation. He has also made posters and large graphics for protest marches and other events, and, through his Painted Desert Project, he has brought other street artists and muralists to the reservation to work with him.
The pots Chip photographed were on their way to the wood kiln, so he titled the installation, Clay Pieces Pretending to be Contestants on The Apprentice (i.e., pots waiting to be fired.)
We’re thrilled to present the Summer 2017 workshop catalog! It includes information about our ninety-seven unique summer workshops, including favorites like wood-fired pottery and letterpress and special offerings like bicycle building and leather inlay. Some workshops are for beginners, some are aimed at intermediate and advanced artists, most are open to students of all levels, and each is taught by knowledgeable artist-instructors. The front and back covers capture the range of our broad Penland community in a series of Penland portraits by resident artist Mercedes Jelinek. Read more about her photographs and all of this summer’s great offerings right here in the catalog.
Registration for summer workshops is open now, and everyone who registers by 5 PM on February 11 will be entered into the early registration lottery. Scholarships are available for all workshops. Apply for scholarships by February 17.
We are currently working on uploading full course information to our website. Look for it online by the end of December, with printed catalogs to follow in early January.
What possibilities do historic photographic processes offer to contemporary artists? What does it mean to make photographic images with chemically-sensitized and processed materials in the digital era? These are some of the questions raised by “This Is a Photograph: Exploring Contemporary Applications of Photographic Chemistry,” the inaugural exhibition at the newly renovated and expanded Penland Gallery & Visitors Center. Curated by Brooklyn-based photographic artist and long-time Penland instructor Dan Estabrook, the exhibition not only reveals some of the arresting possibilities of these processes, it also brings work by world-class image makers to our community here in Western North Carolina.
“This Is a Photograph” displays work by twenty-three artists experimenting with a variety of processes and materials in ways that frequently have little to do with their historic antecedents: tintype images made on found metal objects, large daguerreotypes that look almost holographic, images created by painting directly onto photo paper with chemicals, and images made by igniting gunpowder that had been sprinkled directly onto photo paper, to name a few. As Penland Gallery Director Kathryn Gremley describes, “handmade images created through the complex alchemy of light and chemistry are the common ground of the artists invited by Estabrook for this exhibition.”
“This Is a Photograph” opens on March 22, 2016. The gallery will celebrate with a public reception on Saturday, March 26 from 4:30-6:30 p.m at which Dan Estabrook and some of the artists will be present. The exhibition will be on display through May 1.
Read Dan Estabrook’s essay on the show below, and you can see images of all the work in the show on the Penland Gallery website.
One year ago, I was here at Penland teaching a workshop called “Photography in Reverse,” in which the students and I worked backward through the entire history of photography, stopping at key moments to experiment, play, and think about the nature of each technology. Starting with our smartphones and handheld devices—the very definition of today’s tech—we began to ask ourselves how photography has changed at this critical moment, now that almost all our daily photographic usage is created and printed digitally. At our first step backward in time, with the earliest digital cameras, we learned something crucial: although photography is becoming purely digital, like much else in our life today, we still live in a physical world, and there are artists who will always want to make physical things.
We had to scramble to find the right cords and batteries and software so we could use some early digital cameras from 2001, and it became evident how much harder it was to work with the obsolete technology of 5 or 15 years ago than with the processes of 150 years ago. Most of our computers now can’t run the first version of Photoshop (ca. 1990) or read early Photo CDs or Zip Drives. Even the standard color snapshot is being discontinued, since the machines required to make and develop color films are disappearing for good. The history of photography, like the history of technology in general, seems to suggest that every new system or process is an advancement on the last, making all older forms obsolete. And yet for every technique that has been pronounced dead, there seems to be an artist ready to explore its particular expressive qualities. After all, decades after the invention of mass-produced ceramics, people still want to throw beautiful pots. The artists in this exhibition are each exploring the possibilities of physical and chemical photography to pursue their own contemporary aims, very much in the here and now.
Some are finding a wealth of new beauty in the simplicity of the photographic act—a permanent mark made by the meeting of light and chemistry. Others are deeply engaged with history, in how we look backward from the present or forward to the years ahead. Still others have realized how much can be revealed in the life of a physical photographic object. Any technology that can still be used by artists, whether it’s something that can be handmade or something produced from saved and scavenged machines, is going to have an ongoing parallel history through the work of these artists, not just as a period relic but as a technology carried along into the present with new developments and new meaning for the future.
A decade from now it will likely be easier to make a daguerreotype than to use the iPhone you bought in 2016; in 100 years that will be even more true. In the meantime, there will be artists like these to involve us in the material world in which we live, and to expand the possibilities of just what a photograph is.
Dan Estabrook | Studio Artist | Penland Instructor
The following blog post is a photo slideshow. We recommend viewing it in an Internet browser.
This year’s Penland Community Open House was another big success! Over 700 people from the Penland community came up to try their hand at a new craft. Artists young and old alike were busy forging in the iron studio, flameworking beads in the glass shop, making colorful portraits in the photo studio, creating wooden whistles, and lots more. We’re grateful to all volunteers for helping us to share this fun day with our community, and to all the visitors who join us with such enthusiasm.
Photographer Eric Swanson enjoys shooting images of artists in their studio spaces as one of his “self assignments,” so coming to Penland this summer to teach a workshop on natural light portraiture was an easy fit. He and his students spent the two weeks of session 6 making portraits on the knoll, at the Arbuckle Rodeo, and by the river, but mostly they shot in the Penland studios. The collection of images they produced, including the one above of Eric by student Elizabeth Ortiz, captures both the intense work and the playful nature of summer at Penland. View their portraits here.
Penland School is well-known for its intensive workshops in clay, glass, metals, and other materials traditionally associated with the word “craft.” Penland, however, defines that term quite broadly, and has long offered classes in so-called “fine art” media such as drawing, painting, and printmaking, along with everyone’s favorite unclassifiable medium: photography. The school is currently in the process of planning and raising funds for a new photography studio and, as part of that effort, is involved in an unusual partnership in North Carolina’s Triangle area: an exhibition/auction of work by Penland-affiliated photographers at Chapel Hill’s Cassilhaus, the home and gallery of architect and community activist Ellen Cassilly and AV systems designer, documentary film producer, and arts entrepreneur Frank Konhaus.
Titled An Expansive Vision: Photographers Working for Penland’s Future, the exhibition, which is on view at Cassilhaus until the auction on March 2 and is also available online, features work by 35 photographers who have donated photographs (framed and ready to hang) in support of Penland’s new studio. The photographs vary widely in style, from documentary to nonrepresentational with many stops in between. The methods used to produce the images could almost form a history of photographic technology: several nineteenth century processes are represented along with black-and-white darkroom prints, traditional color processes, and up-to-date archival inkjet prints.
Cassilhaus (seen above) is an unusual venue—a beautiful private home (located in a wooded area just north of Chapel Hill) that incorporates a gallery and a separate apartment that supports an artist residency. “Ellen and I have a long-time connection to Penland,” explains Frank Konhaus. “We have taken several fantastic workshops over the years and have volunteered for the benefit auction. Penland is a rare place the excels in teaching darkroom and alternative photo processes alongside current digital techniques. We are passionate photography collectors and have developed a vibrant artist residency and exhibition program at our home in Chapel Hill. It seemed like a natural fit for us to mount an exhibition and auction here of work by Penland-connected photographers to help support the future of Penland photography program.”
That future will be grounded in a beautiful new studio designed by Ratio Architects of Raleigh. The conceptual design was led by architect Louis Cherry working closely with Penland staff members and a design committee that included five photographers with close ties to Penland’s workshop program. The goal for the new studio is to allow Penland to teach any kind of photography that has ever existed. It will be a flexible space that will support nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first century technologies: from daguerreotypes to digital. The design has now been completed by a team from Ratio led by Jesse Green. It will be part of a two-building complex that also includes a paper-making studio and a large social hall, and the project will include a landscape plan by Walt Havener of Surface 678 in Durham.
Fundraising for the project is ongoing, and all proceeds from the Cassilhaus auction will support the new photography studio. The photographs in the auction can be viewed on this page, which also has information about absentee bidding, viewing the exhibition by appointment, and making reservations for the auction on March 2. Seating for the event is quite limited and it is likely to fill, but there’s room for an unlimited number of absentee bidders. An absentee bid form allows bidders to name their highest bid for any photographs they are interested in. Bids will be placed for them (up to their stated maximum) by Penland staff members during the live auction.