Penland staff recently had a nice collaboration with Youth OutRight—an Asheville-based organization that supports LGBTQIA+ youth ages 11-20. The group has been having weekly video hangouts throughout the pandemic, and Penland studio operations manager Amanda N. Simons, and facilities maintenance technician Lindsay PB Jones attended one of these meetings to get to know the group a bit and find out if there were activities they were interested in that Penland could support.
The result was packages containing colored pencils, watercolor paints, art paper, Sculpey, embroidery and cross-stitch kits, pamphlet-making kits, and mug cake ingredients. Warren Wilson College donated tea grown on their campus for inclusion. And, best of all, a zinecreated by Amanda and Lindsay. The zine included tips for watercolor painting and sewing, ideas for self-care activities, and, of course, cool illustrations.
Penland provided the materials, Penland housekeepers Derek Freeman and Susie Pendley did the assembly, and Youth OutRight delivered the packages to twenty folks in their group. A good time was had by all.
Barry Lopez, who died in late December, was a writer and thinker of great depth and clarity. He was known for writing about the relationship between the natural world and human culture and for his explorations of intimacy, ethics, and identity. His books include Arctic Dreams, which won a National Book Award, Of Wolves and Men, eight works of fiction, and his final collection of essays titled Horizon.
In the fall of 2011, Barry and his wife, writer/editor Debra Gwartney, spent two weeks at Penland as part of the Andrew Glasgow Writers Residency. He explored a number of studios, engaging with materials and tools, listening, and asking questions.
Barry gave a brilliant presentation—to a pin-drop-quiet, packed hall—about what he described as the “thorny problem” of how artists might choose to respond to social or political concerns. By way of examples, he read a short piece of fiction he wrote at the request of the climate change organization 350.org (available here) and a short essay on the subject of species diversity commissioned by the Kyoto Journal (available here). And he told a remarkable story about his involvement (along with potter Richard Rowland) in a project of reconciliation between the Comanche Nation and Texas Tech University.* It was an inspiring evening that will be long remembered by everyone who was there.
Near the end of the visit, Barry was interviewed by Penland’s communications manager Robin Dreyer about his time at Penland, his love of tools, and his writing process. We published a short excerpt from that conversation at the time. In honor of Barry’s passing, we’re sharing a longer version with you now.
Could you briefly describe what you did here?
I came with just a handful of ideas that I knew I would shape once I began to meet people and see what their interests were, and how I could participate here, how I could become a colleague of craftspeople and artists here. Those people with whom I developed some rapport were welcoming about me coming into their studios, and then at meals, having conversations with people, and having them say, “Well, why don’t you come by and see what we’re doing?” I know a little bit about some of these crafts and was eager to learn more, especially about iron work.
I had a terrific conversation one morning with [iron instructor] Vivian Beer and saw that a lot that was going through her mind was also going through my mind, but my thoughts had to do with writing. And that was a point of orientation for me; I realized that one thing I might be able to offer would be to talk about writing as a craft, and see how that might reverberate with what people were doing so it would be a mutually informing conversation. It seemed that a way I might make myself useful in this environment would be to provide another perspective about making. I know that in conversations people have here about printmaking, or metalsmithing, or woodworking, there are certain things that are shared, and one thing that we all share is we have an internal psychology or psyche and personal history, and we try to bring that to the work that we’re doing.
I think the last thing you want to do as a guest resident is stay locked up somewhere and have nothing at all to do with other people. If you’re going to come to Penland, part of the experience is geographical, part of the experience is aesthetic, and a third part of the experience is conversation with fellow makers.
In your book About This Life, you make a reference to the culture of hand tools. Could you talk a little bit about what you meant by that, and why you think it’s of value? Human beings, of course, have a very long involvement historically with tools and implements, and part of our sense of self-worth and sense of dignity as people comes from the skill with which we make and use tools. We make tools that are beautiful, we make tools that are useful, and often we make a useful tool that’s beautiful. That is a kind of calling to me, and certain tools suggest an intimacy with material that is the antithesis of an electronic involvement with material.
Part of what Penland seems to be about is people trying to stay in touch. By that I mean, through their tools, to stay in touch with the raw materials of the earth, with plants from which ink comes, with iron, with metals of other sorts, with stones, with the lead that’s in pencils, with all of these things that come up out of the earth and are used to keep going the idea that it is a good thing and probably fundamentally necessary for civilization to stay in intimate touch with the earth. That, for me, is a lot of what’s going on in craft.
When you see somebody in conversation with a piece of wood, in a conversation with metal or paper, the conversation is antiphonal. I think there is a way to imagine imposing your will on the material, but there is another way, and that is to have a conversation with the material. To, if you’ll permit the figure of speech, be asking the material what it wants; you know what you want. The part that’s very attractive to me about the crafts is the negotiation around a proposal, rather than a negotiation around an imposition. The difference would be instead of hammering on something to force it to be what you want, to work with something to find out what is within it.
What’s happening at Penland is people are maintaining a long history of using tools to stay in touch: with each other through the sharing of art, and with the materials that are used to make art and crafted things. I would say that Penland is a place that’s feeding the fire. There’s everything to feel good about at Penland because in addition to making all this beautiful work, it maintains a tradition of honest and good relationships with the earth.
Could you talk a little bit about your process as a writer?
It’s all intuitive. I don’t have a rigid schedule that I follow. The process is different in fiction than it is in nonfiction. When I’m trying to frame a piece of nonfiction, I’m always using my notebooks and, looking back, I seem to spend a certain amount of time collecting material—maybe years—and then there will be an intense period of reviewing all those notes, followed by a period of nonstop writing. In fiction, I’ll have a line in my head, maybe the first line of a story, and it’ll be there for an hour, or 25 years, and then I’ll pull on it, and I’ll start going, but I don’t have a process of preparation for writing fiction.
The keynote of the process for me is paying attention. I often say that the first rule of everything is to pay attention— the first rule of your marriage, the first rule of your work, the first rule of your spiritual practice is to pay attention.
Do you have a sense of what you might take away from being here?
Camaraderie. And another renewal of my commitment to a task that I see as fundamental to the preservation of a civilization. I think what goes on here, if we didn’t have this, the loss would be incalculable. I’m glad to have been a visitor, somebody just passing through, glad to be here.
*An account of the efforts at reconciliation between the Comanche Nation and Texas Tech University, written by Henry Chappell, can be found here.
NOTE: If you are seeing this by e-mail, you may be getting it for the second time. We had a website glitch yesterday and the original post was lost, so we had to post it again and these things get sent out automatically.
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! Stephen and Daniel are hoping to work together again in the Penland iron studio in the near future. We are hoping for 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.
At the end of March, we posted a video of the ceremony to name the Penland clay studio in honor of Bobby Kadis. On April 6, we were notified that Bobby had died from the cancer he had been wrestling with for seven years. He was 83. Back in 2015 Penland archivist Carey Hedlund and Jasmin McFayden, the director’s assistant, spent an afternoon talking to Bobby and prepared a tribute for that year’s auction catalog. We have adapted that tribute here to honor Bobby.
“I was sort of all business and this Penland experience shook me up.”
Bobby discovered clay more than forty years ago at a Sunday in the Park festival in Goldsboro, North Carolina. “There was a guy out there on a kick wheel, throwing pots,” he remembered. “I stood there and watched for a long time and within a week my wife Claudia had signed me up for his class at the arts center.” In 1978 Bobby came to Penland as a beginner—he’d just graduated from pinch pots to the kick wheel. His first workshop here was taught by the great ceramist Robert Turner, and Bobby found himself in a position he recognized as “far away from anything that I had ever experienced.”
“Bob Turner was a philosopher. All he wanted to do was get into your head, to make sure you understood what you were making and what you should be thinking about when you do it.”
Bobby was baffled by this new experience and Turner’s teaching style, but he came to recognize and value what Turner was doing: challenging his students to see, perceive, and to care in new ways. The two men forged a friendship and shared an ongoing conversation about life and clay. Bobby said that this first Penland workshop changed his life. Over the years he studied with many of the important artists of late 20th century ceramics. He reached beyond the boundaries of his career as a commercial real estate developer and became a maker in his own right.
“Why in the world would I want to be on this board? I go up to Penland and it’s Magic Mountain and everything runs gorgeously and I have a fabulous time.”
In addition to being a student, Bobby served for sixteen years on Penland’s board of trustees, including two years as chair. He was a voice for the student experience, a friend to the staff, and deeply involved as an advisor for the school’s operations. He also co-chaired, with Cynthia Bringle, the 2001-2004 Preserve Penland Campaign, which raised $11.5 million for the school’s infrastructure, endowment, and operations.
“I’ve been a part of a lot of history with this school. I feel like I’m—amazingly—always around when something interesting happens.”
Bobby forged an extraordinary relationship with Penland and maintained a unique vantage point. He knew every director except founder Lucy Morgan, and was a friend and advisor to most of them. He was a voice of reason in difficult times. And he had fun: attending dance parties in Bill Brown’s living room, Poly Proms at Northlight, and an impromptu modern dance performance on the porch of Dora’s Place. He experienced the many charms of Penland’s housing–over the years, he slept in almost every building–and, before the whole clay studio was named for him, he was honored with the Bobby Kadis Slop Bucket.
“Right away, I feel like if I can delve into it, I can be helpful.”
In addition to his work with Penland, Bobby was a tireless advocate for the arts across North Carolina, serving on the North Carolina Arts Council board for twenty years and creating the North Carolina Arts Council Foundation. From 2008 to 2013, he was a member of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, which honored him with their 2014 Distinguished Public Service Award. And we always knew which car was Bobby’s after he was given the Arts North Carolina license plate number 0001.
Bobby Kadis had a generosity of spirit accompanied by enthusiasm, clarity, modesty, and ambitious determination. His generosity, expertise, and advocacy touched scores of people–locally, regionally, and nationally. He made countless friends and colleagues while championing the arts with an energy and passion few individuals could muster.
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 crew is working hard all week to get so many things ready for the beginning of summer workshops on May 26. They are, of course, the Penland Core Fellows: a remarkable group of artists who live together in a big house on Penland campus, take workshops throughout the year, push their work in new directions, and do all sorts of important jobs for the school. They are dressed in camouflage because they are busy and don’t want to be interrupted so they figured they’d be harder to find this way.
Nah, they just decided it was just camo day.
Left to right: SaraBeth Post, Mia Kaplan, L Autumn Gnadinger, Erika Schuetz, Kento Saisho, Josh Fredock, Devyn Vasquez, Kat Toler, Scott Vander Veen.