Penland School of Craft

This past fall my dear friend Mary Ford and I were talking and I told her that I would like to learn to work in metal so she ordered a catalog to Penland School of Craft near Spruce Pine NC. After thinking about it for a while I decided metal was not the avenue that I needed to pursue. I don’t have a forge or welding equipment at home and it would be difficult for me to continue with what I would learn at Penland. The next catalog had a winner for me. A two week pin hole camera and wet plate processing course. This is something that really interested me and it is something that I would be able to continue to explore and learn after the class since I have a darkroom and use many different formats of photography equipment. So I signed up and waited with eager anticipation for class to begin.

The starting Sunday arrived and activities began with orientation, Dinner and a lab safety presentation. We started class at 9am on Monday. The first part of the class was the construction of a pin hole camera. Started on Monday and finished by Tuesday evening. Lou Krueger the instructor had all the parts pre-cut so all we needed to do was some simple drill work, gluing and painting. Lou had done a really great job with all the parts and instructions, the camera went together flawlessly. Lou’s web site is Lou Krueger is an emeritus professor and former Director of the School of Art at Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green Ohio where he taught art and photography for two decades. My youngest daughter is a BGSU Falcon grad so I naturally hit it off with Lou.

Next was an introduction to wet plate photography. This part of the course was taught by David Emitt Adams. David had studied under Lou at Bowling Green State University. Wet Plate is a very technical process and must be completed in a very short time. David is working on a project where he is photographing oil refineries with wet plate technology on the tops of oil drums. You can see his work at

With the wet plate process you only have a few minutes after preparing the plate to coat it with silver, make an exposure and the develop the plate. Many of the students in the class really took to this process and made some incredible images. I on the other hand struggled with the newness of the process and eventually I was able to make some images and added a self portrait to an old family album which contains wet plate photographs of some of my ancestors. It was something I was interested in before the class and I now that understand the process I am anxious to see if I am able to make some images at home. David provided a complete list of references to get started.

I have always wanted a good pin hole camera and now I have a great one. Several of us attached a lens to the pin hole camera and made a working camera with a lens. This is going to open up a whole new avenue of experimentation with this camera body and various surplus lenses. We used photographic paper as the negative and processed the paper in the darkroom. This gave us a paper negative which was either viewed with a phone app to reverse the negative into a positive image or scanned with a computer and scanner to reverse the image and then print it as a positive. I learned a lot about contrast and exposure while using my pin hole camera. It was quite the learning experience.

This class was over the fourth of July holiday so on July third Penland had a parade, ice cream social and fireworks show. The photography studio participated in the parade and we won most Patriotic category, at least I think this is what we won any way we were given a trophy and not everyone got one! The fire works show was fantastic and the night ended with mother nature providing us with her own fireworks display in the form of a thunder storm.

Well both aspects of the class filled the two weeks with lots of fun and learning. This was my first time at Penland and I was not sure if being there was going to work for a 70 year old guy who likes his routine. Well it was fantastic, the food was great, the staff was friendly and helpful any time I needed them. The studio assistants were great and really added to the experience. Eating meals with a different group of folks every day was really interesting. The meals were great, a lot better and greater variety than I fix for myself at home. I had such a great time I signed up for another class in the fall. A one week B&W landscape photography class. I can’t wait to get back.