Enriching lives through art and craft


In this series we introduce you to some of the faces of Arrowmont: students, instructors, staff, work- study students, volunteers, and donors.  We explore the lasting value of the experiences and relationships that are created when individuals step out of their comfort zone and participate in the Arrowmont experience.

An immersive experience: Introducing gallery and registration Work-study Jesse McClanahan And GALLERY MANAGER KELSEY DILLOW


Each week during our National workshop season, an average of 75-100 new students visit our campus to take an art workshop. Those who attend Arrowmont witness a craft school that appears to be a well-oiled, self-sufficient machine.  On Sunday night dinner is served, orientation is presented, and students walk through four professional galleries on campus as they head off to their studios.  Students sleep in dorms, eat in the dining hall, and return to their studios daily over the duration of the workshop.  After the workshop is over, the campus is turned over to welcome 75-100 new students. People often say, how does Arrowmont pull this off?

While Arrowmont’s 27 staff members achieve a large part of this, much of it is made possible by the behind-the-scenes work of Arrowmont’s Work-Study students.   Without them, our National Workshop season could not happen.  The Arrowmont experience takes place through the help of many hands.

The Work-Study program provides an opportunity for people with limited financial resources to participate in classes and is an integral part of Arrowmont’s operations.  Students receive workshop tuition, housing and meals in exchange for working in a specific department on campus.  During Arrowmont’s National Workshops, conferences, and symposia, Work-Study students work in the kitchen, housekeeping department, registration, gallery, development office, supply store, maintenance, and studios as studio assistants.  Positions are open to students of all levels and ages – beginning and experienced.

Jesse McClanahan, Summer 2018 Work-Study

Jesse McClanahan came to Arrowmont from West Virginia where she is pursuing her Bachelor of Arts degree in ceramics at West Virginia State University.  As a child, McClanahan spent much time outdoors playing in the forests of rural West Virginia.  This upbringing can be seen in her ceramic pieces that utilize forms and artifacts reminiscent of those found in nature.  McClanahan learned about Arrowmont from her college professor who encouraged her to apply.  At home in West Virginia, McClanahan works at Apartment Earth Gallery.

While gallery experience is not required, McClanahan’s experience in the gallery did play a part in Arrowmont Gallery Manager, Kelsey Dillow’s selection process.  Responsibilities of a gallery Work-Study include gallery maintenance – changing lights, touching up paint, dusting pedestals, and monitoring Arrowmont’s four galleries on campus.  Beyond doing all of the maintenance work in the gallery, Dillow creates educational opportunities for her students.  This summer, Dillow gave McClanahan the opportunity to assist on curatorial projects from the Arrowmont Permanent Collection.  She also introduced McClanahan to the processes of collections management, database navigation, installation, and curatorial strategies from her perspective.  McClanahan’s experience culminated in a final project that allowed her to curate a display using works from Arrowmont’s Permanent Collection in the West Complex on campus.

Arrowmont Gallery Manager, Kelsey Dillow

Dillow views hosting a Work-Study as one of mutual benefit.  She says, “I learn just as much from others who have worked in galleries as they might learn from me.  Each exhibition space operates differently, and it is always helpful to hear stories and advice from each of them.”  I believe it is this open perspective that helps create the opportunity for students like McClanahan to feel that they are truly contributing to the Arrowmont community.  Work-Study students are welcome to bring their own experiences and perspectives, making them part of Arrowmont’s team.

McClanahan said of her experience at Arrowmont,

“This experience has been one of the most meaningful experiences that I have had within my artistic career so far. I have not only learned a tremendous amount of knowledge that I can apply into my artistic practice, but I gained a greater confidence in myself. I grew in ways that I think that I could only have done at Arrowmont; the environment is truly special. People who are dedicated to their craft and the pursuit of knowledge constantly surround you. Being a part of something like that really helps to keep you focused and motivated; not to mention the support that I got from everybody while I was there. There was never really a time where I felt like I was alone, I always had somebody that I could discuss ideas, or just talk to about my life. However, the best part is all the friends that I made during my time there.  I cannot wait for my path to cross with everyone’s again!”

McClanahan Ceramic Work

Between taking classes and helping Arrowmont function, the Work-Study position is demanding. Yet, assisting Arromwont staff behind the scenes provides a rewarding opportunity to be a part of a supportive community that shares the common goal of enriching lives through art.  The experience reveals that no matter the task, big or small, each is equally important in helping run the machine that is Arrowmont.  It is this message of teamwork and community that happens at Arrowmont that came through my conversation with McClanahan as she described her experience firing the wood kiln in Ted Neal’s class. She said,

Summer 2018 Work-Study at Arrowmont Prom including McClanahan photo center

“It was such an adrenaline rush to not only stop the kiln from crashing, but to get it to thrive. The other thing that made this experience such a fond one for me was creating with a group of people that were as dedicated and excited as me.  By the time we got the kiln to a place where we felt comfortable handing it off to the next group it was 6 am.  We had been working at it since 11 pm the previous night. We were tired but accomplished.”

Just like any job, the Work-Study program requires time and effort – the end result is a feeling of accomplishment that parallels McClanahan’s wood-firing experience – accomplishment with a team.  While the skills learned as a Work-Study at Arrowmont are important, it remains clear that being a part of a community of friends where one can contribute is one of the most important aspects of the program.  If you have not found your community yet, check out Arrowmont’s Work-Study program and come join our team.

Visit our website for more information on Arrowmont’s Work-Study Program.

Read McClanahan’s curatorial statement for her final project as a Gallery Work-Study below:

During my time at Arrowmont someone said that ceramics is like a chameleon; it’s a medium that is adept at morphing into whatever the artist wants it to be. I curated this space to showcase the different techniques available that help give ceramics this unique ability.

McClanahan’s Final Project in Arrowmont’s West Complex

While choosing work from Arrowmont’s Permanent Collection I was conscious of how the clay was manipulated, what processes were being used to create these pieces, and what finishing techniques were being applied. I wanted there to be a broad overview of the possibilities available when working with clay. Some of these pieces hearken back to more historical means of producing such as Estella Daugua’s “Ceremonial Instrument” with her use of slips created through natural dyes, glazing with tree sap, and even the purpose of the piece being a horn used to gather the community.  On the opposite end of the spectrum I wanted to show how contemporary artists such as Magda Gluszek are pushing the boundaries on what the definition of ceramics is and looks like. Her piece Sweet Tooth is an example of how this line can be blurred through the use of material and narrative storytelling through the human figure.

The pieces that have been chosen from our vast collection are ones that help to show a range of what is possible in the realm of ceramics. It is my hope that they teach you as much about the medium as they have taught me, and to help shape how you see and create with clay.

Paige is a former Artist-in-Residence who works on staff as Administrative Supportive Coordinator in Institutional Advancement.

ART WORKSTENNESSEE ARTS COMMISIONTENNESSEE FOR THE ARTSTennessee Specialty License PlatesEAST TENNESSEE FOUNDATIONWindgate Foundation Arrowmont is being supported, in whole or in part, by federal award number SLFRP5534 awarded to the State of Tennessee by the U.S. Department of Treasury.

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