Wednesday March 8, 2017 | by Hailey Clark

BOOK REPORT: Penland publishes a lavish celebration of its unique residency program

In many words and pictures, Penland School of Crafts' new book, entitled Inspired: Life In Penland’s Resident Artists and Core Fellowship Programs, tells the story of this North Carolina craft center's mission and artist outcomes through the voices of its staff and 32 of the artist residents. These voices share their positive experiences during their time in residency, whether it was for 8 months or the uniquely long 3 year fellowship, and how they benefited from the institution's educational and residency programs. Over the course of 192 pages, this new coffeetable book delves into the history of Penland, first founded in the 1920s (it established its first glass program in 1965), and the core reason for its existence: to provide the perfect balance of solidarity and isolation for upmost creative growth. This hardcover book, according to Penland executive director Jean McLaughlin on page 8, "aim[s] to acknowledge the remarkable near-fifty-year history of these two programs and begin to document this history through the stories of participating artists." 

The book certainly does work to document, in great detail, the school's history and signature residency programs. Illustrated by high-quality photographs of artists captured in the midst of creative explorations in the studio are liberally sprinkled through the first 50 pages, which leavens the dense pages of type.

In his feature article entitled "Total Immersion" for the Spring 2007 edition of GLASS (#106), critic and curator Dan Klein wrote: “What began as an idealistic small school teaching local women traditional weaving skills as a way out of poverty blossomed over the decades into a major craft center and unique place for artists.” Klein quoted Penland founder, Lucy Morgan, to describe the school as focused on “the joy of creative occupation and a certain togetherness—working with one another in creating the good and the beautiful.” 

A perfect book to peruse but also refer to for insights into the institution and artists it has fostered, this ambitious publishing project offers beautiful stories of friendship, community, and creative growth. Thirty-two alumni artists and residents penned essays about their time in this creative sancutary and their journey with fellow artists who helped carve their path to where they are today. Flipping to page 169, one of three featured glass residents, Mark Peiser shares his story for four consecutive pages about how an article, "Where to study this summer" in an issue of Craft Horizons was the turning point which lead him on his way to Penland. Many of the stories like Peiser's were a joy to read, yet there is at times a repetitive quality as each artist writes about the same studio and environment, as rich as it may be.

In the end, this book serves best as a rich resrource enhanced by its strong visual quality and detailed representation of Penland. What makes this publication compelling is not just its handsome visual appeal, but the main story that's told from the first image to the last, as you read from cover to cover. The true meaning and character of Penland resides in its residents' dedication from artist Tom Shields, who stays in the studio long after dark, to Angela Eastman who responded to the lush surroundings by braiding glass, fully absorbed in nothing but the splendor of nature. 

To order this book, visit the publishers website.

GLASS: The UrbanGlass Quarterly, a glossy art magazine published four times a year by UrbanGlass has provided a critical context to the most important artwork being done in the medium of glass for 35 years.