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Photo of the Week: Canoe Launch

Thirteen canoes in 2.5 weeks—the class poses on the water in their handmade boats. Photo by Nadia Massoud.

This past session, Gerald Weckesser came to Penland to teach a skin-on-frame canoe building workshop. Over the course of 2.5 weeks, the boats took shape in the wood studio, first as steam-bent ribs, then as fully lashed frames, and finally as Dacron-skinned vessels ready to hit the water. On the final morning of the session, the class strapped their new creations onto their vehicles and headed to the lake for a maiden voyage. The water was calm, dappled sunlight lit up the boats like lanterns, and nobody capsized—a fitting end-of-session celebration, indeed.

Happy paddling, canoe builders!

Penland’s Gary Jobe loads three canoes onto his truck outside the studio.
Each canoe is sized for a single person and is light enough to be maneuvered with ease.
Students made quick double-sided paddles from plywood to use on the lake.
Gerald poses with one of the canoes by the shore of the lake.
Gerald Weckesser, canoe building instructor and A+ canoe model. Photo by Nadia Massoud.

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The Penland Workshop Experience in 2-1/2 Minutes

We are excited to have a beautiful new short video thanks to the folks at Myriad Media in Raleigh. Last fall, Myriad spent a week at Penland using the campus as a location for a short, scripted piece they are hoping will become the pilot for a web series set in a place kind of like Penland.

Spike Hoban interviewing Kathleen Kennedy
Director Spike Hoban interviewing instructor Kathleen Kennedy.

After the actors left, the crew stayed for a few more days, conducting interviews and shooting activity in the studios. Then with lots of careful editing, sound mixing, music composing, tweaking, and more editing, they produced a lively 2-1/2 minute look at the Penland workshop experience.

Thanks to Sean, Spike, Max, and the whole crew at Myriad for this excellent piece of work. (Full screen recommended.)

YouTube: The Penland Workshop Experience


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Photo of the Week: Steel Feather

This steel feather was designed by sculptor Roberto Giordano and created by Roberto and the members of his fourth session workshop in the iron studio. It’s currently sitting on the lawn near The Pines. In a few weeks it will be installed behind the new Northlight building. It will live there until the 2019 auction when some lucky buyer will take it home.

Here’s one of the students working on it during the workshop.


Here’s Roberto working on something else.

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Cloud Observatory

There’s this intriguing structure outside the Penland Gallery that is labeled “Cloud Observatory.” It is the imaginative work of Penland instructor Meredith Brickell. We’ve been meaning to write something about it, but a poet beat us to it. Since we are not in the business of competing with poets, we pass this along so you can enjoy it, too. 

The poet writes: 

We would like to inform you, dear readers, that we have found the Cloud Observatory.

The Cloud Observatory is a modest wooden structure with a back wall set at a tilt. There is no roof. You enter the structure, lean back, and look up.

Read the whole post here.

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Kat of Conley Ridge Road

Kat Conely at Penland School
Kat Conley in her office at the Penland supply store, late 80s or early 90s (judging by the technology).

Penland School lost a good friend on June 28 when Kat Conley died of a stroke at age 72. As many people reading this will know, Kat ran Penland’s supply store for decades, ordering materials for classes and keeping the place stocked with art supplies, T-shirts, postcards, books, flashlights, and dozens of other items that a Penland student might need. Kat had a big personality and a big heart. She remembered the names of and bits of information about hundreds of Penland students and instructors who she greeted enthusiastically year after year. It was common to hear people say, “I better go visit Kat or I’m going to get in trouble.”

She grew up right near Penland School on Conley Ridge Road. As a child she attended the Appalachian School, an Episcopal school that operated for many years in Horner Hall and brought Penland School founder Lucy Morgan to Conley Ridge Road in the 1920s. As an adult she moved away for a time, returning to her family’s place in the 1980s. That’s when she started working at Penland, which she did until she retired in 2010.

Kat and her daughter Rose in the Penland July 4 parade in 2010.

Kat loved the school and was one of its unofficial historians. She told stories about Lucy Morgan and other Penland characters and once wrote narrative histories of many of the older buildings. Although her favorite people got picked on quite a bit, her supply store was a welcoming place, and she was always willing to help people any way she could. After retirement she stayed in touch with many of her friends in the Penland community, and a large group of them gathered at the Beacon Chapel (on Conley Ridge Road, of course) on July 3 to honor her in an informal service led by her son Jimmy. 

Crystal Thomas is the manager of the Penland coffee house and has the distinction of being Kat’s granddaughter. Crystal lived with Kat for the last ten years and cared for her as she dealt with a number of health problems. She wrote a few words for us in memory of the woman she always referred to as “my Nana.”

At her retirement party in 2010.

At Penland, for as long as I can remember I’ve been introduced as “Kat Conley’s granddaughter, Crystal.” When I was younger it irritated me, but with time I realized that it was a complement. Kat Conley is remembered for many things, including her laugh and sense of humor, her office decorated with pictures of scantily clad men in cowboy hats, and her voice calling you “kid” no matter how old you were.

Kat Conley worked in the supply store at Penland for almost 30 years. Even before she worked at the school she was a huge part of this community. She worked in factories, in the Penland Post Office, and even had a degree in criminal justice.

When I was a child she never let us call her Grandma. She would threaten to take away our Christmas presents. She said she wasn’t old, and wouldn’t answer to Grandma. We believed her; even as children we knew to take what she said seriously.

Kat Conley was a strong woman. She worked hard and played harder. She loved her family and had the best friends a person could ask for. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t miss her. Her rough voice laughing at a joke or asking me if I “heard anything good today?” I remember her every morning when I have my coffee. I like to imagine that wherever she is, she’s with her dog and friends that have passed, drinking scotch and trying to pinch someone’s butt.


Kat loved animals, and the family has requested that memorial donations go to Mitchell County Animal Shelter at 2492 US 19-E, Spruce Pine, NC 28777 or through their website


Some of Kat’s many friends gathered at the Beacon Chapel on July 3 to remember her together.

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July 4th Celebrations

Every summer, Penland celebrates the 4th of July much like the rest of the country—with picnics, with a parade, with fireworks. But when you get a whole community of creative people together, there are bound to be some extra quirks and flourishes that make the event memorable and uniquely “Penland.” This year was no different, thanks to the enthusiasm and flair of our students, instructors, staff, residents, and community. Here’s a look at some highlights from the most spirited day of the summer:

Picnic-ing in front of the Dye Shed

7:00 PM – Friends and families gathered on blankets and lawn chairs all along the road to chat, enjoy a picnic dinner or a drink, and wait for the festivities.

the head of the parade marches up Conley Ridge Rd

7:34 PM – Here comes the parade! A banner printed with the Declaration of Independence headed up this year’s procession, along with a Statue of Liberty costume, a pretty rad bowtie, and quotations from Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Paine, Theodore Roosevelt, and Patrick Henry.

plywood sculptures on parade

7:36 PM – Matthew Hebert’s wood students came marching by with the kinetic plywood sculptures they designed and made this session. There were snipping scissors, a frog with a moving tongue, a stove with flames that swirled as it rolled, an Uncle Sam statue with gesticulating arms, and more.

parade float with rainbows and a giant rat

7:40 PM – This epic float with rainbows and a giant hamster came rolling down the road. Parade entries are a reflection of the passions and priorities of Penland’s community, and pride and “Keep families together” were both recurring themes this year.

La Llorona float approaches with the mountain in the background

7:47 PM – The impressive La Llorona float, a joint effort between Martin Mazorra’s letterpress workshop and Jay Ryan’s screenprinting students, made its way past the knoll. This crew was also responsible for many of the gorgeous posters that were part of this year’s parade.

The fireworks crew brings up with rear in a pickup truck full of bottle rockets

7:54 PM – Penland’s facilities and grounds crew (aka fireworks show magicians) brought up the rear of the parade, along with 20,000 bottle rockets decked out in their rainbow finery.

core fellows serve up ice cream from big cardboard tubs

8:08 PM – Two big carts of vanilla and chocolate ice cream rolled out onto the Pines Portico, and a team of heroic core fellows started speed scooping.

Violet gets a bit messy eating chocolate ice cream

8:10 PM – The youngest members of the Penland community showed us all how to truly enjoy a cone.

the parade award for "Most Sparkliest Artist"

8:15 PM – Awards were given out to parade participants in a variety of silly and less-silly categories including “Over the Rainbow,” “Most Industrious,” “Dirtiest Clothes,” “Most Patriotic,” and “Most Sparkliest Artist.” Each award was handmade by students and instructors in Penland’s workshops.

sunset over the knoll while waiting for fireworks

8:37 PM – More picnicking and relaxing went down on the lawn while the sun set over the mountains. A bonfire burned out on the knoll, ready to ignite the bottle rockets that accompany the end of the fireworks show.

fireworks exploding over the knoll

9:28 PM – The first colorful explosions lit up the sky. Oohs and aahs quickly followed.

two views of Penland's fireworks finale

9:42 PM – The entire Penland campus burst into screams and applause as the fireworks reached their finale and 20,000 bottle rockets shot towards the sky. Dave and his crew really know how to put on a show, and dozens of folks commented that this year’s was the best one yet.

A huge thank you to everyone who came out to celebrate creativity and community with us! Let’s do it again next year.

See even more photos over on our Facebook album of the 2018 parade.

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Photo of the Week: They Made These Jeans!

Ana Toth's textiles students pose in their new, handmade jeans

Round of applause for Anna Toth’s textiles students—they’re posing in the custom jeans they made this session! Each pair is the result of extensive measuring, calculating, fitting, adjusting, and readjusting to get the shape just right for each student’s own body and style. These folks had the best looking denim at show and tell, hands down.