Creative Paradise at Penland

The week of August 23 I had the great pleasure of going to Penland School of Crafts in Bakersville, North Carolina. Nestled into the side of a mountain, I approached the school with excitement, zig zagging up the steep road that would lead to my lodging.

I was expecting my digs to be something like camping but was pleasantly surpsied at how nice and clean and modern my double room was. I arrived just in time for dinner on Saturday and stood in line waiting to go through the buffet. My awkward feelings lasted about a nano second. A nice younf guy sporting dreads behind me started a conversation  and as we traded information about our chosen courses of study, I quickly felt at ease. The food at Penland all week was delicious. Every meal was buffet and homemade. They have their own gardens and served up lots and lots of fresh fruits and veggies along with some gourmet type dishes that left me dreading getting on the Weight Watchers scale when I got home since I had lost 37 lbs and just made lifetime membership. (Incredibly, I managed to LOSE.2 lbs when I was afraid that I had probably gained 5!)

The class that I signed up for was on throwing and altering forms on the pottery wheel, creating slump and drop molds and using slip and terra sigillata for surface decoration. I was unsure how I would feel about doing a lot of handbuilding since it hasn't generally been my favorite thing but I was eager to learn new techniques that were easily repeatable in my small studio. Well, I did not come away empty handed. In fact, I left Penland with a wealth of knowledgde and inspiration that I couldn't wait to get home and work on. My instructor Brian R. Jones was a heady and intellectual sort of guy from the west coast. Brian is a skillful professional with high standards for the work he creates, a virtue passed on to his students by way of his lengthy demonstrations.

Before signing up for the class, I googled his name to see his work and see if we were kindred spirits in any kind of way. His work is much, much headier than mine and he  is very intellectual in his approach to form. Where we did meet is in a love of  bright color and crisp white background.

Brian's work

My work

I loved the first excercise that we did with him and that was to drwa the shadow of an object (mine was a teapot) onto some roofing paper and cut it out. From there, we were to take the unknown form and trace it onto a piece of thick styrofoam and cut it out.

Before I knew it, I had created my first drop mold! Many students including myself were somewhat confused by Brians explanation of the process and due to the lack of a "thing" showing what the end product would be, several people were more than overwhelmed. I welcomed the excercise and I thought the lack of information was perhaps by design, orchestrated to get us out of the thinking "now I am going to make an xyz" enabling the process to unfold and letting the shadow and the clay dictate what the "thing" will be. For me it was exciting. I wanted to break out and get back to thinking like an artist and not just a maker of things. Taking it a step further, we laid an extra slab of clay into the drop mold and left a nice size margin around the shape and fired it. My first slump mold was born!

What resulted from the drop mold was a hideous chip and dip. Younger students in the class who could still think art school thoughts created some very interesting scultptural pieces resembling nothing but something born from coils of clay and imagination. In my slump mold, I saw a kitty cat. I decided that's ok, it's who I am…

Abrupt break......In reading over this post, I see that it is awfully long and this just covers my first couple of days at Penland, so in order not to tax your reading time, my dear friends, I think I shall ask you to stay tuned for Part 2 of Creative Paradise at Penland…keep making stuff!
Karen O'Lone-HahnComment