Saturday, July 23, 2011
Well, the heat is on, and if you want to elevate yourself and increase your coolness in more ways than temperature, go to Penland School of Crafts in the Great Smokey Mountains, near Asheville North Carolina. American craft work in textiles, silver, paper, metal, ceramics, photography--you name it, has been going on here, since the turn of the 20th century. It is a great story, of the right person at the right time. Initially, Penland was an Episcopalian mission school for the industrial arts, training and educating the neglected population. Miss Lucy Morgan arrived to teach, after studying weaving at Berea College, and shifted the emphasis to the traditional craft work of the area. Inspired by the Craft Revival Movement, Miss Lucy taught the mountain folk how to weave, actively marketing their goods at resorts and fairs, Miss Lucy dramatically changed lives by creating cottage industries in the region. Miss Lucy embraced the gifts of her new, impoverished community, relishing, honing and preserving their skills. She arrived with respect versus reform. It is a life lesson for all of us.
Miss Lucy is shown with Edward Worst of Chicago. Worst was a prominent member of John Dewey's Progressive Education movement, and believed that handicrafts taught as experiential education was an integral part of mental development. Fueled by reactions to the industrial revolution, the Arts and Crafts movement, instigated by William Morris and John Ruskin in England, flooded unexpected tributaries in America. To me, these kindred Pre-Raphaelites lived in a time where rules were broken and individuality reigned. The Impressionists were turning Royal Academies upside down in Europe. Frank Lloyd Wright was changing Architecture in America and Miss Lucy was training mountain folk and consumers. She was singular, creative and confident, while persuading the Episcopalian bishop to continue to back an entirely new enterprise.
You have got to love this woman as a complete force of nature for her cause. This is her traveling log cabin that she took to resorts, the Chicago Exposition, and many state fairs selling the arts of her burgeoning collective of teachers and artists, on consignment. The beauty of it all, is that her emphasis on hearth work, allowed women to supplement their family incomes while staying at home, creating handicrafts of their own designs, as artists in their own right. Today, the area surrounding the school is a vibrant artists' enclave, many of whom have been associated with Penland, with many studios open to the public. There are many others in the surrounding counties which may be visited by appointment. The gallery staff can provide you with maps and information about these artists.
I was lucky enough to watch some of the classes in progress. My favorite was the pop-up book making class, taught by Colette Fu.
My nice guide Marie shepherded me around. We lingered in glass blowing for awhile.
The gallery exhibits the work of Penland instructors and regional associated artists, where you might discover the next big collectible, or just find something that makes you happy.
Session Two Instructor Fine Metals
Session Two Instructor: Flameworking
Penland is a very cool place to visit or study. I'm thinking of a photography course. The countryside is breath taking, and if you are up for an event, the food, fresh from the school's vast vegetable garden is scrumptious! There is great music in the area, and Asheville is a beautiful city, with stunning old spa hotels.