Penland School of Craft

Penland School of Craft dates back to 1929 when Lucy Morgan offered quilt making lessons. The facility quickly morphed into a school offering classes in other craft media as well.  Over the years it has gained an outstanding reputation for fostering skills in specialized craft techniques taught by nationally recognized instructors.  Workshops are offered year round.

From their website:

School of Craft is a national craft education center dedicated to the creative life. Located in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Penland offers total-immersion workshops in sixteen beautifully-equipped studios along with artist residencies, a gallery and visitors center, and community programs.

The campus is remotely located on a side of a mountain surrounded by forest.  Some of the studios are in their own buildings (woodworking, metal forging, glass blowing) while other buildings may contain more than one studio (book making and painting/drawing.) There is a dining facility, large room for meetings, art supply store, administrative building, a large gallery, and several buildings offering living and dormitory accommodations.  All of the studios are very spacious and very well equipped.  For example, I was given a kit of specialized tools to use for the duration of the workshop.

The Penland Gallery consists of 4 large room filled with high quality, fine crafts produced by instructors and former students. Both traditional forms as well as contemporary pieces were on display.

Charlotte and I enrolled in the 4th session of the summer program.  There were 16 workshops taking place with 159 students from 29 states and 3 foreign countries.  Everyone we encountered –  instructors, students, and staff – were friendly and enthusiastic.  The total experience was an artist’s paradise.


This is the bookmaking workshop that contained heavy duty equipment for pressing books and cutting paper and cardboard as well as all sorts of gadgets and accessories. Each of the 12 students had a generous workspace.

Our instructor was Maria Veronica San Martin, originally from Chile and now living in Brooklyn.  Her handmade books document the period in Chile during a time of harsh and repressive political turmoil when a huge number of citizens disappeared, never to be found or accounted for.  Her books are in important collections world wide.

From her website:
“IN THEIR MEMORY is a book of resistance that carries forward the protest begun by the families of the disappeared in Chile during the military dictatorship (1973-1990). More than forty thousand political prisoners were victims of torture, execution and exile, and 3,550 people were disappeared. Nameless crosses are all that they have received by way of a burial.It is to honor the missing and their families that this object-book seeks to disseminate and communicate human rights’ violations in Chile. By documenting the identities of the victims, In Their Memory also invites reflection and puts forth a message of hope founded in truth.”

During the course of the workshop Maria demonstrated the construction of several book and box forms and offered all sorts of tips and technical advice.  She introduced monotype and lino-cut printmaking for those who were not printmakers.

Maria demonstrating the use of the guillotine, used for cutting book board which is used in the covers of books.
Maria and Reagan, our studio coordinator
Ginna making a monotype print

This is Salvador, Maria’s nine year old son who joined us everyday at 4 pm after a day at camp. He devised a system of riding around the studio on a roller suitcase collecting trash from our worktables. Here he attached a rolling barrel to the suitcase so he could push a broom at the same time. He left a note on each of our worktables for where we should leave our scraps. A sweet, clever, self-entertaining young man!

My messy worktable.

I made several books with some prints I brought with me. As the days went by I became increasingly more skilled with taking exacting measurements, applying glue judiciously and assembling the books with care.  It was wonderful to focus on my projects without the interruptions of everyday life.

My classmates were a wonderful group of talented artists/craftspeople who all produced unique books in structure and theme and design. 

Ginna made a book where the pages opened up to reveal dangling letters : DEMOCRACY HANGING BY A THREAD.

Donna made a Flag Book with images of her wonderful colored pencil drawings.

Marty explained her book as a personal journal with text and drawings recording her experiences at Penland during the two weeks we made books.

Kathryn made a Flag Book from intricate collaged bits of colors and textures cut from magazines.

Paulina’s book displays words and watercolor images that reference her Chinese family’s culture on one side and her personal identity on the other.

Lindsey incorporated into her book a number of photographs she had taken in various parts of the world, all rather desolate, otherworldly and haunting.

Tony made his book out of handmade papers that he had made in previous workshops. He delicately decorated the papers with watercolor.

In her Flag Book, Susan combined lino-cut and watercolor images to depict a story about a hawk and a dove where the dove wins out over the hawk as message of hope.

Reagan created a 3-D book of a dinner table with pages that layered the silverware, the plates, napkins, and dinner conversations on separate pages. So ingenious!

Kathy created a Flag Book with striking hand drawn and painted flags,

Here is my book of Mexican masks.

I spent the second week working on a book where I collaged textured papers with metal debris I had collected from the streets of Pawtucket. My idea was to connect present day trash with my interest in archaeological detritus. Some day in the future, archaeologists will be trying to make sense of 21st century junk!

I made the covers and four pages, but still have to assemble them into a book.


Here is the woodworking studio. It consisted of a room with worktables for each student, a large room with woodworking machinery, and another room for laminating.

The instructor for the woodworking class was Michael Puryear, a nationally recognized furniture maker. To see his work, visit

Charlotte spent her time making curved wooden forms from bendable plywood while laminating with wood veneer at the same time. The process involved putting the pieces in a vacuum bag that held them while the glue solidified and held the forms in place.

Here Charlotte is placing the wood, supported by forms, on the vacuum table.
This is the piece held tightly in place by the plastic cover after the air is sucked out.

Most of her classmates were successful furniture makers with lots of woodworking experience, so Charlotte felt, as a sculptor, somewhat technically inexperienced by comparison.  But at the end of the second week she gained their admiration for her invented and creative work.

The first week was frustrating for her because of unpredictable results and mistakes, but using her creative ingenuity, she managed to transform her pieces during the second week into five successful works.

She worked with curved leaf forms with the intent of making them into wall hung sculptures. Here are some in process.

On the left below is the form used to bend the plywood and wood veneer while in the vacuum chamber to produce the seat of a chair created by one of Charlotte’s classmates. The legs of the chair were also bent and laminated with veneer using the process.

Another classmate made a cabinet laminated with a design of wood grain veneer.

Here are more pieces produced by others in the class.

It was a wonderfully creative and productive week! It will take me a few days to recover from the intensity of the experience!


1 thought on “Penland School of Craft

  1. Susan Griffiths

    Joan – the Penland school looks fantastic. You will have to tell me where it is or rather how to get there … I hope it is near Nick’s Inn or farmhouse What a treat! I Will try to lose a few years (never mind a few pounds and ineptness) 🙂 You’re trips seem to get better and better. I am very jealous, but so happy for you.

    Xxx Susan

    PS Andy sent his best.



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