When artists access the Green Energy Park, sparks fly

By JILL INGRAM MA ’08

Since its inception, the Jackson County Green Energy Park has invited WCU faculty, staff and alumni to help it grow. In turn, the facility in neighboring Dillsboro allows beginning and established artists their own chance to develop. Even before the GEP opened in 2006, WCU professors helped secure grant funding, consulted with director Timm Muth on the use of landfill methane gas as a power source, and brainstormed ideas for studio design. While a student, Tracy Kirchmann MFA ’10 helped the GEP locate the foundry – donated by Joel Queen ’05 MFA ’09 – for its metal shop and designed and built the glassblowing studio, which opened in 2009. Kirchmann, now a teacher and artist in Chicago, then used the studio as a classroom space to teach a for-credit glass class through WCU, an impossibility on campus, which doesn’t house a glassblowing or metalworking shop. And now comes a traditional wood-burning Japanese anagama kiln designed by ceramicist Preston Tolbert ’07, who also coordinated its construction, done over a two-week stretch in large part by WCU students and alumni. “It was a big job,” said WCU ceramics professor Joan Byrd, a GEP supporter of long standing. Results of the kiln’s first firing, unveiled to a crowd at an April open house to mark the occasion, were stately pieces burnished in rich earthen tones. A beautiful partnership, indeed.

Clockwise from top left, Tracy Kirchmann MFA ’10 teaches a class in the glass studio she helped build; Aaron Shufelt, introduced to glass-blowing through Kirchmann’s class, now rents space in the studio; a sculpture on the GEP grounds; Brock Clayton Martin ’10 works in the blacksmithing studio; Preston Tolbert ’07 and Dick Heiser ’74 lead the anagama kiln’s first firing; salt-glazed pieces in the kiln’s soda chamber; the park, against a mountain backdrop, is a beautiful place to create; Heiser, who traveled from the North Carolina coast to assist in the firing, peeks inside the kiln.