Friday, July 22, 2016

The Penland Experience

I've spent the last two weeks at Penland School of Crafts in the mountains near Asheville, NC. It is an interesting place that I've been trying to wrap my head around the entire time I've been here.

There are parts that are lovely. Really lovely. I've not tired of watching the light change on the mountains. Watching the rain come in and out. Stunning.




Rebecca Mezoff invited me to be her studio assistant and I quickly said yes.  Our class was fantastic and really pushed themselves hard.  Many were beginners and the work they produced was amazing.  Read more about the class and see photos on Rebecca's blog.  I'm so grateful to get to work with Rebecca again and to spend more time with her.  She really is as nice in person as she is online.

There are other parts of Penland that were really hard.  The heat has been the most challenging as the buildings aren't air conditioned. It really takes it out of you! Some of the buildings don't have screens and some of the insects are amazingly large. Sometimes the noise of having open windows and a lot of people in a small location made sleep fleeting.  Sleep deprivation does add up.  

It was hard to step out of my life for two weeks and miss my anniversary for the third year in a row.  I gained a new appreciation for the life that I have at home.  I have an amazing community, work I love, school that challenges me and allows me to grow, and incredible support everywhere.

In a way Penland is like grad school condensed to two weeks, with a lot more age diversity thrown in. Folks come with such high expectations - they will make amazing work (and some do), they will change their lives/careers, work, work, work, work!  I went in with a few goals - learn new skills (James Koehler interlock), engage with the community, present my short artist talk to an alarming amount of people and let the experience unfold without wrestling for control.    

The people at Penland have been lovely. I've met people that have become instant friends.  We have shared many meals together and porch sitting kind of talks.  Penland is run on people power.  There is an amazing crew of ever changing student workers that provide everything to keep this place running.   I've tried to say thank you to them each chance that I got - they work hard, in challenging conditions with a lot of it unseen.   

On my last night, I directed many newcomers to find their housing for the night, bedding, studio locations and orienting them to how Penland works.  It is amazing how the routines and rhythms of a place sink in.  By Sunday, they will know how Penland works and will guide other students into the routines as well.  There will be other intimacies of Penland they will discover.  The best porches to sit on and watch the storms roll in.  The blazing heat of the day, and the cool breeze of night.  The mist that clings to the mountains after rain.  The large moths which populate the hallways and bathrooms.  They'll find their own special places.  

Penland spaces.  Note my simple hack to keep larger insects out of my room.  Toilet paper is useful for chinking in gaps of wooden screens.  Bath mats are useful for under the door insects.

Soon these newcomers will grow tired of the food (which is consistently good), miss their own bed and feel as tired as I do right now.  I saw it on the faces of outgoing group of assistants and work study students when I cheerfully came to Penland two weeks ago.  It is a cycle which repeats itself many times during the summer sessions.

It was the most wonderful and awful thing I've done in a long time.