Thursday, July 12, 2012

Penland Session 1, Week 2...and Beyond

Well, I’m back home now- it’s way less humid up here than in the mountains, but the weather’s compensating for that by having the temperature top 100 for the last two weeks!  What say we reminisce about the rest of the Penland session, and forget about that for now.   

 Penland Week 2, & Bakersville

Our one field trip for session 1 was to head down the hill to Elizabeth Brim’s studio- a place I have wanted to see for quite some time. 

First a brief introduction: Elizabeth is a local blacksmith who’s also a former Penland Iron Coordinator (and still retains the title of Iron Studio Entertainment Coordinator!)  who manages to be a wonderful collection of contradictions.  She’s a proper southern lady with her pearls and hair bows who makes beautifully delicate cloth-like tutus, hats, high heel shoes, camisoles and such; bedecked with frills, bows, fringe and flowers...all forged and/or fabricated out of iron!  ...And she also has a Tupac poster hanging on the wall of her studio!

Sidenote- One of the Penland t-shirts that I love was from the Concentration she taught in Spring 2011- the caption (from the title of the class) was “Miss Betty’s Red Hot Variety Show”, and the graphic was of the black silhouette of an anvil, with a strand of her signature pearls, in white, draped over it...and, as I recall, a martini glass? (Correct me if I’m wrong on the martini glass!)

Other projects from the second week of class:

For dessert after a Mexican dinner one night we had Sopapillas- a kind of very light deep-fried Mexican doughnut that is traditionally served dusted with powdered sugar and drizzled with honey.  Anyway, after pfutzing around with a small ladle as a honey server, one of the kitchen crew, knowing my penchant for making stuff for them, suggested that I make them a honey dipper for future use...and this was the result!  It took about half an hour to make the piece, and about 2.5 hours to file, sand and polish it enough so as not to make the health inspector cringe.  After I gave it to them, they suggested that I make another that they could donate to the session’s scholarship auction with a small jar of Ryan the Gardener’s honey from his bees, which I did- slightly simpler, but with a forged Rhododendron leaf instead of a loop for the handle.

I had come into this class with rather grandiose plans of trying to forge a small sculpture of a rhododendron twig with leaves flowers; this belt buckle is as close as I got...but I’m okay with that- I’ve wanted a nice unique belt buckle for a while.  The leaves are hot forged, and all the components are welded together.  I first tried to torch weld it, as the MIG welder scared the living daylights out of me, but eventually was forced to face facts and use the scary stuff- much easier for me after Natasha demonstrated to me that it was virtually impossible to hurt yourself with the MIG welder...and it worked perfectly!


One of the joys of this session for me was that my dear friend Jocelyn Howard (way back from Spring ’09 Concentration, when we were both Penland newbies together) was in the area, taking a break from Grad School, and doing an extended bit of house-sitting for Gay Smith, so we had a chance to catch up and gossip!  Jocelyn used to be a functional potter back in the day, but now that she’s in grad school she’s made the leap to figurative sculpture, and has learned to cut loose and follow her bliss...she also has recently joined the blogosphere- you can find her over at Dusty Hair.  (The handsome boy in the hammock with her is Gay’s dog, Bodhi.)

After the end of Session 1 I lingered in the Penland area for another 2 weeks as Jocelyn’s replacement in house sitting for Gay- and I got to make pots!  Every year Penland School has a gala Benefit Auction to raise money for the school, with two live auctions, plus silent auctions and other events.  One of the other events is a breakfast for auction patrons down at the resident artist’s studios- complete with coffee served in handmade commemorative mugs...500 of them...every year.  The job of organizing mug production falls to the lovely Susan Feagin, the coordinator of the clay studio...and she is ever on the lookout for volunteer mug makers.  I volunteered to get started on the 2013 mugs while I was at Gay’s (the upside of this is that you get free clay for making them!) and cranked out 100- four different shapes, 25 of each.  Also, while working in the Kitchen this last session I had noticed that they were getting low on certain bowl sizes for the salad bar (where they only use hand made bowls), so I made them four large plain bowls for tomatoes and cucumbers, the above shown six squat little medium veggie dishes with lug handles, plus a few salad dressing crocks.

One of the other perks of staying on in the area was being there for the peak rhododendron bloom.  Heather Spontak, Gay’s studio assistant for the summer, and I (plus Bodhi the Dog) went hiking up on Roan Mountain the weekend of the Bakersville Rhododendron Festival.  There is an area up a side road from Carver’s Gap (where NC 216 cuts over the mountain) called the Rhododendron Gardens.  It’s not strictly speaking a garden, but a natural area with a high density of rhododendrons, which have been maintained as, and are presented in, a garden-like manner.  They do charge a small admission for this area if you drive up, however if you hike the two miles up there (and yes, it’s all uphill) they waive the fee- you’ve paid in sweat! 

After hiking back down to Carver’s Gap, Heather and I followed the Appalachian Trail half a mile up the other side of the gap to the top of Round Bald, the first of three summits in the grassy bald area of the Roan.  By the time we got back to the car we had done six miles, and our feet hurt!

I went down to Penland for Session 2 clay slides (Kevin Snipes and Kyle and Kelly Phelps, plus assistants) and went for a pre- dinner and slides hike with Bodhi and my camera- and noticed that there’s a different kind of rhododendron growing around Penland...must be the elevation- Penland is at 3000 feet, the Roan is over 6000 feet.

A week later Heather and I were back on the Roan- we had had time constraints the previous week, not to mention having already hiked 5 miles, which had prevented us from hiking to the end of the Roan balds...but not this time!  The hike up to Grassy Ridge Bald, the last of three, was just as hard and steep as it had looked to us the previous week, but the views from the top were worth it.  The craggy mountain in the distance made us think of Scotland (Jo, Gay- you've been there, is it?)- it was so tempting, but we really needed to head back at this point as it was getting late...Next Fall!!!!

There were other plants besides Rhododendrons blooming on the Roan- Flame Azaleas, and the endangered Grey’s Lily were blooming in several places along the trail.

I took this picture of the Knoll my last day on the Hill...very pretty...I’ll be back soon!

Post Session...Back to the weary grind!

For the Fourth of July we didn’t do any fireworks...but we did share half a watermelon with the Corgi Cleanup Crew.

Yesterday  we had our first cherry tomatoes of the year, and our Thai basil was bolting due to the heat, so for dinner I made a lovely Thai-style dinner of Chicken Soup and Cucumber Salad with the tomatoes and basil trimmings, plus shallots from the garden!

Thai Chicken Basil Soup

1 Tbs  Butter

2 large Shallots, thinly sliced

1 Jalapeño Pepper, finely diced

1 Serrano Pepper, minced

1 Cup whole Thai Basil Leaves

1  15oz  can Straw Mushrooms, drained and rinsed

1 1/2 Tbs Cilantro, minced

½ Cup Cooked Chicken Breast, cut in small pieces

½ Cup Cherry Tomatoes, quartered or halved

¾  Cup Coconut Milk

2 Cups Water, or to taste

Sauté the shallots and peppers until the shallots are transparent, then add the basil and allow it to wilt.  Once the basil has wilted, add the mushrooms, cilantro, chicken and tomatoes, and continue to sauté for another minute or two to allow the flavors to meld.  Add the Coconut milk and water, then lower the heat, barely allowing it to simmer- if it overheats, the coconut milk will separate.  After 5 minutes, remove from heat and serve.

Traditional Thai cucumber salads have both sugar and vinegar added to them- a foil for the heat of the other dishes!  This is my vinegar-less version.

Thai Cucumber Salad

1 Tbs Coconut Milk

Juice of ½ a Lime

1 Tsp Sugar

½ Tbs Mint, finely chopped

½ Cucumber, peeled, quartered, and sliced 1/8th inch thick

Stir all ingredients except the cucumber together in a bowl, then toss with the cucumber.  Serve cold.

At the pottery it’s been hotter than hell the last two weekends -the metal and concrete building doesn’t help matters when it’s 104°F outside- despite the heat, I’ve spent my studio time mixing glazes and processing reclaim (sweaty!) as well as making some bisque molds so I can do a little handbuilding ahead of Fall Concentration with Matt Kelleher.

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