The Student

There are the mountains!

It’s now the end of the first week, which feels simultaneously like six weeks and twenty-four hours.  Yesterday, St. Patrick’s day, when the gorgeous morning fog rolled away, it was spring, and warm, and the mountains re-appeared. Today, we were able to move some of the papermaking outdoors, wearing only t-shirts. Right now, I’m ducking out of the Iron Studio’s ‘pin the pastie on the pinup’ party (though I sent on the paper pasties I made, cast cotton doorknobs embellished with flax, which I forgot to photograph…our one male book and paper person volunteered to take or maybe even wear them): quiet time to sit, relax, and above all to not hear, and to try and write a proper blog.

Our studio (up only five sets of stone stairs).

I am loving it here; can’t tell you how much, and I have only scratched the surface.  Marilyn Sward first told me about Penland soon after I met her, and she constantly urged me to come here (and also to Haystack in Maine, where she was on the board, which I have yet to even visit).  Somehow, I never made it except for a brief afternoon maybe five years ago, when I was visiting Mary while friends were teaching; Mary drove me up the narrow, twisty mountain-climbing roads for an afternoon visit. I was highly impressed and decided I absolutely had to come, but then my life began to segue into the strange period I’ve been slowly leaving behind for two years now. So Penland is somewhere I’ve wanted to be for a long, long time, and now I’m getting the first inklings of understanding why.

Where I live. It’s on the National Register of Historic Places. I have my own bathroom, and only two sets of stairs…

First impressions: it’s like two of the things I enjoy most rolled into one: a residency with all that entails, coupled with teaching that seamlessly and unapologetically melds content with craft.  It’s also in one of my favorite areas of the country. It’s a bustling, multileveled village high up on a mountaintop made up of artists who work or are learning to work in iron, precious metals, glass, wood, clay, fiber, paper, books, painting, drawing, sculpture, installation, performance, food, media and much, much more. I see no pretentiousness, no jockeying: just a community enthusiastically suffused with the joy, energy and intimate knowledge of making and exchanging…and I have so much more yet to learn and to share.

The dining hall and the view from it; Patrick Dougherty has festooned the porch.

Like any village, it has a wide range of ages, which makes it even more enriching.  The span in my class alone is fifty-four years. Artists do not retire. For me personally, there were the usual bumps in the road that come with learning the idiosyncrasies of a new studio while teaching, and the initial oddness of being the deafened person.  But I gave my slide talk yesterday which introduced me to almost everyone, and I learned something: while talking, I heard nothing, and simply assumed that everyone was unresponsive.  Not so; there were plenty of reactions. I had to watch what I was doing, so I simply didn’t hear them. So I’m definitely not only here to teach, I am wholeheartedly looking forward to all that Penland has to teach me. Now, I think I’ll head back to the wee house with my hearing aids on, to catch what I can of the chorus of hundreds of spring peeper frogs…

Nightly neon on the mountaintop, with the almost-full largest moon in 18 years…