During our first summer session, sculptor and paper wizard Imin Yeh taught a beautiful workshop on designing and building forms from sheets of paper, with an emphasis on representing familiar objects. During her stay at Penland, Imin quietly placed several of her astonishing trompe l’oeil pieces in places where only a few people were likely to notice them.
This phone jack, outlet, and charger were on a wall in the paper studio, and were hard to spot even when looking for them. Yes, these are made entirely from cut and folded paper. The little balls above and below each piece are the heads of the push pins that are holding them in place. These pieces are part of an ongoing series called “Paper Power.”
We don’t know if anyone tried to plug anything into them.
The hardest thing about not holding workshops this summer is knowing that so many of you are missing out on the incredible interactions and relationships and skill building that time at Penland fosters. We believe there’s no substitute for this intense, in-person learning. But we also know that, wherever they are, our instructors are a generous group with a lot to teach and share. So, in that spirit, we’re checking in with a handful of them who would have been here teaching at the start of our summer sessions. We hope their words, images, and short videos light a creative spark in you—may you nourish it until the next time we can be together in the studios again! #PenlandEverywhere
I miss being part of the creative community at Penland this year. Since the pandemic I have been printing, making short videos and bending branches around the corners of my studio. There is something about a stick at 90-degree angle that feels so wrong and unnatural that somehow feels right. Some days I am completely focused in the studio and know where I am headed. On other days I am restless, totally lost and wander from one project to the next.
Sometimes being stuck, however frustrating, is a good thing. I have been reflective about my work, humanity and how we are all connected. My agitation has kept me moving and I have gotten back in touch with what really drives my creative practice. Exploring new materials with no particular outcome in mind is one of those places. With exhibitions postponed and projects cancelled having time to play has been a gift.
Wishing everyone good health and abundant creativity.
Right now I’m working on a series of three large-scale collages made from cloth I wove and dyed by hand. These works combine the slow, methodical and thoroughly planned process of weaving, which I use to create raw material for collage with the spontaneous and playful puzzle-like creation of the final piece. Because the handwoven cloth is so dense it has a real weight and presence as a material, and putting the cut pieces together truly feels like building or sculpting.
When I started this series (still working on the title), I had a few things in mind that have been guiding the work: landscape, mountains, language, atmosphere, air, ice and water, chaos and order. I began this work a few months before quarantine, with seven huge panels of handwoven cloth in whites and creams of seven different materials (cotton warp woven with: linen, alpaca, bleached cotton, natural cotton, mohair, silk, and merino), which I overdyed in seven colors. Those cloths were then divided for the three large collages: the one you see on the wall is the largest and only vertical of the three, the other two are landscape orientation. The second one is finished and partially rolled up on the table, and I’m about to start on the third from the remaining pieces!
This is an image of my work space at Sawyer Street Studios in South Portland ME, a ceramics facility I purchased and renovated with three other women artists in 1988. We’re still going strong after all these years! The work you see here is from my most recent firing. All of my pieces are slab constructed with glazes and slips applied in layers, fired to 04 in oxidation. My reference is to various kinds of structures, some as small as letters of the alphabet, others large scale architectural and industrial forms. The idea is to refer rather than replicate. Tarpaper is an integral part of my idea generation and working process, used as maquette, template and mold. The patterns you see in the back left help me to envision 3-D form. A visit to my website will show you closer images of pieces, most of which are primarily clay, but some incorporate other materials.
In German usage, a metal designer is also called an artist blacksmith—that means blacksmith and art, or craft and design, or hand and head, or art and skill.
As an artisan, it is very important to me personally that I first make sure that I have the techniques to realize my ideas with my hands. So, on the drawing board, I already have certain steps of realization in mind. However, this is not always possible, especially if the idea is completely new. I first try to create the idea in a different, softer material and then use a metal model to get closer to the original. Many of my works were created as models before I made the original in the workshop.
I would have liked to follow this approach in my workshop at Penland: Get to know techniques and then create an idea from head to hand.
In an alternate reality, right now I would be immersed in the intensity of studio practice, the richness of relationships, and the abundance of fantastic food that is Penland. I would be teaching Say It Softly, a workshop driven by my own studio work of the last three years. We would be translating words into physical textile forms with processes like appliqué, reverse appliqué, piecing, embroidery, and embellishment (with loads of sequins). Instead, I am making masks and preparing to teach weaving at Appalachian State University as it was never intended: online.
I can only mentally justify my creative practice right now if it in some way gives something to others. Part of that drive has resulted in masks to give away (though certainly not at the same mass scale as so many artists right now), but a larger part has been modeling for my weaving students that the woven world is bigger than looms.
When my students at Appalachian State University left for spring break, their first major projects were almost finished on their looms. They had just started learning the language of weaving in January, and were ready to start speaking in visual sentences when their progress was halted. I promised to show them that weaving can happen anywhere and with anything, and so—in the last two months of the semester—I wove patterns (both complex and simple) throughout my home, using the obvious choices of fabric and yarn, but also things like tights, exercise equipment, spaghetti, and toilet paper in temporary installations. This practice was incredibly cathartic for me. It challenged that side of my brain that craves problem-solving and physical making, while providing what feels like meaningful examples to my students.
Now, I am preparing for the next iteration of weaving instruction, this time 100% online in a condensed five-week summer session. After teaching weaving on treadle looms for years, I am rethinking the entire woven world, and—for the first time—preparing instructional videos for my students. I am also considering how to respond to the incredible limitations of teaching and learning in this format: there is no direct physical interaction, there is no studio community, there is no yarn inventory. I am certain that the class will not be perfect, but I am also certain that my thinking and teaching about weaving will be forever changed.
My studio is a hot mess right now, with half-finished projects scattered everywhere and finished work layered on the walls, as daily reminders of canceled exhibitions. Fabric from my extensive stash is washed, ironed, cut, and/or sewn as it makes the slow transformation into masks. Yarn—from the scrap bin of the ASU fibers studio—blocks my path through the room as I obsessively, painstakingly disentangle and organize it to send off to my summer weaving students. I have no idea when “normal” will return, nor what my “real” studio work will look like when it does. For now, though, I am content to make a tiny contribution toward simply surviving this time, and am grateful to have the space and resources to do so.
Music and chocolate keep spirits uplifted.
Muse and stupidity approach in the wee hours.
All the cards are held in my hand.
Playing with the game helps to shape the quality of my life.
Born and raised in Japan and now resident in the U.S., I am fascinated by the universality of human nature, on the one hand, and its unique individuality, on the other. My work inevitably reflects on my own personality, experiences, feelings, and beliefs. The discipline of Japanese ethics, aesthetics, and culture was embedded in me before I recognized it. Drawing on these cultural roots, my technical training, and decades of making, I seek to bridge the structure of the traditional craft and the freedom of contemporary art and design.
Whether I am channeling my inner chaos into an abstract sculptural form or a functional decorative object, the challenge is how to embed poetic qualities in work. Fabricating in wood with my own two hands is as essential to me as breathing. It is how I think, how I shape my life, how I relate to the world. In the hope of sharing compassion, encouragement, and inspiration, I play my hand as best I can.
Recently my studio practice has slowed down as I ramped up watching my two kids full time. Catching a few hours each day has changed the way I have approached my creative time. Reading more poetry, working on pots for the garden, visiting ideas that have been on the back burner, and enjoying my kitchen pots even more. Unlike a lot of my colleagues, I am finding that because of the kids, I am away from the computer way more than usual. This means my emails take a little longer to get responded to and I am not synced into all the zoom possibilities, but I am engaging in my home space in a way that I have not since we moved here 5 years ago. Anyways, all this to say- I miss you and look forward to face to face connections soon. Be well. Lindsay
It’s so easy to assume that life will continue as we imagine it will. Maybe the challenge of our changing lives is to become more comfortable with the unknown. After a bit of a roller coaster ride, I feel my equilibrium and buoyancy returning. I seek solace in my studio, and feel so fortunate to have this life of clay already established, and a safe place to explore and imagine. Seeking beauty and working with color is especially uplifting. Daily rambles outside have led me to explore some of the old cemeteries in the area. I find the strolls peaceful, cementing relationships between the past, the present and the future. The two jars fronting this image are the first in a series responding to the grace and simplicity of grave monuments. The new memory I’m adopting is that this space between us all can hold humor, delight, surprise, new solutions, and thinking before action or words.
When visitors walk into the new exhibition at the Penland Gallery, they may feel a bit overshadowed. The six large steel sculptures by Hoss Haley are almost out of scale with the room, and their complex forms seem precariously balanced—as though they might tumble, roll, or shift at any moment. Titled Correction Line, the show runs through September 15.
The exhibition’s title refers to a land-surveyor’s technique that Haley was familiar with from his childhood on a Kansas farm. Beginning in the late 18th century, Midwestern land was divided into 640-acre squares that did not take into account the curvature of the earth. The solution was to periodically shift the placement of the squares, introducing what was called a “correction line.” Haley remembers this as a feeling that the orderly geometry of his family’s fields did not quite reflect the shape of the earth. “I had a sense as a child that I was on an orb even though everything around me was flat,” he says. The forms in this show are characterized by planes and straight corners that resolve into sections of spheres, possibly evoking the geometric and geographic tension that was addressed by the correction lines.
Haley’s farm roots also connect directly to his choice of material. Steel is ubiquitous on a farm, and farm steel is constantly rusting and being repaired. Early in life, Haley developed a facility for working with the material, and he has retained a lifelong love for the aesthetic of rust. This aesthetic and a remarkable level of skill are both evident in the pieces in this show, all of which Haley and his assistant fabricated in his Mitchell County studio.
Although these pieces are large for a gallery exhibition, they are not the largest that Haley has executed during his more than 20 years working in North Carolina. He designed and built the beautiful fountain in Asheville’s Pack Square, and he has created large public works for Mecklenburg County, the Charlotte Area Transit System, and the Charlotte Douglas International Airport. His work is also in the collections of the Asheville Art Museum, the Mint Museum, and North Carolina State University. He has had a long relationship with Penland School of Craft as a resident artist and instructor.
Also currently on view at the Penland Gallery is a show of contemporary jewelry made from a variety of materials. Around the building are outdoor sculptures by ceramic artist Catherine White and steel sculptor Daniel T. Beck and an interactive mixed media installation by Jeff Goodman.
Stop by to see it all with your own eyes the next time you’re at Penland! The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10:00 AM-5:00 PM and Sunday, noon-5:00 PM (closed on Mondays). For more information call 828-765-6211 or visit penland.org/gallery.
Last week, while we had visiting artists Cristina Córdova and Jaime Suárez working here on campus, we also had some other special guests: a film crew from the PBS documentary series Craft in America! The team was here to get footage of Cristina and Jaime for an upcoming episode themed around identity. This week, they all traveled to Puerto Rico to do more filming in the place that Cristina and Jaime call home.
We’ll share the episode when it premieres, because you may recognize a place or two in it! In the meantime, you can watch the “Community” episode of Craft in America, which also features scenes shot here at Penland.
Visiting artists are part of every spring and fall concentration at Penland. They help enrich our sessions by bringing new perspectives, skills, and approaches to our studios and sharing their experience with our students. This spring, we’ve been doubly lucky to have two visiting artists, Jaime Suárez and Cristina Córdova. They spent this week working side by side in the studio, pushing clay in very different directions.
In addition to their public lectures at Northlight, both Jaime and Cristina opened up their processes to the community through an afternoon of demonstrations. Jaime walked us through two of his recent experiments with making marks in clay. In one, shown above, he applied a watery clay slip to a crumpled sheet of paper. As the slip pooled and dried, it captured the topography of the paper surface in layers of clay, creating the possibility for a two-dimensional print of a three-dimensional surface. In another process, shown below, Jaime demonstrated how he creates monoprints with just a clay slab and water, altering the image by varying the moisture levels and the impressions on the clay. Like the clay paintings, these prints captured the data of the surface using the inherent colors and qualities of his material.
Cristina, for her part, focused on clay’s incredible sculptural potential. She gave a demonstration of her process for sculpting the human head, starting with a flat slab of paper clay that she formed into a cylinder and then refined. Over the course of half an hour, we watched with awe as the cylinder first took on the rough shape of a human head through pushing and paddling, then developed a ridge at the brow, cavities at the eyes, and protrusions for the nose and lips. To build up the features further and add unique expressions, Cristina built onto them with smaller additions of clay. All the while, she explained the shapes she keeps in mind to guide her sculpting—the egg shape of the head, the teardrop shape formed by the side of the nostril, the three different planes of the lips.
Even though none of our current workshops deal directly with figurative sculpting or painting or making prints, there is a lot of inspiration to be drawn from these demonstrations. We hope all the students who attended will return to their benches, their wheels, and their torches with ideas about how to take advantage of the inherent qualities of their materials to move them in new directions. Thank you, Jaime and Cristina, for being here and sharing so generously!
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.
Penland runs well over 100 workshops every year, and this fast pace means it can be hard to fully appreciate the creative leaps and transformations that happen—quietly but powerfully—in each one. Before we move on to the exciting flurry of summer workshops starting this Sunday, we want to spend another moment or two taking in all the great things that came to life during our spring sessions, from new shoes to new furniture designs to new friendships. Below, we present a mini slideshow of eight photos, one from each of our eight-week concentrations and an extra one of the sweet moments in between. For more spring photos, including shots from our spring one-week workshops, head over here to view our longer album.