Penland School is well-known for its intensive workshops in clay, glass, metals, and other materials traditionally associated with the word “craft.” Penland, however, defines that term quite broadly, and has long offered classes in so-called “fine art” media such as drawing, painting, and printmaking, along with everyone’s favorite unclassifiable medium: photography. The school is currently in the process of planning and raising funds for a new photography studio and, as part of that effort, is involved in an unusual partnership in North Carolina’s Triangle area: an exhibition/auction of work by Penland-affiliated photographers at Chapel Hill’s Cassilhaus, the home and gallery of architect and community activist Ellen Cassilly and AV systems designer, documentary film producer, and arts entrepreneur Frank Konhaus.
Titled An Expansive Vision: Photographers Working for Penland’s Future, the exhibition, which is on view at Cassilhaus until the auction on March 2 and is also available online, features work by 35 photographers who have donated photographs (framed and ready to hang) in support of Penland’s new studio. The photographs vary widely in style, from documentary to nonrepresentational with many stops in between. The methods used to produce the images could almost form a history of photographic technology: several nineteenth century processes are represented along with black-and-white darkroom prints, traditional color processes, and up-to-date archival inkjet prints.
Cassilhaus (seen above) is an unusual venue—a beautiful private home (located in a wooded area just north of Chapel Hill) that incorporates a gallery and a separate apartment that supports an artist residency. “Ellen and I have a long-time connection to Penland,” explains Frank Konhaus. “We have taken several fantastic workshops over the years and have volunteered for the benefit auction. Penland is a rare place the excels in teaching darkroom and alternative photo processes alongside current digital techniques. We are passionate photography collectors and have developed a vibrant artist residency and exhibition program at our home in Chapel Hill. It seemed like a natural fit for us to mount an exhibition and auction here of work by Penland-connected photographers to help support the future of Penland photography program.”
That future will be grounded in a beautiful new studio designed by Ratio Architects of Raleigh. The conceptual design was led by architect Louis Cherry working closely with Penland staff members and a design committee that included five photographers with close ties to Penland’s workshop program. The goal for the new studio is to allow Penland to teach any kind of photography that has ever existed. It will be a flexible space that will support nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first century technologies: from daguerreotypes to digital. The design has now been completed by a team from Ratio led by Jesse Green. It will be part of a two-building complex that also includes a paper-making studio and a large social hall, and the project will include a landscape plan by Walt Havener of Surface 678 in Durham.
Fundraising for the project is ongoing, and all proceeds from the Cassilhaus auction will support the new photography studio. The photographs in the auction can be viewed on this page, which also has information about absentee bidding, viewing the exhibition by appointment, and making reservations for the auction on March 2. Seating for the event is quite limited and it is likely to fill, but there’s room for an unlimited number of absentee bidders. An absentee bid form allows bidders to name their highest bid for any photographs they are interested in. Bids will be placed for them (up to their stated maximum) by Penland staff members during the live auction.