Monday, November 12, 2012

Penland School of Crafts

Penland meadow from the porch of the Dye Shed
This weekend I was at Penland School of Crafts in Penland, NC.  Penland is an internationally known school where crafts makers of all ages and levels of experience have the opportunity to learn more about their own craft, or even try out a new one, under the instruction of the best artists in their field.

The Dye Shed

The major plus is what we call the "Penland Experience."  The workshops are eight-, two-, or one-week long; the studios are open 24/7; the dining room provides fantastic food; and the campus is tucked away and beautiful.  It's a total immersion experience:  art and artists all the time.  It's magic.

A hollyhock in front of the Dye Shed
Penland was started back in the 1920's by a woman named Lucy Morgan who wanted to preserve the craft of weaving that had been practiced by the women in this area for over a hundred years.  It evolved into a way for these women to earn an income as their fine woven items became known and sought after.  Over the years Penland has added classes in clay, books and paper, drawing and painting, iron, metals, glass, photography, printmaking and letterpress, wood, textiles, and other media.

 So what's this got to do with gardening, you say?  Well, two things.  First, the Penland campus is approximately 420 acres with over 50 buildings.  You can imagine the landscaping opportunities.  The school recently added a full-time gardener.  Her name is Bronwyn and she's full of ideas.  I got to see the new compost operation and it's amazing.  Only four months old and there are piles and piles.  There's plenty to feed it:  all the scraps from the dining hall, grass cut from the meadow, leaves in abundance.  They have found it impossible to separate the meat scraps from the vegetable ones, so they just throw everything in.  Quite an odor and the working pile is surrounded by a solar-powered electric fence to keep the bears out.  Wish I had taken a picture!

The second gardening related highlight from this weekend was visiting with Catharine Ellis, who is teaching a class called The Intersection of Weaving & Dyeing.  She showed us how the class was using plants from the Penland dye garden (!) to dye the threads that they then wove into beautiful scarves, wraps, hangings - whatever the student wants to do.  I learned that you have to use something called a "mordant" to set the dye.  In other words, you can't just dip something in, say, onion skins, and have it be colorfast through subsequent washings.  There are several mordants and each one of them reacts with the dye source differently.

The examples above had different mordants painted on the material in strips, then the whole cloth was dipped in the dye source.  (See how where there's no mordant the dye didn't take?)  I'm sorry I didn't take good notes about which mordants and dye sources were used (you'll have to take the class!)  So what they do is make of these test cloths to see what color they want for a particular project, then they dye the thread.  This class was in the Lily Loom House in a lovely light-filled room full of looms and dying equipment.  They even had some indigo in process!  Indigo is the only natural source of blue and it's difficult to extract and set.  Click on Catharine's name above and see her wonderful work.

Lily Loom House - see those wonderful windows on the second floor?
Just a few more images from Penland, where it's all art, all the time!

Most of the buildings have a hand-made marker

A wall in one of the bathrooms

Closeup of the wall

A set of flame-worked birds for sale in the Gallery

Oh, yes, check out the Gallery.  Fabulous.  I bought a scarf that you're going to dye for (get it???)

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