From junkyard finds to fine art

Published: Monday, June 1, 2009 at 6:13 p.m.
Last Modified: Monday, June 1, 2009 at 6:13 p.m.

For Gainesville architect and interior designer Sylvia Crook, an old jail door became the key to unlocking her creativity.

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Architectural designer and sculptor Sylvia McIntyre-Cook poses with her garden gate she made from a jail door at her home in northwest Gainesville Wednesday, April 15, 2009.

Doug Finger/The Gainesville Sun


If you go

The Penland School of Crafts is located in Penland, North Carolina, about 50 miles outside of Asheville. The school offers 98 one- and two-week summer workshops in books and paper, clay, drawing, glass, iron, metals, photography, printmaking and letterpress, textiles and wood. Tuition ranges from $440 for a one-week class ($640 for hot glass) to $990 for a two-and-a-half week class. Room, board and art supplies are extra. For more information, visit, or contact the school at P.O. Box 37, Penland, NC 28765, (828-765-2359),

Actually, it was a combination of the jail door plus a handful of discarded faucet handles and a pile of scrap metal salvaged from an Appalachian junkyard, together with a blowtorch, a furnace and an arc welder.

But more than anything else, what helped Crook transform these junkyard finds into fine art was her metalworking class at the Penland School of Crafts in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina.

“People were making all sorts of things: light fixtures, fire pokers, stools,” Crook, 52, says of the summer metalworking class she took at the crafts school in 2006. “The teaching assistant made a chair out of railroad ties. It was just fascinating what people could come up with from stuff we found in the junkyard.”

The Penland School of Crafts is one of the nation’s oldest and most prestigious craft schools. The school was established in 1923 to help preserve hand weaving and ceramics as industrialization increasingly edged out these Appalachian folk traditions. It later expanded to include workshops in books and paper-making, clay, drawing, glass, iron, metals, photography, printmaking and letterpress, textiles and wood. Now, thousands of adult artists and artisans of all ages and abilities flock to the school to learn a new skill or hone an existing one in any of 98 workshops offered every summer.

Crook became interested in welding and metalworking after helping her son with his seventh-grade science fair project some years ago. She later took an introductory welding course at Santa Fe College.

At Penland, Crook felt inspired — so inspired that she urged her husband, Larry, to come along the following year. That year, he took a woodworking class. She signed up for a blacksmithing class only to discover that she preferred welding instead. “I’m not strong enough to be a blacksmith,” says Crook, who found blacksmithing to be loud, intense and more limited in scope than welding.

Even so, says Crook, the 24/7 immersion the school offers is truly invaluable.

“I really like being taken out of my home and my surroundings here, and to be in a place where I had no concerns other than learning this thing.”

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