Last summer I spent two weeks in The Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina while taking a workshop at The Penland School of Crafts in June (http://penland.org/). What a beautiful place.
There were approximately 200 people at Penland for those two weeks, either teaching or taking part in the 15 or so different classes, which ranged from ironwork and printing to ceramics and illustration. Everyone was living on the small but gorgeous campus and there were 10 people in my workshop. A bell was rung just before every mealtime and you could find yourself sitting down to eat with an 18 year-old on one side of you and an 80 year-old on the other. They had free yoga classes at 7 in the morning and 5 in the evening; I couldn't believe how lucky I was to be walking to yoga at 6.45am watching the sun rising through the mist in the mountains every day.
There are no locks on any of the doors (including bedrooms) at Penland which I initially found disconcerting. But there is no point in having locks – the place is really remote and probably has crime rate of 0%. The studios are also open 24 hours a day so you can literally work non-stop if you want.
During the spring and summer the courses there change every two weeks; the tutors are invited to teach whatever they are specialists in and it is considered a real compliment to be invited to be an instructor. The course I took was in enamelling, taught by a woman called Marjorie Simon (http://marjoriesimon.com/). I had always admired her work and was thrilled when I found out she was teaching a class. I couldn't put my deposit down fast enough. Marjorie is one of America's finest craftspeople; she is also an educator as well as a writer for Metalsmith Magazine amongst other publications. On top of that she turned out to be kind, patient and fun – teaching is hard work but she never flagged. That was inspiring to me. These are some of the little houses she is working on for an exhibition this spring in Wales. They are made from copper and enamel.
The remote location, the incredible scenery, the quality of the teaching, the studios and the equipment were without compare, but the thing that stood out most about the two weeks was the atmosphere; it was electric with shared enthusiasm and joy. This may sound cheesy to some, but its true nevertheless. There was no emailing, texting, Facebook, newspapers, television, cars, laundry, cooking, dirty dishes to wash...you get the picture. Just designing and making – and talking about designing and making.
There is an exhibition of everyone's work
at the end of two weeks and then an auction - where you can come away with work made either by the other students or by the instructors - for a fraction of the price that it would sell for at a gallery.
Alas, I wish I had the money...
I actually cried on my last day there, but came home from Penland relaxed, filled with ideas and energy, having learned metalworking and enamelling techniques I would otherwise never have learned.
I put these techniques to work in my Carolina Collection of Talismans.
The only thing I was disappointed by was that I never got to see any of the beautiful black bears that live in the forest on the edge of which the school is situated; there is a sign in the dining hall warning you to remain calm if you come across one – apparently screaming your head off and running away is a recipe for disaster...yikes.
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