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Penland


After the fiber festival last week, we went to see Denver’s school for the first time. She is at Penland, a fine arts and craftsmen school, studying silver smithing (primarily silver jewelry design). She is learning all kinds of techniques, including how to make hollow rings, set stones, fuse metals, etc…  The eight week session features a very talented teacher, along with guest artists, such as one renowned artist who paints images into silver using human hair. Interesting. (So far, I’ve not noticed Denver with any silver tipped hair. If I was in that school, people would be saying, “Gee, that woman must do her hair painting with her roots – how do you think she manages that . . . Humm……..  Best I stick to writing where no one can see the gal behind the art getting older.)


It was a delight witnessing Denver’s new environment – her tiny cubby in the wall that is considered a room, the big dining hall where she washes dishes (because she’s a work study student), and especially, her craftsmen studio and work station. She showed us some of the pieces she’s been working on. They are all different, for she is trying to attempt a bit of everything she’s been introduced to. Denver is wise enough to understand that it isn’t important to leave the program with lots of jewelry to show off, but with the skills required to create pieces long beyond the course. Dance taught her to push beyond what you are good at, because artistic growth comes from tackling those things that don’t come easy or naturally to you.  Anyway, she is learning loads and enjoying the process.

This is where she works and some of her pieces.  



 

The school was remarkable. They have a large art gallery near the office, but it wasn’t filled with “crafty” regional art, such as the Campbell Folk School. Penland features high end art, with things like intricately blown glass sculpture, avante garde photography, and multimedia woven pieces. Everything is a “do not touch” item; it feels as if you are in a museum rather than a craft school gallery. We enjoyed browsing the various displays, marveling at Denver’s teacher’s work, and tilting our head over those “way out” pieces.


Most of the students at Penland are young compared to the Campbell school. Many are art majors wanting to expand their mediums – some are college students at an impasse (like Denver). Then you have the “free spirits” – students who sit around at dinner in mismatched vintage clothes and hair dyed pitch black with bangs, who say things like, “Well, I just lived in Alaska for a few months to work with dog sleds, and I’m thinking of hitting Hawaii to be a kayak guide, or maybe moving to Guam to build straw houses for orphans, but thought it would be cool to learn to weave first, so I’ve been collecting these old used tea bags thinking I might use them for something . I might even move to New York to study vegetarian cooking next. I’ll decide the day before this program is over.”


Denver was intimidated at first, because this is her first exposure to the carefree, bohemian artist attitude and she felt very “white bread” and uninteresting. She thought she’d been around artist types all her life, but the privileged dancers in sequins qualify hardly. This time, she is hob knobbing with the real deal. Denver isn’t uninteresting or naive in the ways of art, of course, but that didn’t change her feeling like some Pollyanna straight out of suburbia. But after a few weeks she considered Penland “home”. She now says things like, “Maybe I should pack up and just move someplace exotic, just to see life from a different angle. Or maybe I’ll go back to college to study jewelry design, only I really feel I’m not ready for that yet. I want to do something though. Something real.”


Mark and I say, “Do it now, while you don’t have a mortgage or kids or spouse to anchor your feet to the practical world. Go! Find what is “real” to you. Find what makes your heart sing.”


Then, we watch her struggle with her natural inclination to be a homebody with security and comfort, and her latent desire to live a less traditional life filled with wonder and discovery. We are guessing she is someone who will land in the middle somewhere – like us.


As far as we are concerned, it is all about what makes each individual happy, and no one can guide someone else in that area. Each of us must learn to recognize what we need to fulfill our deepest desires if we ever want to capture true happiness. Comfort and security is all well and good, but not if it leaves you with a hole inside that casts a melancholy or dissatisfied pallor over your existence for years to come. Life is short, and joy is not something reserved for the “lucky people”. It is available for anyone with the resolve to recognize and embrace what inner contentment involves for them – which is harder to do than people understand.  We get so wrapped up in knots trying to be responsible to others and meet expectation, and we pick up all this baggage along the way until our lives are not our own anymore –  we’ve become someone at the helm of a complicated network of people we must serve, protect and consider. The window of opportunity to truly know (and serve) yourself is very short. I worry about that with my kids.   


Anyway, as parents all we can do is encourage her to follow her heart and support her in whatever ways we can. And we try not influence her decisions too much or set standards for her that we set for ourselves. We want her safe and we try to give advice born of life experience and adult wisdom to help her achieve what she wants, of course, but we recognize that her happiness and personal success is up to her. And everyone must learn the painful life lessons that influence their personal growth on their own.  I think this is the hardest part of parenting of all.



Oops. That was a tangent. Where was I? Oh yea. The school grounds are beautiful. Penland is nestled in the mountains with rolling hills,  long range views with fall foliage, and free range llamas wandering about. The buildings are rustic and old (well, one new painting studio is made of glass and steel – like it was dropped deep into nature from outer space.) Denver stays in a huge log cabin building, where all the iron railings etc. have been hand crafted – a very authentic and inspirational building. It features a tiny coffee shop downstairs that is always bustling with students and visitors. It has a library filled with craft books, a community computer, and tables and couches for gathering and encouraging conversation. I enjoyed the overrun bulletin board with eclectic ads and fliers for yoga classes, readings, and other holistic or artistic endeavors.
 


There are the tell tale details that reflect this is an artist community, such as the wall students decorated with tiles and embedded objects and carvings by the garden, or the big water tower that is often used as a art palate (one fellow is currently making a 14 foot tie to hang from the water tower . . guess he thought it looked like it needed dressing up.) 



In the studios, you can see work in progress. One girl is making a huge woven wall hanging using hundreds of used tea bags along with other fibers. The only area off limits to visitors was the glass blowing studio. I suppose it’s a dangerous area, and the student’s work is too fragile to allow strangers to poke through. I was sorry, because I bet that would be fun to see.

The school even features performance art – they had a puppet show the other day. This site showcases the pictures. Check it out.  Remarkable fun for your average Saturday night entertainment.

http://www.penland.org/PHOTOWEEK/071026.html


It was nice stepping into Denver’s world for a day. We admire our daughter for having the independence to load up her car to go on this adventure all by herself. She is not by nature, a remarkably bold person, nor one who likes to face the unknown. But she is expanding her horizons despite how difficult this is for her personality type.   We suppose she has a long, interesting journey ahead of her, should she continue learning about jewelry design. The hardest part of anything is beginning, so we are very happy for her.


I remember looking at my children on the day they were born, fascinated that through me, a unique, independent creature had been introduced to the world. I remember wondering, “Who are you, really?”
I had no idea that 21 years later, I’d look at my children and still be wondering the same thing.

 

  

About Ginny East Shaddock

Director of Heartwood Retreat Center, Ginny is also a writer. This is her personal blog with essay form writing about life and reflection. My entries are often lengthy and random, because I'm not here to promote or sell anything. I'm not expecting followers - just find this format a good place to think with the pen.

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