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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
Curious about creative options further east in Pennsylvania? Check out this writing and art retreat at the Highlights Foundation!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!