In the past couple of years I have become a workshop addict. The first step is giving in and saying, “I have more to learn”… And then you’re doomed, the bug has bitten, the kool-aid drank. Because of great workshop programs like Penland School of Crafts, there is always another great artist to study with and technique to be learned. Having sought out residency experiences every summer, I probably would never have tried a workshop if it hadn’t been for a fellowship in 2011, and the opportunity to try a whole new medium- glass at Pilchuck Glass School. That was such an amazing experience (and I will write about it later this year), that the following year I decided to check out a workshop that I had always known of, and even used to live near: Penland, in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains!
My first experience at Penland was in 2012 in one of the first one week spring sessions they had ever offered. I traveled down for spring break and studied Pâte de Verre glass casting with the wonderful artist, Alicia Lomne. It was a good entrée to Penland, especially for someone who gets a little anxious in new situations and overwhelmed by group activity. There were only a few courses offered, and the student population was maybe a third of what it is in the summer. The following year I applied to take a summer glass class with Jeremy Lepisto (whom I featured in my January 2014 “Looking Glass” post) and had another amazing experience.
I’m trying to recall what I used to imagine happened at workshops- I think I imagined something archaic, older people plunking away trying to pick up some new “craftsy” skill. Could I ever have been so narrow minded? Apparently! The level of talent at these workshops is generally amazing- lots of art school students, and also lots of professionals trying to bone up on a new technique, or try something new. The faculty is ever-changing, but they are selected for being highly respected in their fields- young, mid-career or established- the faculty has great things to offer the workshop participants. The staff and studio coordinators are also skilled artists- Dean Allison, the Glass Coordinator, is an amazing glass artist- I got to see him working on a pair of his cast heads- amazing. Penland also has a highly competitive resident artist program that provides support for three years while they make work in the Penland studios.
Another great part of Penland is that there is such a diversity of classes. There is a new letterpress studio, clay studios, fibers/weaving studios, glass, metals, iron and wood. The work spaces are very well done, the sleeping spaces adequate and the food is terrific! The dining room at Penland serves up a great selection of vegetarian and non-veg dishes, and the round tables encourage a communal and friendly environment. I will definitely be a repeat student there, it makes me so excited just looking at all the classes they offer! And for those of you who think you can’t afford it, they have plenty of work-study opportunities as well as scholarships.