■ I PENLAND SCHOOL OF CRAFTS • POST OFFTCF ROy R7 • PFMI AMR
PENLAND SCHOOL OF CRAFS • POST OFFICE BOX 37 • PENLAND • NORTH CAROLINA • 28765-0037 • SPRING 2002
Although it was not incorporated until 1938, the beginning of
Penland School of Crafts is always dated at 1929. That was the
year that seven out-of-state students came to the Appalachian
School to join the summer weaving class taught by Edward F.
Worst for the Penland Weavers. Every year since then, there
have been craft workshops on Conley Ridge Road. In 2004,
Penland School will celebrate its seventy-fifth birthday.
When Jean McLaughlin was hired as director in 1998, one
of her charges from the board was to find a meaningful way to
recognize and celebrate this auspicious anniversary. The follow
ing year, she began meeting with a group of staff members—
Dana Moore, Robin Dreyer, Erika Sanger—-and Nicholas
Joerling who is a potter, a neighbor, and a board member.
interpreting craft, and their collection holds much Penland-
related material,” explains Jean. “Penland does not maintain a
permanent collection, but through its years of instruction has
enabled the work of thousands of craft artists to evolve. The
institutions complement each other in focus and scope, and
they are linked in their role as educators.”
In addition to establishing this partnership, the school has
hired Ellen Denker as lead curator (see page 3). She will work
closely with Penland’s program director Dana Moore and
MM CD curator Melissa Post to define the content of the exhi
bition. Ellen’s background is in the study of material culture.
Her curatorial and scholarly experience reaches across the
American Arts and Crafts Movement, folk art, urban and rural
ing and new ideas to bear on the subject of craft. Part of the
way we will do this i^ by working with writers whose perspec
tive is informed by other disciplines.”
To begin this process three writers were invited to Penland
in 2001 as visiting scholars. With funding from the North
Carolina Humanities Council, each of the writers spent a week
at the school observing classes, talking to staff, instructors, stu
dents, and community members, and reviewing material in the
archives. Each of them gave two public lectures about their
own work. They were then invited to make proposals for topics
they might research and write about for the publication.
The three visiting scholars last year were cultural anthro
pologist Norris Brock Johnson, who teaches at University of
Instructor Floss Perisho,
The group discussed many possibilities but kept returning
to a central principle. Penland’s seventy-fifth birthday should
be celebrated in a way that would explore the school’s history
but would also bring new attention to the importance and
meaning of craft and craft education. The strong feeling of Jean
and the committee was that this celebration should make a
contribution to the craft community; it should be a vehicle for
taking Penland out into the world.
The plan that evolved from this principle is gradually
becoming a reality. Penland will partner with a major exhibit
ing institution to produce an exhibition which will use the
work of artists affiliated with the school to make a strong state
ment about the evolution and relevance of craft. The exhibition
will also tell something about the history of the school and use
the Penland story to emphasize the power of craft education to
transform the lives of individuals.
Accompanying the exhibition will be a publication which
will swerve as a catalogue, but will also contain original essays on
craft and the Penland experience, some of them written from
disciplines outside of the visual arts: cultural anthropology, social
history, material culture, science, poetry, etc. Just like the exhi
bition, the book will talk about Penland and will also attempt to
expand current thinking about craft.
There is much to be done, but, with the strong initial sup
port from the Windgate Foundation, the planning process is
well underway. Penland’s partner will be the Mint Museum of
Craft + Design (MMCD) in Charlotte, North Carolina. The
exhibition will open there in August, 2004 and then travel to
three or four additional sites over the following two years.
“MiMCD has achieved national recognition for exhibiting and
Instructor Cynthia Bringle, igjOs.
life, women’s contributions to the social fabric of American
life, and the interrelationship of fine art, craft, and design.
Bringing Ellen into the project was a starting point for defining
its nature. “I come to this,” she says, “as an outsider, but a sym
pathetic outsider who really wants to understand what’s going
on and tell that story. And it’s a story we want to tell not just to
collectors or the academy; we want to tell it to the average
Ellen has been visiting Penland regularly to gather back
ground information, and is working with Jean, Dana, and the
MMCD staff on a conceptual outline for the exhibition.
Although the expectation is that the show will be visually stun
ning, the intent is for something more thoughtful than simply a
display of beautiful objects.
Specifically, Ellen sees the project covering three broad top
ics, which she says are distilled from years of collective thinking
about handmade objects. Source will explore primary sources of
inspiration in craft: the body, landscape, spirituality, and
serendipity. Skill will examine the role of oral tradition in craft
teaching and will celebrate the choreography of proficiency.
Culture will show craft as an expressive form of material culture
shared across boundaries of race, ethnicity, age, gender, and
nation. “What we are trying to do,” explains Ellen, “is get inside
the nature of craft. This means that chronologically diverse
objects will be gathered to illuminate the same theme.”
The companion publication will also take an innovative
approach. “It’s clear to me,” says Jean, “that if we try to talk
about craft and the Penland experience strictly from what you
might call an ‘arts’ perspective, an important part of the story
will be missed. Our goal with this book is to bring fresh think-
Instructor Nick Cave, ippos.
North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Ellen Dissanayake, an indepen
dent scholar who has been investigating the origins of artistic
behavior from a Darwinian perspective; and Patricia Phillips,
writer, critic and dean of the School of Fine and Performing
Arts at the University of New York at New Paltz. More writers
will be invited in 2002. (We will profile all of the scholars in an
upcoming supplement to the Penland Line.)
As general background for the project, Dana Moore has
assembled a timeline of the school’s history and a comprehen
sive list of past instructors and resident artists. She is also gath
ering slides representing the kinc^ of work which might appear
in the exhibition. Michelle Francis, a professional archivist, has
been hired to organize and catalog the Penland archive, (see
page 6) The school is gathering oral histories from a number of
people, and a grant from the American Craft Council has fund
ed the purchase of video equipment which will used to docu
ment a number of the artists whose work will appear in the
show. This will allow the exhibition to incorporate footage of
artists working and talking about their work, their teaching,
Important next steps include confirming other venues for
the exhibition, finding additional sources of funding, securing a
publisher for the book, and selecting artists and particular
objects for inclusion. There are also plans for a web site and
museum-based educational programs.
The project is ambitious, but the event of Penland’s seven
ty-fifth anniversary presents a special opportunity to explore
and celebrate the importance of craft in our society. And, just
in case you were wondering, we’ll probably have some kind of
a party, too. —Robin Dreyer