Return from Penlandia

From the desk of Anna Rooney, Community Manager
Today is my first day back in the workshop after two weeks at Penland School of Craft. Many of you know that Haand was founded shortly after our co-founder Mark Warren (my boss!) was a Core Fellow there for two years. 
Penland is a craft school in the mountains of Mitchell County, North Carolina, about 3 hours from Haand's workshop.  It was founded in 1929 by Lucy Morgan, who aimed to provide instruction that gave local women an income-generating craft that they could do from home. Now, almost 100 years later, their offerings have expanded beyond weaving, and include printmaking, wood, paper, iron, clay, photography, and glass, which is what I signed up for. I wasn't going "for work", but just to practice my beginner's mindset. I'd never worked with hot glass before, and the workshop information said "all levels". I'm glad I had no idea that everyone else in the class would be such accomplished artists... I might not have signed up!
I also wanted to go to learn more about working in craft, and how to speak well about it in my role here at Haand. I didn't consider myself an artist (that changed by the time I got home) and felt "outside" of the process of making here in our workshop. Now, without anything changing, I feel much more connected to the concept and process of making, mostly just by letting myself be stupid, my #1 takeaway from Penland.

1. be stupid

I've spent my whole life thinking "stupid" was a bad word, but I'm coming home feeling totally neutral about the idea of having a "lack of intelligence". I always wanted to be the smartest person in the room, for fear that my colleagues wouldn't like or respect me if they knew how much I didn't know. In Penland's Hot Shop, I got to be completely CLUELESS about everything that was going on, and it was no problem at all (once I had my safety orientation). 
At first, every time I ruined a piece or answered the Studio Assistant's question incorrectly, I would feel a sting of discomfort, but after a few days of royally screwing up a dozen times an hour, it all dissipated. 
Being stupid is freeing and much more fun than the pressure of being smart! Why didn't anyone tell me this sooner!?

 

2. don't be precious

I've been at Haand long enough to know that ceramic breaks, and surprise, surprise, so does glass. 
It really wasn't too painful ruining my own pieces... nothing too exciting coming off a beginner's bench. But I got a lot of inspiration from watching my cohort, especially our Studio Assistants and teachers (the De la Torre Brothers), break their pieces. Certainly, if it happens to the best of them, it will happen to me! I learned from watching them that there are only two options to choose from if your piece breaks: make it again, or make it again. 

3. be brave

Disclaimer: do not take ANY advice from me. (Remember, I'm stupid!) 
They said it only takes one day to find out if someone's gonna make it in the hot shop: can they handle opening the door to a 2100 degree furnace, and then stay there while clumsily trying to "gather" molten glass onto the end of a stick?! My breakthrough was to whisper out loud to myself "you won't die if you get burned, you can survive a burn" and to bravely push forward just planning on getting a burn. (I actually only ended up with 2 small burns!). The most important first step to learning this craft was learning to override my body's fear response to the heat, otherwise I could never get into the art of it. This was made much easier by the constant salsa music at full blast in the hot shop... keeping our bodies dancing and swaying prevented the primal freakout. 

4. don't lose your focus

In the hot shop, you're surrounded by loud equipment, whirling fans, glass popping and cracking, and music pumping. But the most distracting thing of all is the RAD ART that everyone else is making. It's so easy to forget that I have a job in this moment instead of ooo-ing and ahh-ing at my neighbor's work. Even the "easiest" jobs required intense focus so you knew exactly which eyebrow twitch meant that someone needed your help. If your partner is yelling your name, it might already be too late. 

5. be dependable 

I called the glassblowers the "theatre kids" of craft - they seemed to be the loudest, most outgoing team on campus. While most people's projects in other studios seemed pretty solitary and often quiet (I swear you could hear a pin drop when I visited the clay studio), you can get almost nothing done by yourself in the hot shop. Everyone has a blowing partner, and you spend half your time "gaffing" for your own pieces, and the other half of your time assisting. Plus, you add in those aforementioned furnaces, and the intensity of the whole building gets dialed up. And then when someone needs help, they NEED HELP. Glass is not very patient! Much of what I learned was outside of class time or my own blow slot, just being in the right place at the right time by hanging around and being available during moments when an extra pair of hands was needed. 
Not scared away, curious to learn more about hot glass, and not satisfied with what you got watching Blown Away on Netflix? Sign up for Penland's newsletter, and don't be afraid to apply for a scholarship if you need one! 50% of everyone on campus during my time was there with some sort of scholarship. 
Sending a Mercader (MOST WANTED)
Anna Rooney
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And....
Have you met the glassblower that makes Haand's glassware? Not surprisingly, a Penland connection!