Collection's Significance

Penland’s history offers a complex array of values for the humanities that extend far beyond  the making of things to include universal questions of meaningful human existence. This includes issues  of culture, identity, gender, place, collective work, creative process, material culture, lifelong learning,  risk-taking, entrepreneurial spirit, and self-discovery. Penland’s role as a leader in crafts education is  even more relevant in light of the contemporary “maker movement,” inspiring people to become active creators rather than passive users.  An upcoming conference, Shared Ground: Cross-Disciplinary  Approaches to Craft Studies, sponsored by the Center for Craft Creativity and Design, the Bard Center for  Graduate Studies and the Museum of Art and Design, also underlines the currency of our collections.  The conference announcement states: “The ‘material-turn’ in the humanities has brought increased  attention to the study of craft in art and design history, decorative arts and material culture studies, as  well as other disciplines, such as anthropology and science and technology studies. Institutions are  combining academic traditions of the humanities and social sciences with ‘learning by doing’ pedagogy  and the influence of global studies has led scholars to research, understand, and contextualize craft  outside of the studio craft or the arts and craft movements.” In a similar vein, Warren Wilson College  initiated a Master of Arts in Critical and Historical Craft Studies that is the “first program of its kind to  integrate American studies, anthropology, art history, decorative art history, design history, social  history, and material and visual culture studies.”  

The first three decades of the school’s history are rich with themes that reflect the American  dream and the American ‘can-do’ attitude: the Great Depression, rural America, Appalachian culture,  Craft Revival, economic opportunity, educational reform, government programs, women’s work, and  women’s role in society. Lucy Morgan’s Penland Weavers and Potters cooperative introduced a cash economy based on craft production to an isolated mountain community previously existing on a  subsistence economy. The archives holds Morgan’s records and the Penland Weavers and Potters  administrative, marketing, and financial records, all of which help tell those stories. Highlights in the  collection for this era include the Travelog — a log cabin built to fit on a Model-T Ford Truck, which  carried another cabin and Penland Weavers goods to the Chicago World’s Fair in 1933-1934. The  Travelog itself has been reconstructed on campus and housed in a timber frame structure (built by an 8- week class in timber frame construction during the Spring of 2016) with interpretive material provided  by the archives. The archives holds photographs, correspondence, publications, meeting minutes and other materials that document this extraordinary vehicle and the unlikely endeavor spearheaded by a  very determined woman. Photographs and records of the Penland Weavers document the resolute  strength of an Appalachian community and stand as evidence of the power of hand work to bring about  change. Bayard Wootten, an important North Carolina woman photographer and cousin of Lucy  Morgan, took many of the photographs that exist from the earliest years of the school. They are  significant images as well as resources that document the school and the mountain community.  Morgan’s untiring correspondence with state and federal agencies, constantly looking for ways to  support the programs offered by the school during first the Depression and then World War II,  document state and national efforts in educational reform and the growth of educational opportunities  during this time, as well as existing as an example of a successful embodiment of the American dream. 

Penland’s history also relates to distinct periods of American history and government policies, educational and economic reform movements, and the creative economy. The full trajectory of the  school’s history is a fascinating study in continuity and change and it exhibits a breadth of adaptation  over time, in both the economic impact of craft production and in the evolution of innovative  educational programs, that is significant. The holdings of the archives support research in all of these  areas, while also yielding a wealth of information about specific topics in craft and many individual makers. 

Agencies and societies that were associated with Penland during its early history include the US  Department of Agriculture Extension Service, the Federal Security Agency, GI Bill programs, occupational  therapy training programs, Home Demonstration programs—part of the North Carolina State University  Extension Service, Inter-American Affairs, the National Boards of Missions, the National Federation of  Business and Professional Women’s Clubs, the Russell Sage Society, United Nations Fellowships, and the YMCA Foreign Division. 

Lucy Morgan was one of many key figures, and one of the few native to North Carolina, in the  Southern Highland Craft Revival and the founding of the Southern Highland Handicraft Guild. During the  early 20th century, individuals came to western North Carolina as craft promoters, missionaries,  teachers, researchers, documenters, and social workers. These include Frances Goodrich (founder of  Allanstand Cottage Industries), Olive Dame Campbell (founder of John C. Campbell Folk School), Dr.  Mary Martin Sloop (founder of Crossnore School), Allen Eaton (folk arts champion and staff/Director of  Art and Social Work at the Russell Sage Foundation) Edward Worst, Clementine Douglas (owner of The  Spinning Wheel, Asheville, NC), and Doris Ulmann and Bayard Wootten (both early women  photojournalists). The archives has records and publications related to Morgan’s involvement in this  important period of Appalachian history. Two 16mm films by Eaton, Old Craft – New Horizons and  Patterns of Rural Art, done for the Russell Page Society in the 1930s and 1940s, are in Penland's  collections. They include early footage of Penland and Lucy Morgan, and relate the story of the founding  of Penland. A Penland Summer, filmed by an Asheville film enthusiast Thor Behrens, is a silent, color film  which captures the school in 1950.  

Traditional crafts taught at Penland during this period include carding, spinning, dyeing with  native plants, weaving, basketry, wood carving, pottery, leatherwork, bookbinding, block printing, soap  making, jewelry making, and hickory chair bottoming. Later these also included lapidary, candle making,  doll making, shoemaking, plastics, felt crafts, drawing, stenciling, lampshade making, corn shuckery,  screen printing, and the making and playing of shepherd’s pipes. The archives holds examples of most of  these items, as well as school catalogs which describe these crafts, and photographs of workshops that  taught these topics. Eaton’s films also document many of these activities. 

During Bill Brown’s tenure, 1962-1983, studio practice expanded and Penland played a role in  the early implementation of studio-scale glass technology, developed an iron-working program, and  photography became a full-fledged program--all of these developments were in pace with or developing  ahead of most university programs in the US. A network of highly regarded instructors came from  universities, studios and industry from all over the world to teach and they returned to their institutions  or practices with new techniques and materials to share, a practice that continues today. A visiting  scholars program and other special events became regular parts of campus life. Performance and interdisciplinary activities became ingrained in the programs. Several residency programs, which have  become models for programs around the world, were implemented. Most of Brown’s Penland records  are held by the Penland archives, but a small portion of his Penland records are in his personal papers at  the Smithsonian Archives of American Art. Penland’s collections include correspondence and grant  proposals documenting the residency programs; documents and photographs relating to the  implementation of new facilities and technologies; and collegial correspondence. Publications and  catalogs trace the development of new programs and new ideas. Staff photographers during this time  include True Kelly, Evon Streetman, and Alida Fish, and publications and the photographic print  collection include their work. 16mm film and television interviews capture the creative vitality of this  time. This includes Penland Summer 1969 and Penland Summer 1979, filmed to capture the school at  those moments in time, just as A Penland Summer had in 1950. The records also reflect the social  change and conflict evident in the country at large during the 1960s and 1970s. The counterculture of  the 1960s attracted people to the idea of making and teaching crafts as an alternative life path. During  this period, the school attracted individuals and activities that created a deep divide between Penland  and the conservative Appalachian community surrounding it and records in the archives reflect this.

Penland School became a magnet that attracted a new community. Many students and  instructors stayed in the area after coming to Penland or returned to establish a studio practice nearby.  National organizations such as Southern Highland Handicraft Guild and Glass Arts Society (GAS) held  their first meetings at Penland. Harvey Littleton, widely regarded as the founder of the studio glass movement, was instrumental in the founding of Penland’s glass studio. He lived and worked near the  school for the last 36 years of his life and remained influential with the area’s glass artists. Paulus  Berensohn, author of Finding One’s Way With Clay, came to Penland in the 1960s and lived within a mile  of the school until his death last year. There are many other stories of people arriving in the 1960s and  1970s, finding a like-minded community, and never leaving. Oral histories contained in at-risk magnetic audio tapes are held by the archives, and these personal accounts capture many of these stories. These include interviews with Bill Helwig (enamels/State University of New York, Buffalo), Jeff and Jaffa Todd  (glass), Drewry Hanes (jewelry, Hanes family foundations), Mark Peiser (glass/North Carolina Living  Treasure), Bill Brown Jr. (iron), Ellen Dissanayake (independent scholar of art and culture), Janet Taylor  (textiles/Arizona State University ), Jim Stone (photography/University of New Mexico), Jack Troy  (clay/Juniata College), Julie Leonard (books and paper/University of Iowa Center for the Book), Paul  Sasso (wood/Murray State University), Jacob Fishman (Neon), Sally Prasch (glass/teaching scientific glass  at multiple universities), Jane Peiser (clay), Paulus Berensohn (deep ecology, journal making, and clay),  Evon Streetman (photography/FL), Jean McLaughlin (NC Arts Council), Gerry Williams (clay, founder  Studio Potter journal/Dartmouth College), Phillip Fike (metals/Wayne State University), and Boris Bally  (metals/Carnegie Mellon University). Noted affiliations listed were the primary affiliation of that  individual at the time of recording.

The period from 1983 to the end of the millennium was one of change — three different  directors and two interim directors led the school and financial stress was a constant companion.  Despite this, the school continued to add new programs and maintain an impressive roster of  instructors. Records of the directors and the Board of Trustees document these years. During this time,  the advent of affordable video technology offered a new way to capture life at Penland. The archives  holds original recordings, promotional tapes, and clips from news programs. Around 200 of these  cassettes include footage of interviews, demonstrations, and workshops with notable craft artists,  writers, and visiting scholars. These tapes include footage of Harvey Littleton (glass/University of  Wisconsin/North Carolina Living Treasure), Evon Streetman, Walter Nottingham (textiles/HI), Paulus  Berensohn, Don Wilcox (poet, sculptor, Hands in Outreach), Michael Pierschalla (furniture), Dan Bailey  (photography/University of Maryland Baltimore), Cynthia Bringle (clay/North Carolina Living Treasure),  Ken Carder (glass), Doug Sigler (Wood/Rochester Institute of Technology), Norm Schulman (Clay/Rhode  Island School of Design/North Carolina Living Treasure), Mark Peiser (Glass/North Carolina Living  Treasure), Stephen Dee Edwards (glass), Peter Voulkos (clay/Black Mountain College, UC Berkeley),  Robert Arneson (clay/UC Davis), Viola Frey (clay/California College of Art), Bill Brown, Edwina Bringle  (textiles/UNC Charlotte), Gary Beecham (glass), Bill Fiorini (Damascus steel/University of Wisconsin),  Louise Todd-Cope (textiles, Hands in Outreach/CA), Gerry Williams, M.C. Richards (poet, clay/Black  Mountain College, Camphill Village), Johne Ehle (writer), Debra Frasier (author-illustrator), Tim Tate  (glass, video/Washington School of Glass), Billie Ruth Sudduth (basketry/North Carolina Living Treasure),  Amanda Degener (paper), Einar and Jamex de la Torre (glass), Heather White (Jewelry/MassArt), George  Ferrandi (installation), Ireland Renier (painter, musician/Clemson University), Jean McLaughlin (Penland  executive director), Linda Christenson (painter), Jerry Spagnoli (Daguerreotype photography), Ah Leon  (clay), Liz Covey (costume design), Rosemary Ingram (costume design), Pinky Bass (pinhole  photography), Kitty Couch (clay), Alex Bernstein (glass), Billy and Katie Bernstein (glass), John Clark (wood), Sam Reynolds (landscape architect for Penland’s Master Plan), Stephen Proctor (furniture),  Roald Hoffmann (chemist, writer in residence/Cornell University), Fred Fenster (pewtersmith/University of Wisconsin), Steve Miller (letterpress, Red Ozier Press, Red Hydra Press/University of Alabama). A  series of tapes also records the master glass work of Yuki Uchimura, Lucio Bubaco, Cesare Toffolo, Pino  Signorette, Dante Varioni, Lino Tagliapietra, Paul Marioni and Ann Trouther, Hiroshi Yoman and Finn Lynggaard. These video tapes have been digitized thanks in part to funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The period from 1998 to the present is particularly notable for the financial grounding of the  school, campus master planning and strategic planning, historic preservation and the creation of the  Penland School Historic District on the National Register, and the further development of the creative  community surrounding the school. Today, Penland School is an economic driver for two counties in  North Carolina and the creative economy is a major component of daily life in the region. The Toe River  Arts Council estimates over 400 artists and craftspeople have settled in close proximity to Penland  School. Penland’s programs have expanded to include writers-in-residence, artists-in-residence, and  winter residency programs. Writers in residence have included Barry Lopez, Garth Clark, Stuart  Kestenbaum, Emilia Ferrera, and Jenni Sorkin. Recent past executive director Jean McLaughlin’s records  of nearly 20 years have been transferred to the archives and will become the primary records of this  period and they are the first director’s records to include a computer hard drive and email as the  primary form of correspondence.  

Penland’s alliances with other craft organizations include a consortium called Craftschools.US  which includes Penland, Haystack Mountain School of Crafts, Pilchuck Glass School, Peters Valley School  of Craft, and Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts. The school maintains close ties with the American  Craft Council, American Federation of the Arts, Center for Craft, Creativity and Design, the Craft  Emergency Relief Fund (CERF), Alliance of Artists Communities, and many craft specific organizations.  Penland has significant collection ties to the Smithsonian Archives of American Art; University of North  Carolina Chapel Hill’s North Carolina Collection; Mint Museum, Charlotte, NC; North Carolina  Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, Raleigh and Asheville, NC; Southern Highland Crafts  Guild Archives, Asheville, NC; Belk Library Special Collections, Appalachian State University, Boone, NC; and the Hunter Library digital collections and the Craft Revival website — collaborative efforts between  a number of regional institutions including Penland that are maintained by Western Carolina University,  Sylva, NC.