A publication of Appalachian Voices


A publication of Appalachian Voices


Crafting Development

By Leigh Ann Henion
images/voice_uploads/Penland-MeadowCircle.gif">Artists and artisans need inspiration as much as instruction, maybe more. And, though Penland School of Arts and Crafts’ instruction is renowned, its setting is equally as extraordinary.

Each year, 1,200 students make their way to remote Penland, nestled far up in the mountains of western North Carolina just northeast of Asheville. Students come from all over the world to work in one of ten craft medias including clay, glass, printmaking, photography and metals. They take part in workshops, demonstrations and fieldtrips focused on their chosen media. They make connections with other artists and learn technical aspects of their trades. And, in the quiet times in between, they find one of Penland’s many rocking chairs and trace the outline of distant Bailey’s Peak with their eyes, searching for inspiration to take with them back into the school’s studios, lecture halls and darkrooms.

For seventy-five years, the Penland School of Arts and Crafts has been a meeting place for artisans with the common goal of keeping traditional craft media viable and meaningful in a progressive art world. So, it is fitting that Penland has played a role in a new kind of partnership that aims to help preserve our most fundamental resource and artistic inspiration – nature.

Last fall Penland learned that a developer, Communities of Penland, had purchased over a thousand acres near the school, including Bailey’s Peak. Upon hearing the news, school administrators did what any friendly neighbors might; they contacted the group and invited them over for an introduction.

Hoping to inspire respect for the school’s retreat-like atmosphere, they led developers on a tour of the rural Penland school property, only 10% of which has been developed. Because of the visit to the school, Communities of Penland contacted the North Carolina-based Blue Ridge Rural Land Trust (BRRLT) to help them identify and address how development plans would impact the school.

BRRLT was impressed by Communities of Penland’s approach to preserving the Penland School experience and understood the cultural value of Penland’s view-shed, but BRRLT also faced a tremendous challenge. A tax-imposed deadline gave the organization only two weeks to act on the development’s requests for assistance, but the full cooperation of all three parties expedited the organizational process and has, to date, resulted in a total of 140 acres of land entrusted to BRRLT for preservation, including Penland’s view of Bailey’s Peak.

Communities of Penland has furthered local dialogue by initiating community meetings and incorporating input from the Penland School and local residents in the planning process. The development is now designed as a “village” - complete with restaurants and shops for selling crafts – strategically clustered in the center of 1,400 acres.

BRRLT director James Coman feels that partnering with developers is one of the best ways to ensure low-impact development and neighborly respect. He said of the Penland alliance, “We are increasingly in partnership with developers on projects to protect important areas from biological and scenic points of view. In this case, the developer, The Communities of Penland, is trying to protect the sensitive areas of a 1,400-acre tract. I think the work we’ve done has been a win-win for the community, the Penland School and the people buying lots in the development.”

Since its inception in 1997, BRRLT has served seven North Carolina counties through conservation easements and fee-simple ownership agreements. It is currently involved with 29 projects of varying scope. In reference to the larger tracts of land involving development, Coman said, “By bringing us in during the planning stages, it was possible to protect unique portions of the tract. When developers want to do this, we’re happy to help.”

A portion of Penland School’s mission statement highlights the organization’s goal to provide “a learning environment which is beautiful, stimulating and egalitarian.” The Communities of Penland development seems to have adopted this mission by association and, along with BRRLT and the Penland School of Arts and Crafts, has learned to weave new solutions into an ongoing issue. Development will come, but what it looks like depends upon how well it is crafted.

For more information on the Penland School of Arts and Crafts, visit www.penland.org. To explore Communities of Penland, visit www.communityofpenland.org.

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