By Suzi Banks Baum
Winter Pentaculum 2020 marks the end of the term of service for five Studio coordinators. Each are familiar names in their worlds of art and writing, in the craft school network or in university art departments, on social media. They have won awards, done intriguing work, and each continues to make the Pentaculum residency part of an important legacy by curating a unique group of artists who fit the enthusiasm and generosity of Arrowmont. In a world where arts organizations struggle to stay vibrant, these studio coordinators function as powerhouses, fueling their respective fields with bright opportunity. In the world of Pentaculum, they shine as capable, perceptive, and treasured contributors.
Most afternoons during the week of Pentaculum, I tidy my writing desk, grab my camera and lens, jam my writing journal in my backpack and head to a studio. You might say I wander, but really, I walk while listening. I hear how each studio sounds, the voices of people at work, which music plays. Each studio has a different mood, attitude, posture, atmosphere. Each different, each welcoming, and each, I dare say, concocted by the people I describe here.
Walking into Textiles, which is always my first stop, dye pots steam, looms shuttle back and forth, I feel the heat of an iron as I pass, hear the whirr of a winding machine. But mostly the Textile studio is quiet. Erin Castellan holds the open spirit of her studio with easy grace. Having been with Pentaculum since its inception, Erin senses what the studio needs to run smoothly, to have the breadth to entertain wild ideas, and a rhythm that allows for a variety of work to happen in the same room. Artists stitch, dip, weave, layer, machine sew, screen print, or laminate fabric with heat or embroidery floss. They take common materials and make them extraordinary.
In an essay titled “Field Notes on Hands,” Alison Hawthorne Deming writes, “The kick of transforming one material to another–or to none–is alchemy in any language. It’s a ticket into the marvelous, which is where we live every day but forget to notice, because otherwise we’d never get the errands done.”
Pentaculum provides a growing group of artists with that “ticket into the marvelous”
This is certainly the feeling I get in the Textiles Studio, or every studio at Arrowmont really, but specifically with Erin Castellan as I watch her embroider and bead fabric with thick leather cots on her fingertips. Erin plies hundreds of stitches a day into old weavings or painted and collaged fabrics creating compositions that bear a personal geography in color and texture.
Erin has been with Pentaculum since the beginning. She seeks to fill her studio with non-traditional textile artists, who, when working in proximity during Pentaculum, create sparks which emblaze influence on each other. Arrowmont has played an integral part in Erin’s professional life, as a place to study and a place to teach. Her desire to introduce a variety of new artists to the school has pushed her to find people doing daring unique work that breaks the definitions of what a textile artist does.
Erin will coordinate the upcoming Spring Pentaculum at Arrowmont. Then, her life will take a surprising turn, as she and her partner plan to relocate to Washington State. Trepidatious but excited, Erin believes this move will bring new influences on her work, give her geographic permission to interact with a different group of artists, while also taking a sad step away from proximity to her close associations in North Carolina and Tennessee.
I have watched Erin work in the years I have known her, how her complicated stitches create a lush landscape, always surprising and compelling. I want to hover but instead, I honor this quiet studio with respectful distance. It is exactly like entering a glass-walled greenhouse of exotic plants, how you walk carefully not wanting to disturb the orchids from doing their intricate work of beauty.
At Pentaculum our work advances.
I move on to the Wood Studio. Close readers of this blog know that I have an affinity for what happens in the Wood Studio, even though I am intimidated by the loud, vicious looking machines, the spiked, sharp tools that clutter each desk, the abrasive sandpaper that does not want to be picked up and fondled. But there are palm-sized rowboats being carved out of a block of wood, cardboard being laminated and carved into dynamic shapes, a miniature model of a credenza with a moving wall that purrs along its track which draw me in close. The artists gathered in the Wood Studio this winter were a cohesive pack, working in harmony under the influence of Kimberly Winkle.
Affectionately appreciated by everyone, Kimberly assembled a group that ranged from hobbyist to an artist recently featured on the cover of American Craft magazine. She was especially pleased to invite her former professor from her MFA, Wendy Maruyama to Pentaculum. There was a happy hum in the studio every time I stopped in, whether in quiet focus or during comfortable conversations across tables. Kimberly told me this group meshed quickly, established trust, and sprouted new learning for everyone.
I sat with Kimberly one sunny afternoon in January as she sanded a wooden figure that would eventually be jointed. She spoke about inviting her “family of artists.” “The universe of wood artists is relatively small,” she said, “and this year, I wanted to honor my teacher and colleagues from my MFA while also mixing in newer artists doing very different work.” The artists see each other at conferences, they are hired as teachers in each other’s programs, and show work alongside each other in exhibitions, like the recent “Making A Seat At the Table: Women Transform Woodworking” at the Center for Art in Wood in Philadelphia, in which Katie Hudnall, Kimberly, and Wendy showed work.
Kimberly leaves Pentaculum wistfully. She has built a community around the Wood Studio that has introduced a dynamic range of artists to Arrowmont. She believes that social media cannot replace in-person time spent working together, where established artists compare their preferred sandpaper grit or exchange carving tools across benches, where lifelong connections are strengthened.
This is the place where new work takes shape.
In January 2016, Katey Schultz, coordinator of the Writers Studio, hosted the first-ever group of writers to reside at Arrowmont in its 100-year history. Her mighty collaboration with Jason Burnett and Nick DeFord paved a new legacy for Arrowmont and opened interaction between craft artists and writers that would barely exist without her care. Katey’s work during her years at Pentaculum goes beyond the curation of a group of writers. She models a determined work style that includes time for a morning run, or an afternoon walk along the river in conversation with another writer, always asking the most provocative question in the lounge of the Staff House where writers gather at the end of a long, quiet day.
While in residence at Arrowmont this winter, a story Katey began at Pentaculum in 2019 was named a finalist for a prominent literary award. Her book, Still Come Home, published in the fall of 2019, was partly written in the Staff House and the library at Arrowmont. Katey’s work life has paralleled the blossoming of her personal life, arriving as a newlywed for her first residency in the summer of 2016, of being pregnant one January, and proceeding until this year, with her toddler running up and down the rows of tables in the dining hall, crowing with glee. “Arrowmont is the first place my son slept through the night.”
A real thing happens at Pentaculum.
The visible takes form. Especially with writers, who make something out of nothing. Being in this craft community brings the writers into their bodies. The sensory experiences in the studios infiltrate the solemn halls of the Staff House where they work behind closed doors. Katey said, “That first winter it was immediately clear that the mysterious quality of the writing process fit well in the busy hubbub of the craft studios, affirmed that writers belong here, and that our work was appreciated.”
Katey spoke about the full seats at the open-reading nights in the library or auditorium. During Pentaculum, artists from all the studios come to listen to fresh writing work. Katey was delighted to learn that most craft artists are voracious readers and consumers of podcasts and audio books. You can hear Katey read in one of a set of five live readings recorded for the Red Clay Rambler podcast in 2018. Look for episode 212 of the Red Clay Rambler podcast found on iTunes, Stitcher, or other podcast platforms.
Something is happening here: Lindsay and Ashton
Finding Ashton Ludden in the 2D studios is not hard. She is one of the happiest people I have ever met. You look for the glow, and there she is weaving plastic box wrapping tapes into a large wall hanging. When I met Ashton for our talk she was in the throes of the flu. We parted ways until the next afternoon when she was visibly better. I noticed though, that even when she was clearly ill, she was motivated to be in the studio to make sure everyone had what they needed so the work could progress.
Ashton is an engraver, sign artist, and printmaker who is determined to build the potential of Arrowmont’s 2D studio by inviting artists that include printmakers, collage artists, book artists, paper cut artists who craft puppets, and sign artists. During the Spring Pentaculum 2019, Ashton designed a tattoo for the metals studio that was tattoo’d that week. She will continue as studio coordinator for the Spring Pentaculum this year.
Over the years of visiting the 2D studio, I have seen two-dimensional work shapeshift from woodland plants in photomontage, to woodland plants carved into woodblock prints or hand-engraved in copper or stitched on paper. Ashton’s vision as studio coordinator has shaped this, along her colleague Catherine Hart, with whom she shared leadership for a time. A more astute observer could read art trends in the 2D studio, but alas, I am not that person. For me, the pastiche of styles and expression, size and scale, medium and method combine to a vibrance that reflects the variation across the studios of Pentaculum.
As the coordinator of this studio, Ashton wants to expose as many different people as possible to Arrowmont. She packed up her art supplies into an avocado green vintage make-up case while she spoke about inviting her former professors to Pentaculum. One being James Ehlers, who created the logo for Pentaculum 2019. Visitors to Arrowmont can enjoy James’ mural on the wall of the library garden (pictured with the writers above.) After Pentaculum, Ashton traveled from Arrowmont to Penland School of Craft to assist in a winter residency to further cultivate her brand of joy and expertise.
We are delivered by conversation
Lastly, is Lindsay Rogers, who among all of these accomplished humans, I know the least and with whom I had the longest conversation. I wander the Clay Studios often, drawn by matte dusty surfaces, intricate designs, quick disasters and ready magnificence. I ache to touch what I see taking shape in the Clay Studio, but I keep my hands to myself.
While I talked with Lindsay, I also witnessed her conversation with two beloved colleagues. One, Jason Burnett, who first invited Lindsay to lead the Clay Studio. The other was with Penland’s Clay Studio coordinator Susan Feagin, who attended Pentaculum to glory in a full week of doing her own work in kind alliance with a studio full of other artists who did not wait upon her assistance. It was a particular joy to watch Lindsay in these conversations because they represent what I know to be true of her. She is humble, curious, and an exquisite maker, drawn to co mingle with other artists. In Jason’s words, “Lindsay takes every challenge gracefully.”
Lindsay talked about wanting to do for other artists what her mentors did for her. She says, “I was delivered into the craft world through conversation.” Lindsay fills the Clay Studio with people who can deepen the conversation about a life in art and how we can carry each other forward. She sees each participant contributing not only to Arrowmont and Pentaculum as a whole, but to the greater conversation of craft art and the potential it has for creating social change.
Both Lindsay and Jason spoke about how Pentaculum allows people to come and discover where there are voids in their lives. They leave as creative humans who have gone into deeper beauty at a community level. Their voids are filled by this residency where conversation across disciplines makes the dining room noisy and karaoke night a blast.
Katey Schultz described how Josh Dugan, from Tuscaloosa, AL told her as he left Pentaculum, “Before I arrived, I would not have called myself a poet, but after this week, I am working on a manuscript.” We each are truly multiplied by this residency, Arrowmont’s family increases 80-fold, and everyone leaves with the impression of what has been created here in our hearts.
Of what do they dream?
More diversity of race and age for Pentaculum, more dictionaries and better lighting in the Staff House, more printmakers, more exchange between studios. They all dream of returning to simply reside as artists with no other responsibilities.
These five studio coordinators have established a form for each area that has earned respect and admiration among the arts community. Jason told me, “Early on we had to convince people to come to Pentaculum. Now people know about it and need no convincing.” Thanks in part to each of these artists for their commitment to “the marvelous” which is the very heart of this residency.
What I heard in these conversations was the warm affection and dedication each has to their medium, and a devotion to living in relationship to other makers. They all spoke with gratitude to Arrowmont for holding the infrastructure of Pentaculum, and to Nick and Jason for being the hands and heart of this residency. It was a delicious pleasure to spend time with each of these honored humans. They leave Pentaculum trusting the mark they have made on Arrowmont.
Let us all send them thanks on their way.
Artists Mentioned in this post:
- Jason Burnett
- Erin Castellan
- James Ehlers
- Susan Feagin
- Ashton Ludden
- Wendy Maruyama
- Lindsay Rogers
- Jason Schneider
- Katey Schultz
- Kimberly Winkle
Suzi Banks Baum dwells at the crossroad of literary and visual arts. A writer, mixed media and book artist, Suzi expresses the holy ordinary. She is from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and lives in the Berkshires of Massachusetts. Her devotion to daily creative practice is the superfood for her signature teachings: Backyard Art Camp, the Powder Keg Writing Workshops, and Advent Dark Journal. She travels to Gyumri, Armenia yearly to teach the book arts to women artists. Find her at the International Women’s Writing Guild Summer Conference in July 2020 and at Snowfarm Craft School in August 2020 in Florence, MA. Her first book, An Anthology of Babes gives voice to 36 artist mothers. Fiction published in The Collection: Flash Fiction for Flash Memory by Anchala Studios and the Walloon Writers Review. Learn more at SuziBanksBaum.com.