Overall, I loved the two weeks I spent at Penland School of Craft, as a Winter Artist in Residence. The people were amazing. It was so fun to see what everyone was doing in each of the studios. It was amazing just to kick off my new life as ?, who knows (yes, I quit my job with no plans but to rebalance and rejuvenate and work on some art). I am getting ahead of myself though…
I was all prepared, or so I thought, after I had received the acceptance to Penland’s Winter Residency (application process covered in this post). I had paid the housing and studio fees (as I was working a full-time job). I had approved vacation from work, and knew what materials I was taking with me (even organized a cart to move things from my car to the studio – was very useful). The week before leaving, I re-read the email and realized that I also need to organize food for the two weeks. Not a big deal but sent me in a tail-spin the week before. I cooked a couple of meals and made homemade granola for breakfasts, luckily, as a side product, also left the boys (husband and son) with 5 or 6 meals for the weeks I was away.
Accommodation was similar to a dorm style. I had paid for separate room and shower which I was very happy with. My sleep was so-so for the two weeks getting used to all the noises of other people was more difficult than I expected. I was in the textile studio, with about 10 others in total (4 quilters including me, a fellow and 4 weavers) which was across the other side of campus….good news I got 10,000 steps in every day walking up and down the hill to and from the studio. The views were amazing. The cafe on campus had great coffee and supplemented my meals with amazing soups.
- The people were amazing. Across all the 15 studios there were about 80 people in the first two weeks. I got to walk around the studios and see what people were doing with metal, iron, clay, print, letterpress, paper, photography, wood, etc. It was really nice being around people who had a daily art practice. Living in the dorm meant I also got to meet and have great conversations with folks not in the textile studio.
- The view meant great photo opportunities and I was surprised, was my favorite activity while I was there. Getting up early for the frost and mist rolling through the trees of the mountains, the snow for the day we had snow, and the clouds on the gloomy day changing constantly as they worked their way around the mountain. I captured what I thought were great photos.
- I enjoyed a quick trip to Downtown Asheville for coffee and some art at the Momentum Gallery which was fantastic and something to aspire too.
- The “intro” event was really great to see. On the second or third afternoon, we all gathered in the big hall and got to see the photos of the entries we had submitted. It was a really good way to see people’s finished work previous to them coming to Penland.
- The final gallery night, where we were able to hang and show our work was a great opportunity. Talented people with beautiful finishes. Also, I was surprised at how much the local community came and supported the event too. Very supportive community.
Things I appreciated
- By far, the dedicated time and space where the only thing I was expected to do was make. I allowed myself time to start decompressing from the job, have conversations with others in the textile studio in particular and enjoy the experience. Did I do my best work? No I don’t think so and that was ok. I really used the time to kickstart my creativity, experiment on a couple of ideas that had been percolating a long while and let the journey be what it needed to be. I think I left in a good place to come back and get ready for my solo show later in the year.
- I also enjoyed how Penland organized activities for us to interact with each other. Taco Truck Friday’s and the open studio was a lot of fun, even though we had some car/snow trouble. The Pot Luck Thursdays was also a lot of fun, especially since I like to cook and made Pan Sheet Chicken the first week and Bacon and Egg Pie the second week.
- I appreciated the focus on inclusion and diversity that Penland is trying to create. I do think they offer a safe space, especially for the NC mountain region.
- Since I was able to drive, I also bought everything from home I needed. This saved me costs in studio fees which was well equipped.
- Two weeks was the perfect time for being away from home. Even without a job to go back too, there were family things that would have made 4 weeks difficult and I really needed more sleep.
Things I didn’t like or would like to change
- I would like to take more advantage of the textile facilities and try hand dyeing and screen printing while I was in the studio. I also would like to work across studios – like print or use photography techniques to make fabric for the quilting aspects of my work. Alternatively, look at some of the other studios and incorporate ways to make more sculptural pieces with fabric (more to come on this as the idea is just forming).
- The textile studio, third floor is really well supplied for dressmaking/fashion. It was not great for quilters as the tables were high. As a short person, I had to use a footrest on a couple of fabric bolt inserts to get my pedal at the right height. I made it work for the two weeks but appreciated coming home to the right height table.
- It would have been nice not to worry about food etc during the stay, especially the snow days when you couldn’t leave the property (ice on the mountains). During the rest of the year the kitchen is open and meals are provided (for additional cost).
- I didn’t realize how stressed I was coming off the job. I still experienced panic events during my stay that I managed through breathing techniques. Also, meeting all those new people was a little overwhelming, I felt awkward which also meant I think over compensated. I felt a little out of my depth being around artists, many studied art for college. I would like to do this again after I am more comfortable of where I am.
- Next time, I would like to do more photography and go up Roan Mountain or explore the waterfalls. I did go down to the historic post office which was fun, hence why I would like to explore more. I don’t need Penland to do this so I might look for a trip in spring or fall for a long weekend.
The goal for my work was to keep things small which meant I finished two pieces and got to experiment on two pieces working on techniques.
When I turned 45, I realized I had probably lived more years than the years I have to live. This made me think about how I want to live the rest of my life. This piece was inspired on the tree of life block, played with the shape and also creation of negative space in the right side, the latter years of life. I also wanted to explore using up cycled fabrics and using panels that could add structure (for it to hang away from the wall).
Carbon under Pressure
Explored using improv strip pieces shaped as diamonds, which started to remind me of the pressure I was under at work constantly and how pressure forms you and your response, a lot of the time changing who you are (not always for the better).
Let’s talk: Making Invisible Visible
This is an idea I have, taking the words of invisible disabilities and creating them as blocks in cream and white using reverse appliquè. I plan on including as many as I can but I was worried if I had to carry this around as a whole quilt how would that work. I was able to experiment with individual blocks and join them after being quilted. It worked well and now allows me to explore this project more.
Cairns (finding your way/path)
I have created a design a couple of years ago inspired by Leon Polk Smith that represents a stack of stones (Cairns). I wanted to make this, keeping the natural curved edges so I experimented with a smaller version. I liked that I could zig-zag the edge instead of binding. I also got to think through making the templates for the ovals. There will be a larger version coming soon too.
Would I recommend it?
I really would recommend this experience to anyone, to apply for the two weeks whether you just need a change of environment or need to get away from work and/or family. It was a great time working on my own work and meeting artists across many medians. Right now, I am thinking I would like to do another artist in residence in another location, or redo Penland but experience another studio like printmaking, Letterpress or photography.