Probably you have heard me say how much I love Arrowmont, and that it’s one of my favorite places in the world. But when people ask me what’s so great about it, that’s actually really hard for me to answer, for two reasons:

1) Like many great life experiences, you kinda just have to be there, and

2) There is so much good about Arrowmont that I have a really hard time being concise, and not holding forth into a long winded spiel containing the word “amazing” an excessive number of times.

The closest I can get in one paragraph is to say that Arrowmont is an experience that is at once energizing, nurturing, and challenging. It’s like a close knit family cheering you on as you attempt something new and ambitious. I have also heard it described as “summer art camp for adults.” While that doesn’t really capture the scope and prestige of what Arrowmont offers, it does describe the sense of camaraderie, intensity, and fun that you’ll find there.

For those unfamiliar, Arrowmont is an arts and crafts school in Gatlinburg, TN. They offer workshops in various art media taught by instructors who are renowned in their field. I participated in the educational assistant program, in which you receive room & board and one week of class for every full time week of work at the school. This is a fantastic program, and I totally recommend it to anyone serious about the arts who can get away for 4-6 weeks, and has a lot of energy! Applications are on Arrowmont’s website.

I had a lot of material to work with from six weeks of classes, visits to the park, and karaoke nights, so this post, as long as it is, is still a mere fraction of my experience this summer. Primarily I will say that the people I met this summer were at the core of what made it so great. My fellow educational assistants, the instructors, the students, the Artists in Residence, and the Arrowmont staff made a truly lovely group of people who it was a pleasure to spend time with. The majority of photos I chose for this post are focused on the art and the locale, but I snuck some fun party time photos in there too. Enjoy!!

When we got there, a two week class on firing the anagama kiln was already in full swing. This is an underground tunnel kiln that requires four days of around the clock stoking (adding wood.) Here’s a stoke in progress. 

Also in full swing when we arrived were plans for an epic mini-golf competition with hand-made art putters. Some of the wood turners got really elaborate. Me, I cut out and taped a construction paper swan to an existing club in 15 minutes. I was late to the planning, what can I say. When the anagama kiln was opened, this is what came out. And this is only part of it. Sparklers at our first bonfire! The fabulous  Kathy King demonstrating some sgraffito. I took Kathy’s class on stacked forms and at some point a rivalry got started between us and the wood turners on whose craft was more awesome, and who had the most impressive students. We spent most of the week leveling playful taunts at each other, and that finally culminated in this: The woodturned version of Kathy’s stacked piece. Here’s her original: So then we “threw” and stacked a bunch of wooden bowls: That week we also visited a truly special Gatlinburg attraction: They have over 20,000 pairs! Here is the section devoted to vegetables. The following week, I took a class with Jenny Mendes about illustrating on clay. Here she is demonstrating her technique. To get the hang of it, I illustrated my cat: Step 1: outline drawing Step 2: fill in drawing Step 3: Add black outlines and gray shading Add some color too if you want, and done! Meanwhile, across the way from the clay studio, there was a class on sculptural needle felting by Stephanie Metz: Here she is demonstrating the process. She takes wool roving, which is basically plain, carded lengths of wool fibers, and stabs it with specialized needles to compact it and shape it into sculptures. Her work is amazinggg and the concepts behind it are really thought provoking. I highly encourage a visit to her website!  That same week we went on a hike and found this. The next week we had the super awesome hand-builder extraordinaire Sunshine Cobb come to teach us her method of making pots. We also got some great stories into the bargain! Here she is regaling us while using her favorite tool, her cheese wire. And, here is what I made! From left to right and top to bottom: Garlic Box, Butter Dish, Tray (it’s upside down) Spaghetti Obelisk, Cotton Ball Box, Cake Stand, Treasure Chest.

Across the way from us was a clay sculpture class led by Debra Fritts. As a clay sculptor myself, I was really interested in the goings-on over there so I visited frequently. This is Debra’s gorgeous demo piece.

There are usually several bear sightings on campus in the summer, and here’s one of them. Their arrival always causes a wave of excitement and consternation across campus. He left after it became clear there were no snacks to be had.

That was also the week we started in on the theme parties. In my last post you saw the poster for 80s party. That was followed by a 20s soiree:

And THAT was followed by a Harry Potter Wizarding Party! I don’t have the poster for that one but I DO have a photo of us all in the school library, in our wizarding garb, being generally magical:

I was sorted, officially, by, into House Slytherin, if you can believe that. I always self-sorted as a Ravenclaw but I guess you can’t argue with the sorting hat. At this party we discussed the similarities between assisting at Arrowmont and going to Hogwarts, of which there are many:

1) You receive a letter inviting you to come

2) The campus has plenty of secret rooms and staircases

3) You’re sorted into various working groups, each with their own Head of House

4) There’s a Room of Requirement that always mysteriously has what you’re looking for

5) Muggles (most tourists in Gatlinburg) are oblivious to its location.

The week after Sunshine’s class was a work week for me, so I wasn’t in a class. Work weeks have their advantages- you ironically have more free time during them because you aren’t always rushing back to the studio at night to work on your class projects. It also gives you a really nice opportunity to visit all the classes in progress and see what’s going on. Sometimes you can even catch a demo or two.

I was happy to have my aunt Judy sign up for a class that week, and my husband and sister came for a visit too. It was really great to see my family for a few days and we lived it up tourist style in Gatlinburg with trips to such venerable establishments as No Way Jose’s Cantina and the Ole Smoky Moonshine Holler. We also visited this river:

That same week a class on sculpting in concrete led by Sherri Warner Hunter took place. Sherri does lots of large scale and public pieces in concrete which she then mosaics on top of. That really got me thinking, because my two great artistic loves are sculpture and mosaic. And, I have always been interested, though sadly never participated, in public art. Concrete sculpting could be a way for me to combine all of those things. Sherri was gracious enough to tolerate my constant buzzing around the workshop, asking questions and observing the students’ work.

Here’s Sherri and I.

The week of Harry Potter party was our last week at Arrowmont. That week was also our last night of karaoke, our weekly tradition. I have never been so sad about a night of karaoke before.

In conclusion, I’ll leave you with this photo from that night. Sorry it’s a tad blurry, still charming though!

Not everyone from the group made it out, but everyone was definitely there in spirit as we belted our way through one final round of songs, closed out the bar, and went home to campus. The next night the Artists in Residence threw an amazing goodbye party for us, which aside from being super fun, provided some good closure. Still, it was a strange feeling to leave with the students this time instead of watching campus empty out all day while we tried to catch up on sleep and plan our next week.

I was sad to leave, but it’s okay. I’ll definitely be back someday.