Channel Your Inner Artist…

 In Activities, Do It Yourself, Local Art Scene

…At Pocosin Art School.

Situated a stone’s throw from the Scuppernong River in Columbia, the Pocosin Art School and Gallery is a must-see, whether the visit is in person or virtual. Laurel Fulton, Deputy Director, is pretty excited about the place – a place where students can turn their artistic vision into reality.

pocosin art school director
Pocosin Art School Executive Director, Marlene True.

Surrounded by water, wildlife and the pristine beauty of Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, Pocosin Arts is an ideal place to escape the daily routine and immerse yourself in art. The school welcomes students ranging from beginners who wish to learn something new, to intermediate and advanced students. Most workshops welcome all experience levels, with the most important prerequisite being a desire to create.

pocosin art school
Arts on the river at Pocosin Art School

“Even though we are not currently allowing visitors onsite, we will be reopening our doors in 2022,” Fulton says.

The campus consists of three buildings in the middle of town, including a brick building that houses the ceramics and metals studios. In the front of one of the main buildings, there is a small gallery space. There’s a myriad of opportunities here for discovery, creativity, and learning in the arts. With year-round workshops in metals and jewelry, ceramics, drawing, painting, textiles, books, wood and digital fabrication, the possibilities are endless. For the time being, these workshops are virtual.

The school also hosts artist residencies – that is how Fulton found her niche here.

“I’m originally from Colorado, but I had done a residency here at Pocosin before I went back to grad school in Georgia.”

When she was named deputy director, Fulton moved to Columbia from Athens, Georgia where she had just wrapped up her MFA in jewelry and metal. Like Marlene True, Pocosin’s Executive Director, Fulton is a metalsmith by profession.

painting art school nc

“When I was here as artist in residence, I was teaching adult classes, kids’ classes and community classes,” she says. “I also had an opportunity to teach a bigger workshop. But we have had to shift in response to the pandemic. Currently, the artists in residence are leading the community classes and kids’ classes online, then working in the studios. So, it’s a little bit different for them than it would be usually.”

pocosin art school
Pocosin Art School before the covid-19 pandemic.

The teaching studio and gallery has enjoyed a special place in the community since the mid-1990s when Pennsylvania native Feather Phillips enlisted the help of a few others to create what was then known as the Pocosin Arts Folk School. The school was, and remains a private, non-profit, educational center with a mission to connect culture to the environment through the arts.

“Marlene True, our current director, took over after Feather retired,” Fulton says. “She came on at a pretty critical time, right after Hurricane Irene pretty much destroyed the ceramics and metal studio and all of the equipment.

“The potter’s wheels and the jeweler’s benches were pretty much under water. Marlene was able to coordinate FEMA funding which provided for critical repairs, including raised flooring in the main building (which was purchased later).”

Today, Pocosin Art School tends to attract students from Raleigh, the Outer Banks and even Charlotte. Its vast array of programming – albeit via Zoom currently – includes workshops and classes for adults and youth alike.

“It’s funny because Columbia is a kind of isolated area to begin with,” Fulton says. “The Zoom classes have actually opened up opportunities from all over the world. We have students from as far away as Portugal, the United Kingdom and the West Coast taking classes with us who probably wouldn’t have the opportunity otherwise.”

Virtual classes have been quite successful, both in terms of substance and quality while acquainting remote students with the facility, hopefully encouraging them to visit in person when it’s feasible.

Even before the pandemic hit, Fulton says that Director True was ahead of the curve.

“Other craft schools were a little fearful of offering online programming, but Marlene had already been thinking of innovative ways to get people excited about coming here. As soon as the pandemic happened, she jumped right in and started that process.”

Fulton admits that it was a little scary jumping into virtual classes.

“There was a learning curve,” she says with a chuckle. “But we’ve been open to learning and improving at each step along the way.”

Even though in-person programming likely won’t be in place until early 2022, there are some amazing course offerings available. “I’d encourage readers to visit our website That way, you can browse through the workshops and see what might interest you. There you can also read about our instructors.”

Depending on the class you choose, the teacher may be delivering instruction from Europe.

“In metals and jewelry, we have Jennifer Wells, who lives in Tuscany. And Märta Mattsson is in Sweden. Even though we have had to shift our operations, we still enjoy a great sense of community here and I’ve enjoyed meeting people I’d never get to meet otherwise – working with artists I’ve admired for years.”

Pocosin Art School has just added its first writing workshop featuring Jaki Shelton Green. As North Carolina’s ninth poet laureate, Green is the first African American and the third woman to serve as the state’s ambassador for poetry and the spoken word.

Other popular programming includes the jewelry and metals classes which tend to sell out quickly. “New and different kinds of classes include an increase in painting, books and mixed media. Digital media class offerings have also been expanded.”

pigment creation art
metalsmith outer banks

For the novice, she thinks mixed media is ideal because those classes are geared toward those with limited experience. Additionally, there are classes where the instructors send out kits so the student only needs to gather a few things for the workshop.

Even though classes are virtual, attendance is capped at 25-30 students. That way it has more of an “in person” feel experience-wise. Classes are also designed to be interactive, informative, and rewarding. Whether online this year or in person next, current and aspirational artists are encouraged to explore the diverse range of offerings are available.

Students of all experience levels are welcome for most workshops, although the minimum age for adult workshops is 18. Scholarships are available.

Though she certainly looks forward to an in-person presence next year, Fulton is pleased Pocosin Art School has a broad reach during these challenging times. For her, the takeaway is a simple one:

“I’m happy we are able to provide these opportunities at a time when people can’t get outside their house as often as they’d like – to be able participate in programming that they wouldn’t have otherwise in these past months.”

See more about The Outer Banks Local Art Scene

Also, check out our article about the Outer Banks Starving Artists Art Show

Lillian Stevens
Author: Lillian Stevens

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