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Touchstone Center for Crafts, PA: Art Workshops for All Levels!

Just 60 miles south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is one of the most well-equipped crafts centers in the United States — and they offer workshops in a wild range of arts for all levels! Let’s take a stroll through Touchstone Center for Crafts near Farmington, PA, and you’ll see why I was so enraptured during my tour there this summer.

The light-filled painting studio.
The light-filled painting studio.

Arts Workshops in the Laurel Highlands

Touchstone is located in the rolling green hills of the Laurel Highlands, PA and every building on the campus takes full advantage of the tranquil, leafy surroundings. Gaze above at the Robbert Little painting studio (named after a famed nature painter) which boasts massive windows overlooking the woods, letting natural light flow in.

The studio for small metal-working and jewelry-making.
The studio for small metal-working and jewelry-making.

Crafts Studios with Excellent Equipment

Check out the metal-working and jewelry-making workshop above, and notice how Touchstone Center for Crafts provides every single detail a craftsperson — of any level — could need. Adjustable lamps for every workstation? Check. Tools upon tools? Check. Even the chairs are adjustable for comfort during crafting.

The central campus of Touchstone Center for Crafts.
The central campus of Touchstone Center for Crafts.

Wood Kiln Magic

The most amazing moment during the day-long tour I took of Touchstone was when I emerged from the indoor section of the pottery studio and out into the wood kiln area shown below: an open-air structure nestled right against a babbling brook in the forest. My breath was taken away by the utterly idyllic kiss to my senses! This type of kiln is a Noborigama (two-chamber) wood kiln, and takes intense effort and teamwork to operate.

The wood kiln.
The Noborigama wood kiln.

History of Touchstone Center for Crafts

The campus that makes up Touchstone — including a dining hall, dormitories, and classrooms — actually used to be a residential school for children with dyslexia called Camp Dunnabeck (which is still in existence to this day in its new home in Connecticut). In 1972, it changed over to become a crafts center, and Touchstone became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, funded by generous grants from arts-loving patrons.

Wood-fired pottery.
Wood-fired pottery by Daniel Tomcik and Meghan Burke.

Arts Workshops of all Lengths and Levels

Over the past 50 years (!) Touchstone has attracted some of the best arts and crafts instructors from around the world, with hundreds of students of all skill levels traveling to learn from the greats. Programs range from one evening (as with their Date Night offerings) to residential internships that last months. Most workshops are for adults only, but there is a Teen Program that runs periodically, and scholarships are available — including for their Educators’ Retreat.

A painter at work at Touchstone.
Painter Ryan Seaton-Evans (2021 Touchstone intern) at work on a new piece.

The Fallingwater House is Nearby

It’s not unrelated that Frank Lloyd Wright‘s Fallingwater house is near Touchstone; both places do a masterful job of weaving the buildings with the natural surroundings. See how the wood beams of the drawing studio, below, mirror the woods outside the windows?

A drawing studio.
A drawing studio.

Ohiopyle and Laurel Caverns Await

On the subject of Laurel Highlands nature near Touchstone, Laurel Caverns is just a few minutes away, and has a cave tour not to be missed. Famous Ohiopyle State Park is not much further, and if you want to add to your hiking portfolio, Linn Run and Forbes State Forest beckon.

A crafts workshop in progress.
A crafts workshop in progress with Adrienne Eliades.

Ceramics and Pottery Workshops

It was fascinating to get to sit in on a ceramics workshop being run by one of the most innovative current potters (pictured above), Adrienne Eliades from Vancouver. Because she has a wide Instagram following (@bugaboo_eyes), she was able to attract students from around the country. I got to watch as she demonstrated a glazing technique which stunned the class.

Pottery in progress.
Pottery in progress.

Blacksmithing, Glass-Making and More!

If there’s a type of crafting you love, Touchstone probably offers a workshop about it! I was awed by the size and quality of the Hart Moore blacksmithing workshop, and got to watch spark-filled demonstrations. We were also able to do some hands-on glass-making to create our own beads. Click through to see how beautifully they turned out…

Part of the pottery studio, with kilns.
2021 Touchstone intern Julia Castor in part of the pottery studio, with kilns.

A Little Free Library… for Crafts!

Pictured below is a delightful treat nestled in the woods by the dormitory cabins of Touchstone: Instead of a Little Free Library for books, there is a free cabinet of arts and crafts to give and take.

Instead of a "Little Free Library" for books -- for crafts!
Instead of a “Little Free Library” for books — for crafts!

Residential Art Retreats

For Touchstone’s residential crafts programs, there are a variety of housing options ranging from small cabins to larger dormitory complexes. The cabins pictured below reminded me of my happy summers at sleep-away camp.

The residential cabins at Touchstone.
The residential cabins at Touchstone.

Arts Galleries at Touchstone

You can visit Touchstone for its mini-museum and shop — not just its workshops. I was able to tour several galleries on the campus, including the small one behind the gorgeous iron gate, below.

One of the art galleries at Touchstone.
One of the art galleries at Touchstone.
A room in the central Touchstone building.
A room in the central Touchstone building.

An Iron Dragon?

Because Touchstone brings some of the best artists in the world to teach at its campus, you can imagine that the staff crafts displays in the Bea Campbell Gallery — the main showroom — are top-notch. I adored the iron dragon pictured below in the faculty showcase.

A metal dragon at the instructor gallery.
A metal dragon by Glenn Horr at the instructor gallery.

Wood-Fired Pottery

The staff gallery also featured innovate ceramics work on the day I visited (the displays change with each month), and after learning about the effort it takes to create wood-fired pottery, I have even more respect for the mugs I can now identify as created in that way.

Pottery by one of the instructors.
Pottery by instructor Martha Grover from Bethel, Maine.

Fiber Arts, Painting, Drawing, and More

Touchstone Center for Crafts teaches classic painting and drawing, but did you ever imagine how far the world of fiber arts could go? I’ll close this article with a photo of this absolutely brilliant wire-weaving sculpture in the staff gallery by Touchstone’s own Executive Director, Lindsay K. Gates. Wowza!

Astounding fiber arts in the instructor gallery.
A wire-weaving sculpture in the instructor gallery by Lindsay K. Gates.

Intrigued to Try Touchstone Center for Crafts?

So what about you? Do any of these aspects of Touchstone allure you? If you’ve tried their offerings, how has the experience been? Do share!

Touchstone Center for Crafts

Looking for some of the best arts and crafts workshops for all levels? Touchstone Center for Crafts in southwestern Pennsylvania is your idyllic spot. See what's on offer...

 

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Lindsay Ketterer Gates

Thursday 4th of November 2021

Thanks for the great article! We hope you will come back for another visit and try your hand at something new.

Lillie Marshall

Friday 5th of November 2021

Thank you, and me too!

Dean Simpson

Thursday 4th of November 2021

We really enjoyed your visit this summer! All of our staff feel very lucky to "work" everyday in such a beautiful and inspiring setting. The best part, though is meeting artists of all skill levels and hearing about their Touchstone Experience... Please share!

Lillie Marshall

Friday 5th of November 2021

So well said: the Touchstone community is global, and is so impressive. I look forward to hearing comments from people whose lives have been touched by this magical place.

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