PENLAND SCHOOL OF CRAFT – NOT REAL LIFE (my small ode to a place I love).

This post is dedicated to my friend, master metalsmith and teacher Chuck Evans (1940-2015)

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Approaching the Ceramics and Metals Studio, Penland School of Craft

It is early Saturday morning and I really should be lingering in bed in a haze of lovely weekend sleep instead of sitting here typing on my computer. It can’t be helped: I cannot get Penland out of my mind.

Penland: Not Real Life

Penland: Not Real Life

I erased everything I have written in this post up to now because it is saying what I want (or mean) to say all wrong. A clean slate is the only solution and I feel better already. Sometimes fixing something is a lot more difficult than starting anew, so here goes.

One View

One View

I have found an excuse to write about Penland School of Craft numerous times in this blog because it is so easy to attach it to food, which in turn I can attach to people, and the people who you meet at Penland are well-worth talking about.

A picture of typical food at Penland (just to keep within the rules!)

Typical food at Penland (just to keep within the rules!). This was what I had for dinner August 13th 2015 – I remember it well as it was also my son Calder’s 16th birthday – what a place to celebrate!

This August at Penland will standout as one of my very best visits.

One of the many beautiful ways to choose to get you to your destination

One of the many beautiful ways to choose to get your to your destination

Connecting a life in Ireland in 1986 and finding another life in the United States took two things: Grennan Mill Craft School and Penland School of Craft.

a peak at the view

Ireland – where I grew up

While going to school in Ireland it was impressed upon me that if you didn’t draw, you were not an artist or artistic. This was certainly the parochial view, where I grew up anyway. If you wrote, you were are writer, but if you fiddled around like I did making jewelry out of electrical wire and other scraps I found, it was not really anything – just kind of crafty.

The hike route to Pedlers Lake (an ancient Glacier paradise) county Cork

The hike route to Pedlers Lake (an ancient Glacier paradise) at Conor Pass, the highest mountain pass in Ireland and one of the highlights of the Dingle Peninsula

So I did what I was advised to do after secondary school and studied business in college – no Art School for me!

Reading on The Craft house porch, Penland

Reading on The Craft house porch, Penland

I actually loved college though. I’m just one of those people who love the feel of a classroom. Think about it, you get to sit somewhere or be somewhere all day long where other people (teachers) feed you information. I suppose when you attach the word “learning” to the experience it feels like work.

Leaving the Craft House Porch

Leaving the Craft House Porch

Nowadays when I ask my kids “well what did you learn in school today?”, I really want to know…..like what did you learn, because I want to know that too!! Ha, I just cannot help myself. They put up with me though and are used to my wanting to be involved (home schooling them for years took care of that!)

The Pines at Penland which is where we eat meals had

The Pines at Penland , where we dine, has a blackboard at the beginning of the line announcing the highlight of the meal. This year there was a particularly imaginative person doing the job. This was a standout!

This summer my son had to read a book, The People’s History of America by Howard Zinn for his upcoming history class, and write a synopsis of the book as he read. He was daunted, and I was exciting. This was the perfect opportunity for me to learn the history (albeit, a point of view of history) of the United States for once and for all. I had learned lots of bits and pieces over the years but I wanted a clear view, a timeline, and this book was the answer.

One of our reading spots

One of our reading spots (outside The Pines)

We read the book in all sorts of places over the summer and discussed and argued. I was completely fascinated from beginning to end and highly recommend it to anyone who wants to read a history book but doesn’t want it to feel like school.

There is the place we happily crashed this year and every year that we visit western North Carolina. It is our friend Shawn's

There is the place we happily crashed this year and every year that we visit western North Carolina. It is our friend Shawn’s House which is located exactly 2 miles from Penland School. (That is Shawn making our dinner!)

Oops – getting off track a bit, but back to me and my connecting the dots of my life. After college I was still itchy to “make stuff” as I referred to my little diversion. I got a friend to make me a big wooden board that closed up like a suit case from which to hang and transport my wiry earrings and necklaces and proceeded to hawk them on the street in town – very “hippie” thing to do in those days, but I was quite serious about making money to live on while satisfying my desire to create.

Dave took Shawn (his college freind) t drobe the 6600 miles to Penland

Dave (my man) hijacked Shawn one weekend (they were in college together) and drove the 600+ miles to Penland from Pennsylvania in 1990. He has been there ever since.

I heard about Grennan Mill through my then boyfriend (still friends – hi David!) and so I decided to check it out. It was in its infancy but it had the clout of  Kilkenny Design Workshops behind it (famous for its tradition of silver and silversmiths).

ounded in 1981, Grennan Mill Craft School is located in the converted grain lofts of the Island Mill, an old flour mill dating from the 18th century, on the banks of the River Nore in Thomastown Co. Kilkenny.

Founded in 1981, Grennan Mill Craft School is located in the converted grain lofts of the Island Mill, an old flour mill dating from the 18th century, on the banks of the River Nore in Thomastown Co. Kilkenny. (you can see canoes here on the river – well we used to take out a dingy old boat when it was nice. There is also a weir right there by the mill and I experienced the most magical hour or so watching salmon jumping the weir back to their spawning grounds. These fish were desperately torn up but determined to make the trip home)

A group in Ireland called AnCO ( it is/was a Training Advisory Service set up by the government to promote skills development within industry) was sponsoring an all silversmithing course at the mill for the first time (up to then students studied a wider range of crafts while there – ceramics, metal, textiles). It was full-time and the students got a small stipend so they did not have to work while studying.

Grennan Mill

Grennan Mill’s lovely Windows

Most everyone applying was involved in some way with art and/or craft so I went to the interview full of angst and apprehensions. I took my giant wooden suitcase with me and sat across a desk from the then director the lovely George Vaughan and my prospective teacher, the wildly talented and quirky Peter Donovan (he was head of the metals program for 30 years – only recently stepping out of the role). What was I going to say to convince them that I belonged in that class??

River Nore across the road from Bernie's house

The river Nore flowing through Thomastown, home of Grennan Mill Craft School (this was the road I walked to the mill)

To be quite honest, I don’t remember what I said but after showing them my work (if you could call it that) and saying whatever I said, I was one of the twelve chosen to take the course. These two men knew talent when they saw it – ha!

my freind's house in Irealnd

This is the house where I lived while going to the Mill. it was more rustic in my day. (when I moved in with a fellow student, Grace, we even decided to live without electricity as an experiment – a youthful notion imagining that the more impoverished it all was, the more romantic and artistic the experience would be  – we did it for 3 months and would have lasted forever but for the students who moved in next door used the same fuse box!). FYI  – Living by candlelight was kind of magically…

But on a serious note, I think they could actually see my passion and desire coming through because I really didn’t have anything else going for me at that point. My business degree would be put to use later I told my anxious mother and off I went to Grennan Mill Craft School in Thomastown, County Kilkenny.

My friend Bernadette Kiley lives in that house now. She is a most amazing painter and you should take a moment to look at her work. (River Nore Summer - Oil on Canvas

My friend Bernadette Kiely lives in that house now. She is a most amazing painter and you should take a moment to look at her work. (River Nore Summer – Oil on Canvas)

It changed my life.

This is by the artist Barry Cooke who I had the great pleasure to get to know while in Thomastown

This is by the artist Barry Cooke who I had the great pleasure to get to know while in Thomastown

It was there that I discovered a part of me that was itching to be discovered and it was also there that I found the company of the most interesting people I had ever come across. My kind of people, and for the first time in my life I had found a community that I totally and utterly belonged to. Yep – dramatic thing to say, but true.

The tabernacle at St Mels Cathedral County Longford

The tabernacle at St Mels Cathedral County Longford made by VCD Silversmiths, Thomastown, The “V” stands for Vicki Donovan and this is the kind of work that my fellow Grennan Mill classmate now produces

I am so thankful for that time in Thomastown as it wasn’t just the course of study that awakened me. I got to mingle with painters, potters, weavers and sculptures, all working on being the best they could be. I made friends for life, and that happened to me all over again when I took a class at Penland School in Western North Carolina seven years later.

Frutta di Mare by Shawn Ireland (Oil on Canvas)

Frutta di Mare (NFS) by Shawn Ireland (Oil on Canvas)

Moving from Ireland to the United States was a culture shocking experience, especially in the late 1980’s when the connections to other countries were not as instantaneous as they are today. It is so much easier today to get the sense of a foreign place with the click of a button. It is not like being there of course, but it does help you prepare if you are planning a journey, or as it turned out for me, a more permanent move (you always leave thinking you are coming back).

This is how Íde got around campus!

This is how Íde got around campus!

But, this was also the part of me that needed to be satisfied; my never-ending curiosity about everything and everybody. What makes a place tick? It turns out no matter where I go, the answer to that question is the same; it is the people.

Dave also liked this form of mobility - whoosh!

Dave also liked this form of mobility – whoosh!

I will ignore my NYC story of where I lived for seven years before venturing further (plenty of posts to read about that if you are curious) and skip right to Penland. I went on the recommendation of a friend who could see I needed to get back to my creative side (I took classes at Parsons School of Design just to keep fresh and I was renting a little studio in a dingy basement on 6th and 2nd Ave).

The Penland Annual Big Auction happened right before Dave's class so we made sure not to miss it.

Penland’s Annual Benefit Auction happened right before Dave’s class so we made sure not to miss it.

What can I say? It was like Déjà vu, only Penland was a scarier prospect in that I felt totally intimidated and out of my comfort zone: very good ingredients to thrive in I’d say. What I mean is if everything comes easy and there is no challenge or apprehension involved, then what is the point? The day you feel comfortable is the day to make a change.

This auction plays a huge part in financing all sorts of plans at the school, from new buildings to new equipment and various programs

This auction plays a huge part in financing all sorts of plans at the school, from new buildings to new equipment and various programs (there was a great cocktail party held before the auction in and around the new printing and book arts studios)

Creativity is something that is pulled from you and it takes a certain kind of work, although I hate to use that word. Maybe courage and effort are better descriptors.

Cocktail attire Penland style (Dave & Matt)

Cocktail attire Penland style (Dave & Matt)

Penland gave me a place where I could work with tools and materials that felt familiar to me. That was a good start. But the difference here is that there were no traditions or rules to upkeep. At least not with my instructor, Chuck Evans.

Wood Tiles made by donor's as part of the Lucy Morgan (founder of Penland 1928) Luncheon which honored Stony Lamar Lucy Morgan Luncheon, and Outstanding Artist Educator Stoney Lamar was honored

Wood Tiles made by donors (with the help of long time artist and regular Penland Teacher Brent Skidmore) after the Lucy Morgan Luncheon (founder of Penland 1929) which honored Stony Lamar for Outstanding Artist Educator

At Grennan Mill I learned how to use tools correctly, and techniques that I would call upon forever. Here at Penland people were doing whatever the heck they felt like doing, whether they had the knowledge or not. They would try anyway and see what happened.

Chuck Evans made this spoon in 1993 at Penland while teaching our class (He gave it to Dave and we have treasured it ever since)

Chuck Evans made this spoon in 1993 at Penland while teaching our class (He gave it to Dave and we have treasured it ever since)

I warmed to Chuck Evans immediately. He had a rough and tumble kind of friendliness, no frills, no bull. Sometimes politeness is overrated when you find yourself as an instructor having to coax a timid person into being more courageous. Chuck bypassed all of this when he saw me fretting over a box I was trying to solder, “well what are you waiting for, light the damn torch and start putting that thing together!”

This is my freind Dan Essig who was also taking Chuck's glass. He is the most amazing book arts guy I know

This is my friend Dan Essig who was also taking Chuck’s class in 1993. He is the most amazing book arts guy I know (Lucky for me he was also at Penland this year)

It was a two-week class whose purpose was to bring me back to myself and it succeeded. How could that happen in a short two-week period of my life?

This is a book that I own made by Dan - it is a very simple and beautiful example of his work (the rose bud is from the garden of a freind of ours)

This is a book that I own made by Dan – it is a very simple and beautiful example of his work (the rose bud is from the garden of a friend of ours). Check out his website if you want to be awed.

Well, Penland is not real life that’s why. Not even for the people who live and work at Penland. They know this fact too. Because, the moment they drive down the mountain and away from the school, a different kind of reality hits them; the real world.

Another Penland

Another Penland beauty made in an Iron Class in 1989. Trading work with other students is a big thing at Penland. It is the very best memento you could bring back to remind you of your class, or your visit, and to remember the person who gave it to you.

The really good news is that after being there, you take a bit of the place with you and the real world takes on a different color or tone. You come away a better artist for sure, and with a happiness that just lingers. YES CORNY – and I am certainly not corny so I will defend myself.

This sweet bird and nest was made by a wonderful fiber artist Ann coddington rast

This sweet bird and nest was made by a wonderful fiber artist Ann Coddington Rast. Her class was in the Lily Loom house one of the most atmospheric and warm buildings on campus. She was so generous, sharing her talent with anyone who was interested and allowing visitors to her classroom like myself a chance to even try their hand at making something.

Penland proved that it is a catalyst for sparking creativity and happiness. People travel all over the world looking for these sometimes elusive things: going on retreats, pilgrimages, sitting on the top of mountains with fantastical views looking for inspiration for their work and their life.

Matt Fergason

This is Metals Studio Co-Ordinator Ian Henderson at Penland, a highly skilled metalsmith who has an addiction to peanut butter cookies from Penland’s Coffee House (pretty sure this is where he is headed for here)

It is in different places for different people, unexpected places at times. I didn’t go to Penland expecting anything but a way to use a good studio space with a teacher whose reputation preceded him.

The sweet treats at the Coffee House, whcih can be enjouyed up to midnight most nights

The sweet treats at the Coffee House, which can be enjoyed up to midnight most nights

I found out that the irreverence to traditional approaches and techniques (at least that it how I saw it the first few days) did not disregard good craftmanship, rather it was a way to show students that objects could be created in many different ways, using others modes or means of getting there.

The lovey Edwina and Cynthia Bringle. if you have never met them, you have never been to Penland

The lovely Edwina and Cynthia Bringle. if you have never met them, you have not experienced Penland.

So the big lesson for me was: there is more than one way to skin a cat!

Keiji Shinohara

Keiji Shinohara (check out his work) taught the Woodblock Printing Class this session and my son Calder was captivated by his talent and highly animated larger-than-life personality.

What a revelation (and a philosophy to be applied to anything really). Without being technical, the time I spent in a studio which was open 24-7 was invaluable, because of my crazy talented teacher and because of the other students in my class.

Dave giving one (of many!) demos to his metals class. this was a most amazing group of students of which the majority were absolute beginners. They made marvelous work and fell in love with thier teacher

Dave giving one (of many!) demos to his metals class. This was a most amazing group of students of which the majority were absolute beginners. They made marvelous work and I was truly inspired by their enthusiasm and relentless quest to make great things

The transformation did not stop when I stepped from the studio. It was happening all around me. I got to hang out in other studios and watch other artists doing the same thing I was doing, pushing themselves in a place that encouraged daring at every turn.

At the end of the session there is always an auction which benefits the Core Program. This auction consists of mainly student and instructor work made during the session. the pice that Dave's class collectivly made was bought by the class and they surprised Dave by presented it to him on that final day. Needless to say there were

At the end of the session there is always an auction which benefits the Work Study Program. This auction consists of mainly student and instructor work made during the session. The piece that Dave’s class collectively made and donated was bought by the class and they surprised Dave by presenting it to him on that final day. Needless to say it doesn’t get any better than that!

What happens when you come back from a really amazing vacation or  pilgrimage, or retreat, or some sort of holiday which made a big impact on you? You get all mushy about it right? You become the champion for that place or that thing. The feeling does wear off or is eroded by the daily grind and that’s only natural, but these warm fuzzy things happen.

Approaching the Metals Studios

Approaching the Metals Studios

It is 22 years since my class with Chuck and I maintained that fuzzy feeling by becoming a full-time metalsmith, and that is how I have been making my living ever since.

Forged Bracelet by David Jones

Forged Bracelet by David Jones

I forgot to mention that Chuck’s aspiring assistant became my husband! He was already a seasoned Penlander ( a good name for us all) and had just completed his masters in Metalsmithing & Jewelry at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia.

his oh so sweet plate was made by the talented hands of Michael Kline. i met Michael when he was a resident artist at The Barnes (Penland has a wonderful Resident Program). He is also one who never left!

These oh so sweet plates were made by the talented hands of Michael Kline. i met Michael when he was a resident artist at The Barnes (Penland has a wonderful Resident Program). He is also one who never left!

He will tell you to this day that Penland is where he received his true education and the place were his craft was allowed to flourish with no limits.

These funky glass skulls were given to us by

These funky glass skulls were given to us by the equally funky Paul Marioni when we were both teaching a class at Penland.

We are both in the art business and I do most definitely consider it a business too as it has to be viable if we are to remain doing what we love. (Consolation to know my college years were not a waste of time!).

The blacksmith Elizabeth Brim is also a valuable fixture at Penland

Blacksmith and Penland’s next door neighbor, Elizabeth Brim is someone I always love to see. She is just a breath of life and how could you not love a woman who hot forges high heels out of steel!

Since then we have been back to Penland many times together to visit and to teach.

another pices from the auction (Artist: Borris Bally)

Another piece from the auction (Artist: Boris Bally)

This August Dave taught the 6th Session Upper Metals class ( I opted out of teaching simply because I wanted to hang out with our now two teenage kids on campus for this intense two weeks, and because I  wanted to take a break from actual work) and the visit was the most memorable ever.

Another totally awesome friend i got to see is Anne Lamanski - she is the total package of talent, fun and downright loveliness!

Another totally brilliant artist i got to see again is Anne Lamanski – she is the total package of talent, fun and downright loveliness! (This is one of her prints but you must check out all of her work to be fully amazed)

Reconnecting with all of my friends and fellow artists as well making new friends was the glorious highlight of my whole year. (There was a little teaching done when the students found out in Dave’s class that I was also a metalsmith and willing to offer any advice if asked. This is why I knew I could not teach too: our kids would never have seen us!)

My Three Amigos

My Three Amigos (David Jones – Metal Guy, Andrew Glasgow – Consultant Guy & Brent Skidmore – Wood Guy)

This was also the first time Calder and Íde lived on campus as semi-adults and were able to completely immerse themselves and have that “Penland experience”.

Coffee House

Coffee House

They spent their days exploring studios, hanging out getting to know instructors and students, watched their dad do demos and visit the Coffee house for delectable treats on a whim. We also made several trips to Asheville to see old friends and to eat yummy food.

Our favorite place to eat was Thai Orchid for thier Pad Thai

Our favorite place to eat was Suwana’s Thai Orchid for their Pad Thai. I make Pad Thai and while it is pretty good, it will never taste like this. There is something to be said for a native making their own food and the owner of Thai Orchid is most certainly invested in what comes out of the kitchen. Worth visiting for the Pad Thai, great service and for the way the paper wrapper from your straw comes to the table in a festive twisty celebration!

Now of course they are dying for the time when they can take a class (you have to be 18). In the meantime they can look forward to a long visit in spring 2017 when Dave will be teaching the Spring Metals concentration.

This is Northlight and the place that you gather for your introdcution to Penland meeting the evening before classes begin.

This is Northlight and the place that you gather for your introduction meeting to Penland the evening before classes begin. What I remember most about that first evening at Penland in 1993 is Paulus Berensohn who has lived in the Penland community for 40 years. He is a poet, dancer, teacher, potter and an iconic figure at the school. He read a poem by Mary Oliver titled White Flowers. It took my breath away and I will never forget that moment.

I could really keep going about how Penland and Grennan Mill changed the course of my life. There are so many stories left to tell, so many more people to include, but hopefully this taste will make you want to click on the link to the school and take a wild and wonderful adventure and see it for yourself.

Penland 2015

Penland 2015

It will not disappoint.

As I said: Not Real Life

As I said: Not Real Life (Coral Chandelier Dress by Susan Taylor Glasgow – one of the pieces at the Annual Benefit auction which brought a substantial sum)

I could not close without mentioning the Caretaker of Penland, Jean McLaughlin (real title being Executive Director). She has a quiet way of being a truly powerful advocate for the school and it’s mission, to support individual and artistic growth through craft. She has done, and continues to do an admirable job and I hope this little ode of mine serves to demonstrate some of her accomplishments.

Penland School of Crafts

Penland School of Crafts (1 mile straight up!)

3 responses to “PENLAND SCHOOL OF CRAFT – NOT REAL LIFE (my small ode to a place I love).

  1. Loved reading this about one of my favorite places (too!) Thanks!

    xxoo mk

    *Michael Kline *4062 Snow Creek Road Bakersville, NC 28705

    About.Me

  2. Thanks Michael and I should of course include one of your pieces – you are a Penlander if there ever was one! x

  3. This was a heartwarming tribute to my Dad and is really touching. We are celebrating Chuck’s life @ Penland (coincidentally) on April 30. Could you PM me your mailing address? I’d like to send you a letter. Sherrill

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