Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Penland School crafts a new chapter

By Shawndra Russell

Photo courtesy of FLICKR.COM, Ungenda

The 88-year-old Penland School of Crafts, nestled in picturesque Mitchell County, has played a key role in building North Carolina’s $538 million craft industry. For the last two decades, director Jean McLaughlin has guided the school’s growth to annual revenue of more than $6 million and a staff of 71. But January will usher in the next chapter under new director Mia Hall, a woodworker and professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock since 2007. During McLaughlin’s tenure, Penland’s endowment grew from $2.1 million to $18 million, individual contributions rose 12-fold and the site earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places.

Penland, which is 50 miles northeast of Asheville, offers workshops of up to eight weeks as well as artists’ residencies and community programs. It has attracted more than 200 working artists who make the surrounding area their home. Gay Smith, a local potter and a member of Penland’s board of trustees, says artists have settled near the school because it “benefits and supports our community so generously and in so many ways.”

Penland derives its income from individual contributions, foundation and government grants, as well as tuition, rent, meals and sales in the gallery, coffeehouse and supply store, McLaughlin says. An annual fundraiser in August regularly nets more than $500,000. The activity results in a direct annual economic impact of $7.9 million, according to Penland, much of it benefiting some of the state’s least prosperous counties.

Penland’s workshop enrollment over the last decade has averaged 1,426 students per year, with almost half being repeat attendees. Sessions are limited to 225 people, which is the capacity of the school’s dining hall and housing areas.

To foster growth, Penland is adding a winter residency and a two-week summer program and is expanding its gallery and visitor center. “Sustainability is the watchword for our next five years,” says McLaughlin, who is retiring. “We are interested in protecting our retreat environment, maintaining our physical plant, engaging energy efficiencies, improving our forest and land management, ensuring that our studios remain well-equipped and well-managed, growing scholarships, attracting the best artist instructors in the country, and being a stellar employer.”

MARS HILL — Advanced Superabrasives will invest $26 million and add 47 jobs over four years. The local company employs about 35 people making grinding wheels and other industrial equipment for the automotive, aerospace and other industries.

BRYSON CITY — Consolidated Metco will close its local plant by the end of January. About 84 workers will lose their jobs, while about 125 workers will be able to transfer to a newer Canton facility. The Vancouver, Wash.-based company makes components for commercial trucks.

ASHEVILLE — Warren Wilson College will offer free tuition to North Carolina undergraduates eligible for need-based aid, beginning fall 2018. The liberal-arts school also will award 25 full-tuition scholarships to students from middle-income families. Warren Wilson enrolls about 700 students.

ASHEVILLE — William A.V. Cecil, owner of The Biltmore Co., died Oct. 31 at 89. Following a finance career at Chase Manhattan, Cecil was instrumental in the preservation of Biltmore Estate, his childhood home. He retired from Biltmore in 1995.


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