Penland – Thoughts on the Wonderful Week that Was

by Louise Glickman

Penland, is the place that brought me to Asheville two decades ago. In the millennial year 2000, I visited the gallery and campus,  walked into a studio, smelled the paint and immediately flashed back to years of art school in college. By 2001, I had moved to Asheville to stay, intending to return to art and build my own studio practice that I had given up to years of career-building and child-raising.

Last week, I once again walked the Penland campus viewing the final one-week of summer classes. I was struck with the thought that over twenty years, I have taken a class in almost every one of these spaces. The new studios at Penland, are mostly due to the remarkable achievements of former director Jean McLaughlin. The buildings reflect the craft intent and landscape that are inspiring to work in.  Classrooms are well supplied and staffed by outstanding teachers at a school with a world-wide reputation for fine craft. 

My class on nature and cyanotype with artist Hillary Waters Fayle, was in the old Lilly Loom building. I loved being there, feeling the contrast of old and new in what was once the home of founder Lucy Morgan. It was here that women were taught the skill of weaving in order to support their families. 

Admiring the profound accomplishments of Penland’s new director, Mia Hall, I saw that studio heads are dedicated to ensuring that every student feels safe and secure, and that work spaces are fully stocked, and exceptionally clean. Here, students are able to concentrate, experiment, and learn new skills focussing on textile and print using cyanotype (images developed with sunlight). Pared down to the basics of light and plants, we foraged carefully and used nature as our development process. The embellishments came from embroidery techniques applied to leaves, paper and fabric. 

(See more on Hillary Waters Fayle, artist and teacher at Enjoy her work locally at Momentum Gallery.)

Mia Hall has tackled the strain of Covid19 at Penland with an astute professionalism. Class sizes are greatly reduced, The Pines dining hall has made food safety a priority. We ate outdoors, spaced, and under tents. Teacher slide shows were presented virtually each night. Penland has faced hard challenges before, but the crisis of Covid19 has lasted for two summers impacting programming and income. Thoughtful decision making has made it possible to run efficiently on reduced staff and the Windgate Foundation’s support has helped Penland creatively manage this long upheaval. 

Whether old or new I continue to think of Penland as a life-changing experience,  It is a magical place that inspires a love of nature and learning. Since my first visit there, I return always to my remembrance of llamas on the knoll in front of The Pines. This is still my favorite view of this special place where I dream,  recoup and rewind, continually inspired by beauty, and the ways to express it through craft.

Penland blends art with friendships.
Evoking the blending of nature, design and embroidery, a leaf by Marianne Suggs.
Lucy Morgan’s view to the Penland knoll.

Making natural dyes with black walnuts and goldenrod.

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