I wake up early to the sunlight gleaming between trees creating strange shadows through the heavy morning mist. I grab breakfast and earl grey and settle in to my morning sketching and writing routine. There are a few of us who line the porch tables at the Pines, sleepily looking at the landscape, seeking a few moments of morning solitude before the day’s plans reach us. Introverts breakfast.
I spend more time than seems normal staring at the knoll and thinking about all of the mornings before this, sitting in the same place, at the same table, staring at the knoll. That landscape is speckled in my mind through a decade of coming to Penland with hay bales, with puppet shows, with bonfires. With dogs, with deer, with llamas.
I first came to Penland in 2008 to be a part of the Core Fellowship Program. I will be forever grateful that Penland saw something in me that needed to be nurtured. I was young and looking for a path to making a life of making… specifically handmade prints, books, and paper. I tried my best to soak in those two years like a sponge, every lesson, instructor, student, sunset. Looking back to those two years, now ten years ago, I remember becoming deeply familiar with the print shop, forcing myself to slow down and pay attention to all of the details that were required to become any good at all at printing and binding. I was equally informed by soaking in the warmth of rocks by the Toe River, walking up the balds of the Blue Ridge, and laughing and talking at picnic tables, or over bonfires, or in studios with friends and strangers. There was some kind of electric yet quiet energy that consumed me. Penland is a complicated place but it can be a safe haven for makers and artists and it was a safe haven for me. I’ve been back a handful of times since finishing my fellowship in different capacities, as a studio assistant, visitor, 1 week instructor, and 2 week instructor. Living in Asheville for 8 years made it easy to drop in on Penland on a whim.
A little over a year ago when I moved to California, I knew being near the Penland Community would be something I missed. I got a call asking me to teach fall 2018 concentration in the letterpress studio and couldn’t turn it down. 8 weeks in the mountains teaching a thing I love. The experience was a whirlwind, one of those windows of time that feels both too quick and eternal. I’ve been resettling back into California life for just shy of two weeks and while I still feel tired, I am so grateful for this gift of time at Penland.
Most students experience Penland in what is the cacophony of Penland Summer… typically two weeks of fast paced instruction, demos, and lectures paired with quickly getting to know your class and community. Spring and fall concentration students have 8 weeks. Most of my students were beginners and because letterpress printing has a lot of technical ins and outs we spent the first several weeks mostly learning about process. The last 1/3 of class was devoted to practicing what they had learned, merging process with content. It was interesting watching them learn a new way of mark making and evolve from week 1 to week 8, having enough time to become fluid with new movements and materials. I admire each of them not only for the progress and work they made, but also for deciding to spend time doing something different in their lives. When I was a Core Fellow we had a season of seminar twice a year where community members would talk to us in different capacities about making a living and life as makers. I remember Cristina Cordova talking about “finding your North” and holding true to whatever North is for you as you moved throughout your life. My hope now in teaching is that I can help my students acclimate toward their North and take steps towards that place.
Thank you Penland. Until next time.