PARTICIPATORY SPORT FOR CRAFT ARTISTS
After taking suggestions from another friend of what to do and where to go in Asheville I stayed the night with the remarkable Gwynne Rukenbrod, and had dinner with her and the irrepressible Marthe Le Van. Before dinner we called in to Mora – Marthe’s jewellery gallery downtown. It’s a huge space with some impressive glass cabinets in the centre of the space and lit painted wooden ones lining the walls. There’s a lot of work in there, with the potential for more, so Marthe’s considerable curating expertise is being well utilised as she slowly acquires more artists.
It was a glorious day to be in Asheville, which was happily repeated the following for my day at Penland. I’m not big on driving in show so the well-above-freezing temperatures and full sunlight were much appreciated. I hit Elizabeth’s place, just a few miles from Penland, around 10 am and I followed her further into the hills for a tour of the school. We went all around, through the studios and into the store and coffee shop, as well as a quick visit into some of the resident artist studios including that of glass artist Micah Evans, who welcomed us in for a chat.
It’s a picturesque sprawling campus, much of which overlooks a grassy valley, where, I was told, just a couple of weeks earlier many of the Penland and local residents had been tobogganing and snow-tubing down the hill. Elizabeth is very knowledgeable about the history of the place, and its former inhabitants, so she was the consummate tour guide. I was taken through all of the studios. They are uniformly beautifully set up and maintained. To be honest, they looked better than their counterparts in most of the universities I have seen. I don’t know if this is a maintenance thing (which everyone seems to take pride in) or the age, but just, well, wow.
Over lunch in the small cafe, a guy who I had met earlier in the blacksmithing studios told me that it’s simply the best place to learn. He said something like; ‘You learn more here in 8 weeks than a semester, hell probably more, in college.’ It was then that I finally ‘got’ what the system of craft schools here is all about. It’s uninterrupted vocational training by people from industry, in a near-to-perfect learning environment. No distractions, good facilities, classmates equally keen to suck up knowledge.
Given this example of the form – and might I add, Penland is considered one of the originators and its schedule is rumoured to fill the quickest – (check out my paper that discusses these schools for some of the other examples) this education system makes a compelling use case. Mind you, this is coming from someone who is yet to fully experience such a place as a learning environment…