Category Archives: North Carolina

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!

North Carolina

I flew to Cleveland on July 1st where I met up with Charlotte, my travel buddy, and we took off on a road trip to North Carolina to attend workshops at Penland School of Crafts where Charlotte had signed up to learn how to laminate wood using a vacuum system and I had registered for an artist book making class.  We took two days to get there stopping in Charleston, WV on the way to visit the Clay Art Center where we visited an exhibit of innovated quilts.

Clay Art Center, Charleston, WV

The drive took us from Ohio through West Virginia, Virginia, and Tennessee before crossing into North Carolina.  Since Charlotte preferred to do the driving, I had the luxury of enjoying the beautiful, mountain scenery and noticing the variety of roadside vegetation along the way. And what I did notice from state to state, is that the appearance of the highway borders in OH, WV, and VA are left quite natural. By that I mean that the in these states the sides of the road are mowed, but then comes weeds, bushes, and trees up to the private property lines. 

Ohio natural vegetation along roads

By comparison, TN and NC roadsides have an incredibly manicured appearance.  For the two weeks we spent in NC driving between our B&B and Penland, we enjoyed gorgeous views of densely wooded areas and acres of closely mowed, extensive lawns and fields – no brush or bushes.  Huge lawns and fields were mowed right up to the edge of the road.  And, in the two weeks of traveling back and forth every day, not once did I see any mowing taking place! NC must have the slowest growing grass ever!

Adding to the manicured appearance of the landscape were large swarths of a particular weed, feathery in nature and low growing that densely covering of the roadside fields. The effect was that of a plush carpet.

Adding to the beauty of backroads were bountiful patches of graceful, wild ornamental grasses.

Penland is located near the Blue Ridge Mountain Parkway in the Black Mountains.  The scenic views were wonderful!  The well maintained, curvy, 4 lane highways wound through the mountains up and down.  The equally well maintained side roads that we traveled, however, not only went up and down but twisted tightly with no more than 500 feet of straight roadway between turns. 

Lots of Twists and Turns

And our B&B was located down a twisty, half mile, graveled, single lane running though dense forest. Luckily we never encountered any on-coming cars. Charlotte got a work out!

Gravel lane to our B&B in morning fog

The weather was very changeable during the day – a combination of fog, mist, bright sunshine, quick showers, and an occasional deluge, but mostly sunshine. Since we were in our workshops from 8 am to 5pm, we only experienced weather in the morning and evenings when we sat on our private, covered-deck at the B&B enjoying our breakfasts and suppers. The house was on a hilltop flanked by forest.  The view from our deck was an 180 degree panorama of the Black Mountains.

Four views from the deck with changing weather.

Our apartment had two spacious rooms, a huge bathroom with Jacuzzi, but a small, galley kitchen with a 2-burner hotplate, microwave, and a mini frig. In this setting, we met the challenge of preparing some delicious meals creatively produced with limited ingredients! 

On the weekend, Charlotte and I took off for Asheville, which was about an hour away.  There we visited a number of art and fine craft galleries and were excited to see such excellent work.  Known as a center of crafts, we were also delighted to see some galleries in the city showing paintings and prints as well.  Here are some that caught my attention.

The Asheville area has a lot of ceramic studios producing both traditional, functional wares as well as contemporary sculptural forms.

Also, woodworking is popular. I especially enjoyed the whimsy of these two pencil pieces.

This knitted sculpture is made out of glass! The artist knitted the piece with wax formed into a cord, then caste it using the lost wax technique. A fascinating video depicted the technique.

These pieces are manipulated handwoven, hand-dyed cloth transformed into wall hangings.

I loved the concept of combining the weighty hammer with the delicacy of the fragile glass! Clever!

Many artists used found objects in their work, but none took it to this extreme. A ceramic cat made out of ceramic cats!

And then I recognized these steel sculptures! They are the signature style of sculptor, Rob Lorensen, a former colleague at Bridgewater State University in MA.

I was very impressed by the work of Seth Clark who created these works by collaging drawings and bits of painted papers into incredibly complex images. The subject reminds me of the devastation caused by tornados and earthquakes, not pleasant subjects, but a reference to the extreme weather resulting from climate change.

Here is a detail:

These two pieces reminded me of the many old barns and sheds I’d seen along the NC highways.

In my next post I will focus on my wonderful two weeks at Penland School of Crafts.