At Penland in Carolina, a New Gallery

The Penland School of Crafts, a jewel in the crown of Western North Carolina, now boasts new exhibition space in what was once a 1930s-era dormitory.

The renovation is by Chapel Hill architect Dail Dixon, who also designed an addition for the structure.

“We asked him to renovate and modernize Horner Hall in a manner that still preserves the historic qualities of the building – to maintain the nature of the building,” says Robin Dreyer, Penland’s communication director. “He created a plan for renovation to preserve the original character.”

The school was founded in 1929 and was actually an outgrowth of an economic development project to train mountain women in how to weave and market their weavings through the Episcopal Church. “That planted the idea of having a craft school here, and it was expanding within a few years to other crafts,” he says.

On the second floor of the two-story building, Dixon converted dormitories to office space, preserving a narrow hallway down the middle, the original doors and door jams. Partition walls were reconfigured inside for offices.

Where a chapel once occupied part of the ground floor, he created gallery space while preserving arched doorways and windows. And where the former had been limited by eight-foot ceiling heights, he created new exhibition space conducive to larger-scale work and themed exhibitions. It’s a separate structure with a connecting walkway, a vaulted ceiling and a set of five moveable walls so the space can be reconfigured, depending on what the exhibition is.

“We wanted something that would feel coherent and congruent with the existing building, but not mimic the original,” he says. “They fit together nicely but there’s no attempt made to make it look like it’s part of the existing structure.”

The rest of the gallery contains a sales area for work by students, instructors or resident artists.  A third section is a visitors’ gallery – a semi-permanent display that is mostly owned by Penland archives. “It relates to the school’s history from decades past, paired with contemporary work to show the continuity and evolution in the program,” he says. “It describes and illuminates the school’s history, with videos.”

Now’s the time to see it in the Blue Ridge Mountains, about an hour’s drive from Asheville, three hours from Charlotte and Winston-Salem, and four hours from Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill. For more, go here

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