I’ve returned from the high country. A recent winter residency at the renowned Penland School presented numerous experiences, I could’ve scarcely prepared for.
In the days prior, I inventoried my supply lists, packed layers of warm clothing, in addition to the usual creature comforts, coffee, tea pot, my favorite insulated thermos and an extra blanket for the cold Mitchell County nights. I researched and I read accounts of Lucy Morgan (Penland’s founder) along with those of her fellow artisans and advocates for the conservation of heritage handicrafts. I meditated on my projected goals for the week ahead; knowing quiet well that I needed the time to work as well as rest. I watched vigilantly as the weather forecast changed. Well acquainted with this part of the country, I knew that any projection of light snow could increase with little warning. Last year on neighboring Mt. Mitchell, a record snow fall of 60 inches was reported. My residency was set to begin in late January and would conclude in early February.
On my drive up, I remembered that I hadn’t packed a flashlight. Prior to leaving Asheville, I purchased a lantern at Mast General Store. I stopped in Bakersville for the last of provisions. The rain arrived, as did the chilling winds.
The unincorporated community of Penland hugs the cascading upper ridges of North Carolina near the Tennessee line. A bridge crossing the Toe River indicates entrance to this quiet retreat. Its border is marked solely by a small sign along the CSX railway which cuts a path through the ridged landscape. A few humble homesteads, and the Penland Post Office serve as the only landmarks on one’s way to the historic school of weaving. Festive charm still lingers in this community of 200 residents. I admired the quilt pattern centered beneath the post office’ gabled roof. The façade is white washed, and resembles a primitive barn or carriage house, located alongside the railroad. A wreath of autumn hues hangs on the door, and I take notice of the red poinsettias still in the planters on the porch.
The roads grow steep and winding. Eventually, I take a left turn onto Conely Ridge Road. Located at a relatively short distance from Asheville, it takes little time before the northward trek seemingly separates one from the outside world. The deeper one ventures into the wooded terrain, the spirit becomes liberated.
Overlooking the knoll beyond the Pines, expansive vistas vanish, and through the lens they return to focus. Beyond the winter veil reside the ambitious spirits of experimentation and determination. Here I begin winter’s meditation.
Art is Life Expressed – Sarah West, owner of the Sarah West Gallery of Fine Art