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Founded in 1929 by Lucy Morgan, the Penland School has become one of the most prestigious handicraft schools in the United States. Morgan, a teacher at the Episcopal Appalachian School in Penland, began reintroducing cloth weaving into her community in 1923 after instruction at Berea College in Kentucky. A small cabin on the grounds of the Appalachian School became Morgan’s training ground for local craftspeople as she aided them in not only learning new weaving techniques, but also selling their goods to tourists. In the first few years, Lucy traveled throughout western North Carolina marketing wares in a truck donated by Episcopal Bishop Junius Horner.
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In 1928, Morgan collaborated with Frances Goodrich of Allanstand Cottage Industries, Olive Dame Campbell, founder of John C. Campbell Folk School, and Mary Martin Sloop of Crossnore School, in organizing the Southern Highlands Handicraft Guild. In 1929 Miss Morgan, who specialized in Scandinavian crafts, opened the school at Penland, and people began arriving to learn pottery, weaving, silversmithing, and metalworking. After her retirement in 1962, Bill Brown, formerly with Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Maine, took charge. Under his direction, Penland introduced woodworking and glassblowing to the curriculum. Brown oversaw the establishment of the resident craftsman’s program enabling artists to spend three years living and working at Penland honing their crafts. Many of these individuals have gone on to achieve critical acclaim in their disciplines after having left the school including glassblowers Harvey K. Littleton and John Nygren. Miss Morgan, born in 1889, died on July 3, 1981.
Still considered a premier craft school, today Penland continues to educate people from around the world having expanded to forty-one structures located on 400 acres. The facilities now host more than 1,200 artists a year, offering week and two-week long classes in the summer and eight-week semesters in the spring and fall. The Penland Gallery, receiving over 14,000 visitors a year, provides a venue for displaying and selling artwork.
Lucy Morgan (with LeGette Blythe), Gift from the Hills (1958)
William S. Powell, ed., Encyclopedia of North Carolina History (2006), 877—essay by Shelia Bumgarner
Allen H. Eaton, Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands (1937)
John Coyne, “Keeping Old Crafts Alive and Well,” Smithsonian (November 1975)
Penland School of Crafts website: http://www.penland.org