Peters Valley School of Craft
Immersive Learning in an Inspiring Setting
By Laurie Pellichero | Photos courtesy of Peters Valley School of Craft
Located within the scenic Delaware Water Gap Recreation Area in Sussex County, just under two hours from Princeton, the Peters Valley School of Craft is a haven for artists from across the country and around the globe. Formerly known as Peters Valley Craftsmen, it was established in 1970 in partnership with the National Park Service to promote and encourage education and excellence in craft.
Each May through October, the nonprofit offers a wide range of immersive learning experiences in unique studio-based settings. Its programs include adult summer workshops, youth programs, opportunities for artists, public exhibitions in the campus gallery, artist residencies, demonstrations, and community outreach.
Peters Valley focuses on eight disciplines: blacksmithing, ceramics, fiber surface design, fiber structure, fine metals, photography, special topics (glass, printmaking, and mixed media), and woodworking. More than 125 intensive two- to five-day workshops are offered each year.
Workshops were presented virtually during the pandemic, with participation from all over the world. “Our audience grew — the word got out,” says Executive Director Kristin Muller, who adds that they are very excited to be back to in-person workshops. “Enrollment has been very strong, and our programs are growing.”
The school’s facilities are in what was once the farm village of Bevans. Through adaptive reuse, the historic buildings in the rural, wooded setting now serve as studios and dormitories for this unique community of artists. The Peters Valley Historic District is listed in the National Register of Historic Places.
The campus consists of two areas. Valley Central is home to the dorms, dining hall, office, and gallery, as well as the blacksmithing, ceramics, and photography studios. Approximately two miles away at Thunder Mountain are the fibers, fine metals, woodworking, glass, printmaking, and mixed media studios.
The school honors and acknowledges the fact that it exists on the lands of the Musee Lenni Lenape people, whose ancestors were the first craftspeople in the area.
As noted on its website, the mission of Peters Valley School of Craft is to enrich lives through the learning, practice, and appreciation of fine crafts.
“The making of fine crafts is a kind of exploration, which relies on an integration of heart, head, and hands,” reads the statement. “Peters Valley encourages and facilitates this exploration in everything we do.
“We are a vibrant community, bringing together etablished and emerging artists from around the globe. Coming together to make things makes us betters artists, able to learn from each other, and to evaluate our own efforts in a wider context.”
They note that they are stewards of the creative process: from preparation, to incubation, to illumination, to verification. Peters Valley strives to develop the creative abilities of all their participants through this focus on process. They also believe that creativity is not entirely a solitary effort — “sometimes the most interesting creative ideas emerge from new experiences in new places with other artists who see the world differently than we do.”
Peters Valley provides intensive instruction, the right tools, and a supportive environment to immerse its participants in making things by hand, all in an inspiring, natural setting along the Delaware River.
The school is considered a thought leader in the field of fine craft and one of the top five institutions of its kind in the U.S.
Workshops run from 9am to 5pm each day. The studios are closed during dinner hours, but generally open from 7 to 10pm for optional studio time.
According to Muller, about half of the workshop participants stay over, either in the simple accommodations in the historic farmhouses on campus, which are very limited, or in local hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, campgrounds, and Airbnbs in Sussex County and in Pike County in Pennsylvania.
Due to the pandemic, mostly single rooms with twin beds are available in the farmhouse dorms. Shared rooms are available on request. All rooms share a bathroom and common areas and are not air-conditioned. Guests bring their own pillows, sheets, blankets, and towels.
Meals are prepared by the Peters Valley Dining Hall staff during workshop sessions for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The cost of lunch is not included, and students are welcome to bring their own or pre-purchase a meal plan. Vegan and gluten-free options are also offered. There are full kitchens available in the dorms.
Upcoming adult workshops include Basketry into Woodturning, Saws & Solder: Intro to Jewelry, Introduction to Bladesmithing, In Relief: Carving Wooden Jewelry, Weaving for Texture, Intro to Hand Embroidery, Enamel Earrings Galore, and Form & Fire: Firing the Anagama.
A ceramics workshop at Peters Valley School of Craft.
The Peters Valley website notes that artist Katsuyuki Sakazume designed and built an anagama kiln on the campus in 1980. It was the first anagama kiln, which consists of a firing chamber with a firebox at one end and a flue at the other, built for public use in the U.S. and is still a big draw for the school and its ceramics program.
Youth workshops include Pottery on the Wheel, Printmaking in the Park, Explorations in Clay, Blacksmithing for Teens, Natural Dyes & Fibers, Intro to Jewelry for Teens, and Fundamentals of Woodturning for Teens, all for beginners and beyond.
“While Peters Valley provides professional-level instruction, we welcome beginners and anyone curious about making and exploring craft materials,” says Muller. “We believe that everyone is creative, and with the right tools and guidance they can enjoy making crafts and expressing themselves.”
Participants are strongly encouraged to register early for each workshop. Registration is generally open until the workshop fills or the date it runs, but that varies class by class. Some workshops fill within days of registration being open, but wait lists are available.
In October, November, and April, Peters Valley offers two- to four-week residency opportunities for practicing artists.
Virtual Instructor Presentations are featured on Friday evenings from 7 to 8pm through the end of August. They are also offered in person in the Dining Hall Pavilion. All are welcome to join in, and the presentations are recorded and uploaded to Peters Valley’s YouTube channel for viewing at any time.
There are also many opportunities for visitors, including weekly auctions on Tuesdays from 1 to 2pm through August in the Peters Valley Dining Hall. The public is invited to come and bid on artwork donated by visiting artists, staff, and workshop participants. The proceeds go to studio equipment and improvements. Work made by workshop participants is also on display for show and tell.
The Peters Valley Fine Craft Studios are open for self-guided tours on Saturdays and Sundays from 2 to 5pm through September 11. These tours give visitors the opportunity to see workshops in action. Visitors are invited to stop in the Peters Valley Gallery when they arrive and pick up a campus map to find out what workshops are running that day.
Open daily from 10am to 5pm, 6pm on Thursdays through August, the Gallery offers a wide selection of decorative and functional pottery, jewelry, glass, wood, wearable fiber arts, photography, toys, books, and more. The second floor features rotating exhibits such as “Making Matters: Fresh Perspectives in Fine Craft,” on view through August 7.
Muller notes that there is also plenty to do in the surrounding area, including exploring small towns such as Milford, Pa., hiking, biking, dining, and more.
She is looking forward to the 52nd Annual Peters Valley Craft Fair, to be held at the Sussex County Fairgrounds, 37 Plains Road in Augusta, on September 24 and 25 from 10am to 5pm each day. Admission is $10; free for children under 12. Masks will be required in indoor spaces for the health and safety of the artists and attendees.
The event, Peters Valley’s largest fundraiser of the year, showcases American crafts made by more than 100 exhibiting artists from around the country. It is a juried show, and the exhibitors are each selected for their excellence and originality. Visitors can meet the artists, watch an array of demonstrations, enjoy live music and great food, and shop for unique, handmade items. Kids can also participate in a variety of art activities.
Peters Valley is an independent nonprofit that operates in partnership with the U.S. National Park Service/Delaware Water Gap Recreational Area along with many other partners and funders including the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, New Jersey Historic Trust, Hunterdon Museum of Art, GlassRoots, Crafting the Future, Hood College, and Sussex County Community College.
GlassRoots fellowship students.
“We are especially excited to continue our partnership with GlassRoots of Newark, which offers young adults from Essex County a fellowship to attend classes at GlassRoots for six weeks followed by seven weeks of learning at Peters Valley,” says Muller. “The GlassRoots fellowship is helping to inspire and support ongoing learning and choosing career paths in the arts.”
“We are also honored to have been granted a New Jersey Arts and Culture Renewal Fund grant through the Princeton Area Community Foundation to re-grant to craft artists affected by the pandemic and weather events in New Jersey,” adds Muller. “Twenty-one artists have been selected to receive grants between $1,000 and $2,000 this month.”
Looking to the future, Muller says she is very happy to have been able to hire additional educational programming staff that will develop more programming for the fall 2022 and spring 2023 seasons, “and perhaps even some weekly classes that will appeal to our local community.”
Peters Valley School of Craft is located at 19 Kuhn Road in Layton. For more information, call 973.948.5200 or visit petersvalley.org.