Penland: Enhancing the Life of the Artist
In the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, the Penland School of
Crafts is celebrating 75 years as a center for craft education. On 400
picturesque acres, Penland has grown from a school teaching weaving to
local mountain women, to a school with an international reputation
offering classes in traditional and contemporary forms of basketry,
clay, glass, textiles, metalwork, woodwork, photography, printmaking,
Penland is unique with classes held in the form of workshops in a
setting more like an apprenticeship. Here instructors are less likely to
be university faculty members, but working studio artists who may not
teach anywhere else. It is a curriculum that is always changing with the
instructors and provided by some of the most respected artists in the
world of craft. But there is something special about this place in the
mountains that keeps people coming back – and sometimes does not let go.
There are 100 studios within 15 miles of the school. It is a place where
both student and instructor experience something that is considered
spiritual as well as educational. An experience that Penland's founder
"truly believed would enhance the family life, the home life, and the
individual's life" according to current director Jean McLaughlin.
So what does Penland have to do with the Episcopal Church?
Rufus Morgan, an Episcopal Priest, established the Appalachian
Industrial School in this remote area in 1913. It was a
vocational mission school meant to provide economic support to the
mountain families. His sister, Lucy Morgan, came to the school in 1920
to teach weaving. Miss Lucy (as she was known) organized the Penland
Weavers in 1923. When guest instructors and outside students began to
arrive in 1929, the original mission school became the Penland School of Craft.
She would continue to expand and guide the school until 1962.
Although the school is no longer associated with the church, Lucy
Morgan's original vision of combining spiritual guidance with the need
to preserve the Appalachian culture is still felt there today. It was
from this talented Episcopal woman that her vision of learning and
creating has grown to be the internationally recognized center for craft
education that it is today. As glass artist and long-time Penland
instructor Robert Levin has said, "working with your hands and
directly with materials is an important way of learning and feeding your
Editor, The Episcopal Church and Visual Arts
75th anniversary, a hardback illustrated book has been released
titled The Nature of Craft and the Penland Experience by Lark
To learn more about Penland School of Crafts, visit