Fierce dedication to craft

It’s hardly a commune, but the nine artists featured in this year’s core show at Penland Gallery live, work and play together while also sharing the same studio space. Upon acceptance into this competitive two-year program, Core Fellowship artists work part time for Penland School of Crafts, doing everything from preparing meals and collecting linens to treating every square inch of hand-forged ironwork on campus.

Weight: Andrew Hayes’ sculpture of steel, book pages and paint. Courtesy The Artist

What unites them more than the physical work is a fierce dedication to contemporary arts and crafts. Unlike a residency, this fellowship program provides the artists with full access to studios in 10 different media, as well as top-notch instructors who travel from all over the world to teach at Penland. Core artists incorporate new techniques, traditional methods and their own aesthetics into a body of work culminating in perhaps the most anticipated and celebrated show of the year.

“This show is really meant to represent [each artist’s] time at Penland, so you’ll see work from them in their medium of choice as well as new mediums they’ve been exposed to since joining the program,” says Kathryn Gremley, Penland Gallery’s director and the show’s curator.

Here’s a guide to the artists and their work:

• Andrew Hayes, in his second year of the program, will show two bodies of work. His landscape-based sculptures forged from fabricated steel have subtly textured and painted surfaces, often incorporating a miniature telephone pole or cloud. The work references distance, home, relationships and communication. The labor-intensive process to complete each piece further suggests the endurance required to negotiate the human experience, be it in isolation or across a wire. • Newcomer Christina Boy will also show a variety of work, including uniquely imagined sculptural stools, tricycles and a folding chair. “A chair is only a piece of furniture until someone sits in it, then it fulfills its function and becomes something more,” Boy says. “In my woodworking, I focus on furniture that challenges the user. Instead of the body conforming to the furniture, I want the furniture to engage the body.”

It’s getting heavy: Shane Darwent’s sculpture, titled “Heavy,” is made with harvested cherry and poplar, with a photo transfer. Courtesy The Artist

• Also in her first year of the program, Beth Schaible’s work primarily incorporates handmade paper or mixed-media collage and letterpress printing. She uses natural dyes and recycled or reused materials, resulting in an earth-conscious aesthetic that carries a vibrancy of cultural references. “I came to Penland with a specific skill set but have been excited by how many opportunities there are to expand in different medias and work in a way I hadn’t previously thought myself capable of,” Schaible says.

• Also working with natural and recycled materials, Marianne Dages of Huldra Press applies a variety of techniques to make books, prints, paper and stationery. Her work is elegant yet quirky, reminiscent of ancient myths, storytelling, and the occasional pop-culture pun. Dages has a diverse art background with strong design skills and printing expertise, resulting in a well-crafted body of work.

• Joshua Kuensting will show a series of tall clay vases, each fired in a different type of kiln. Making his debut with ironwork, he will also show a steel vase with steel orchid flower arrangement and a steel gate with iris motif. Viewed together, the brushwork on the clay vases and the steel flower arrangement work in concert, demonstrating Kuensting’s exploration of a theme across different media.

• Last year, Kreh Mellick’s wall-sized installation of drawings laid out in mosaic commanded attention. Using mostly gouache paints and ink, her aesthetic is both brave and simple, a true demonstration of understanding precisely how much to leave in and how much to leave out. “I have found that to make the larger drawings I love to make, I have to break them into pieces. Then, after collecting these pieces, I can put them into one larger drawing,” she says. This year, Mellick promises a similar display along with handmade wallpaper and a few other surprises.

• Core artists Shane Darwent (photography), Dana Fehsenfeld (functional textiles) and Wes Stitt (mixed media) also will be featured.

[Katey Schultz writes from Bakersville and can be reached via ]

who:  Penland School of Crafts core fellowship artists
what: Core show, 2008
where: Penland Gallery, Penland School of Crafts, near Spruce Pine
when: Opening reception Friday, Oct. 3, 7-8:30 p.m. Exhibit runs through Nov. 16 (Free.

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