Mark Tucker : Journal

Settling into Penland School

Posted in Personal, The South by marktucker on October 7, 2012

Note: This post is not about “serious photography”. This post is about me falling in love with the North Carolina mountains, here at Penland School. I just shot snapshots all day, but loved it. I have no idea where I am, but it’s about an hour and a half drive, north of Asheville. The iPhone5 GPS woman just said, “Just keep driving; you’ll get there soon enough. There’s no hurry; there’s nowhere else to be; just enjoy the view, and stay present, and keep listening to that Tara Brach podcast”.

I started out this morning, after coffee, shooting black-and-white, but the fall color just made me cave in, and switch over to processing in color. The artists in residence here are serious working artists; we toured their studios today. Very impressive work, and an even more impressive work ethic.

(Note: Updated images, posted at the top here, after the initial blog post).

A group shot of our “Photography at Year Zero” class, with Dan Estabrook in the foreground, as the Zombie Slayer. Twelve of the nicest people to spend a week with. (Not pictured: Betsy, the studio assistant). Sadly, tomorrow is the final day, then I’ll spend some time helping a fellow artist, and then wander back to Nashville on Sunday.

I forgot about these two early images that were on my iPhone, from the first hour of the workshop, on Sunday night. The workshop was officially titled “Photography at Year Zero”, and Dan set the Zombie Theme all too convincingly.

A close-up of Dan’s “Zombie Heart”, in the photo area.

Two images from today. No camera at all used today; the cardboard box camera got retired. Now I’m down to sunlight, watercolor paper, silver nitrate, sodium solution, inspiration, bright North Carolina sunshine to expose the plates, and a great teacher. Each image six minutes exposures, 11″x14″ salt prints.

Early this morning; nice light. Portrait of one of the guys in the theatre troupe that came through town. They began their trip in Boone, NC, and travel 15-20 miles per day, on bicycle and horse-pulled covered wagon. They performed here last night, and are headed to Spruce Pine tonight, and then back to Burnsville.

One of Dan’s pieces, in progress. You can see the white sheet, coated first with a dilution of salt, and then coated with Silver Nitrate, and then the leaf is inserted into the Contact Printing Frame. Here it sits, in the afternoon sun, outside the photo building, being “exposed” by the UV Light of the sky. Approximate exposure time is about thirty minutes, then it’s brought inside to the darkroom to be processed.

Dan’s hilarious concoction of boiling down Sumac leaves, in order to make a custom print developer, this afternoon. Pot clearly marked: “Photo Only”.

Rachel, doing her Tiger Woods impression — stepping back to line up her shot. In our low-tech, zombie world, we use stools for tripods, and rocks for leveling devices.

We started today by going on a long nature walk, through the fields and around the campus, talking to the farmers and petting the curious dogs, and gathering raw materials for photograms. Here’s one I made today — it’s been in the UV Oven for about a half hour, and you can see the background turning the color of dark Eggplant. Once the raw materials are removed from this Contact Printing Frame, I’ll develop the print, (and then want to immediately re-do it).

My camera for the week, so far — a corrogated shipping box for artist clay, with added duct tape. (Lots of it). The lens is a PBR can piece, with a tiny pinhole in it. 8.5″x11″ fiber paper is loaded into the camera, to make a paper negative. Then, from there, salt prints will be made by contact printing. (Then, we’ll probably go kill a wild animal, and eat the raw flesh; that’s how primitive the photography is).

Rear of the covered wagon for The Rural Academy Theatre. They just “came through town” yesterday, and stopped over for a performance here tonight at 815pm. Musicians and bicyclists and horses. Nothing surprises me here at Penland — of course a traveling circus just “comes through town” and stays with us.

The view today, across from The Pines. Gorgeous warm day, sunny. I tried a self portrait here, but my fourteen minute exposure was too long, and it just blew out. There’s more to that story, but we’ll leave it at that.

An undercover espionage photo of Dan Estabrook, and his assistant Jimmy in the background, leaving the Photo building. All I know is that there’s a plan to build our own cameras from scratch, and then mount lenses onto them, (maybe), and then do callotypes and salt prints. We’re headed back to the 1800’s. No darkroom involved; only sunlight, contact frames, silver nitrate, and water. There’s also a Zombie Theme involved. More later about that….

The Road to the Artist Barn workshops.

Panorama of the main courtyard area, with the view of the North Carolina hills.

Main courtyard of the school. Kids playing, and girl playing with Crickett.

Gorgeous light in one of the main buildings: Weaving looms.

Street sign on campus.

Handmade detail on the wall, outside the drawing studios.

Work in progress, in one of the wood studios. Head carved out of pine.

Fall colors.

Custom book, found in the bookmaking/binding room.

Interior wall of one of the wood working studios.

Standing guard, outside the Drawing Class.

Gorgeous (giant) stone table, down the street from the Artist Barns. (amazing).

Gorgeous portrait painting, just hanging over in the corner of the wood shop. (Yes, I’d like to buy this painting).

Couple holding hands, in love.

Fabric dye swatches.

Glass-blowing area, this morning.

Early morning rain.

Dried sunflowers, in front of nice blooming flowers.

Margie the dog, spotting an approaching Beagle, early this morning.

Morning fog in the mountains, behind the Drawing Room building.

A glass head, buried and hidden in the tall grass, outside the Glass Studio.

Liz Murray manages a part of the fabric area. She’s working on a table runner for her mom.

Sample piece from Rachel Meginnes, who’s a three-year Artist in Residence here. Very strong work. See more of her work at

Crickett, the little female Corgy pup, outside the dining hall. We’d flip her over on her belly, and rub her little pink stomach. Really sweet dog.

9 Responses

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  1. jimmy abegg said, on October 7, 2012 at 6:54 pm

    Awesome Mark! Hope you have an amazing week!!!

  2. Michael Regnier said, on October 7, 2012 at 7:08 pm

    Hope you don’t think I’m weird, but I posted a comment on your blog post about you taking care of your mom and how I was going thru a similar situation with my mom, and also about how I thought our work was somewhat similar. And now you are in Penland. I spent 3 summers studying photography at Penland back in the late 70″s. I had a scholarship as the driver, so I got to pick up all the instructors from the airport and also I would drive to Tennessee (I think) to pick up wine for the school. Penland was in a dry county back then. Any way, looking at your photos brings back some great memories. I drove thru Penland a few years back and it seemed pretty much the same. I hope you have a great workshop and a good experience.
    I took this photo of a gate on the main road going thru Penland, I wonder if it is still there?
    I really have enjoyed looking at your art work that you have been posting lately.

    Michael Regnier

  3. marktucker said, on October 7, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Thank you, Michael. Arrived at night, after dark — didn’t see the sign, but I’m betting it’s still here. Short of one very contemporary art building, the place feels very preserved in time — somewhere between Duke Ellington and Grateful Dead — but in a really good way. (And the food is amazing).

  4. William Cohea said, on October 8, 2012 at 6:05 am

    love your work! thank you for sharing.

  5. Pat said, on October 8, 2012 at 7:44 pm

    One of my favorite places to retreat and immerse.And so beautiful… Enjoy yourself there!

  6. bart said, on October 9, 2012 at 3:49 am

    What an inspiring post. Great to see quite a couple of real people doing real things, including yourself. Feels good.

  7. Diane Fields said, on October 10, 2012 at 9:05 am

    Penland, a wonderful place. Saturday while wandering the Western NC backroads in the mist came across the RA theater wagon with horses and cyclists toiling up a hill enroute to Penland I imagine.

    Enjoy the workshop and the wonderful environment.

  8. marktucker said, on October 10, 2012 at 10:58 am

    Diane, The main horseman told me a funny story — as they left Boone, they encountered a very steep gravel hill, and the red wagon was loaded down so heavily that the horses could not pull it up the steep hill. So they had to go to Plan B, which was to go back to town and get the Ford pickup truck. He laughed, almost embarrassed, as he told me the story. They had grand plans of traveling completely “old school”, but the steep North Carolina mountains just challenged the horses too much.

    The entire theatre troupe was magical at the school, with the horses grazing in the field across from the school, and the big black lab running around playing with everyone. Life as it should be…

  9. Susan Clement said, on October 12, 2012 at 2:19 pm

    The woman at the loom looks as if she’s kneeling in prayer which, given what she’s making, seems about right.

    Thanks for sharing all of these alternative processes. It’s fascinating.

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