A Love Letter to the Folk School

A Love Letter to the Folk School

Leah Playing her Mountain Dulcimer

Dear Folk School,

I imagine the change in season, the fireflies aglow in the field. I think of you on Tuesdays at eight and sometimes even sing the Good Night song to myself in hopes that it is synced somehow to the voices encircled in the Community Room. I think of you on Sunday afternoon and try to instill the same excitement, anticipation and promise for my week as exists each week at Student Orientation. I think about you on a nightly basis as I bang my pots and pans with the wooden spoon I carved in Frank Boyd’s “Spoons, Spreaders, & Scoops” fantastic weekend class at the Folk School. Banging pots and pans has become a nightly ritual in solidarity with the current social movement against austerity measures in Quebec.

I wanted to write to say that I miss you everyday, but I also wanted to reflect on the way my learning at the Folk School has manifested one year after my departure from four formative months in Brasstown.

Finding Beauty in the Extraordinary Everyday.

I am sure that there are other folks who relate to this notion of appreciation that comes with an understanding of craftsmanship. It is a feeling of awe. I often catch myself staring at ironwork I never noticed before, thinking about the turns and rests that went into making a croissant, and the precision of a stained glass window. I may have been the world’s worst blacksmith (the crowning achievement of my week at the forge in Paul Garrett’s “Basic Blacksmithing: Good Habits” was a somewhat deformed bottle opener), but I know now what it takes to move metal because I did it with my own hands.

The Solution is Usually Felt, and Sometimes Fiddle Tunes.

These days I find myself working on an acute geriatrics ward as a student Occupational Therapist. Working in an acute care hospital can be overwhelming at times. The pervasive feeling on the ward is one of loss of autonomy, loss of health, and sometimes loss of life. The other day I noticed that one of the patients on the ward who is recovering from pneumonia was lifting up and down a water jug (as if it were a free weight) in an attempt to work on her endurance. I asked her if she’d ever tried felting and assured her that it was a work out that would target the same muscles. The next day we made nuno felted dancing ladies a la Geri Forkner’s Nuno Felting class. She wears her dancing lady on her hospital gown. Mine’s on my nametag (like it was when I was a host). Each Friday afternoon, I bring in my autoharp and play at the bedside for patients and their families, mostly tunes I learned from Work Studies and Brasstown folks around the campfire.  This is the best good that I can do right now.

Questioning the way it is and re-assessing how things could be/ought to be.

A year ago this week, I was halfway through my term as a student host at the John C. Campbell Folk School. I think about the Folk School each and every day with a sense of longing and of love. It’s the feeling of being in a long distance relationship with a place whose rhythm you are in tune with even though you are far away.

My 4 months at the Folk School constituted the first time in my life that I have spent any significant time in a place with a population of less than 1 million people. It made me question many of my assumptions and foregone conclusions about what sustainability means and what constitutes a home and a community. I have never lived somewhere where people build their own houses, make their own ice cream, gather eggs from their own chickens, and operate businesses on the honor system. I don’t usually dance with so many strangers or leave my door unlocked. It is a way of being, a trust, and an acknowledged inter-dependence combined with self-reliance I had never known. I think about it as I bang on my pots and pans exchanging smiles with strangers on the street, and while harvesting lettuce from my modest balcony garden.  I try to incorporate this way of being into each day – in small and significant ways.

So Brasstown, I carry you in my heart until we meet again…

With much love,

Leah xo

  • Libby Sheen
    Posted at 07:58h, 06 June

    A wonderful endorsement and Leah has put into words just how I feel about the Folk School, so thank you. If I was single I would buy a cabin near by and live out the rest of my days there! But I live in England!! I love this country too but we don’t have a Folk School.

    • Leah Dolgoy
      Posted at 10:58h, 05 November

      Thank you Libby! I hope our paths cross in Brasstown some time. – Leah

  • Charlotte S Watson
    Posted at 08:49h, 06 June

    With a skip in my heart, and a tear in my eye, I say thanks to Leah for completely transporting me back to Brasstown, walking from my class to lunch, and absorbing each feeling she has so eloquently expressed. Thanks, Leah

    • Leah Dolgoy
      Posted at 11:03h, 05 November

      Thank you for your kind words, Charlotte. I hope you get back to Brasstown soon. I have the same hope for myself. : )

  • nanette davidson
    Posted at 08:55h, 06 June

    Thank you,Leah, for sharing these thoughts with all of us. You were and are a special part of the folk school experience. This folk school belongs to you as it does to everyone who understands its special place in the universe. Those of us who live here do well to be reminded that not every place has this same spirit but it can be carried forward
    .Love to you from Brasstown.

  • Lyn Asselta
    Posted at 11:39h, 07 June

    It has been many years since I taught a class at the folk school, and since I’ve taken classes at the Folk School, but Leah’s words brought tears to my eyes. Especially her comment on Finding Beauty in the Extraordinary Everyday. There is little in life that can compare to the sense of one-ness with your surroundings as you feel when you are a part of this place. To have had the opportunity to slow one’s pace to the point of really noticing the beauty of everyday life is a gift. I consider myself so fortunate to be able to carry that gift with me each day. Thank you, Leah, for putting this into words…

    • Leah Dolgoy
      Posted at 11:05h, 05 November

      Hi Lyn! It was my pleasure to write this post and I have often found myself drawn back to it to read yours and others’ comments.

  • Nancy Hinds
    Posted at 11:41h, 07 June

    This is such a wonderful testament to what Campbell means to so many of us. I can look around my home and see the influence of classes in every corner, the reminder of friends I have made there surround me. I treasure every memory from the years gone by and look forward to many more to come. I will be teaching at the end of the month, and can’t wait to join in the community of the folk school!

    • Leah Dolgoy
      Posted at 11:07h, 05 November

      Hi Nancy! Your class was taking place in my first week of hosting at JCCFS so I remember it in vivid colour. You taught me lots about how to hang a quilt. : )

  • Penny Prichard
    Posted at 15:54h, 07 June


    That is a beautiful letter. While the Folkschool most certainly is a place, it also is a state of mind that you have captured and continue to share. I know that you continue to be able to touch people in ways that will remain with them always.

    Please remember me to your lovely mother.

    • Leah Dolgoy
      Posted at 11:07h, 05 November

      Will do, Penny. Just so you know, the Cuban Bread recipe is my go-to bread recipe now. : )

  • Kathy Dudek
    Posted at 20:15h, 07 June

    Leah, your wonderful letter expresses so eloquently what many friends of the Folk School feel. Whether a student, teacher, host, work study, or one of those of us who are fortunate to live in this paradise known as Brasstown, we all agree with you. Do your patients know how lucky they are – felted dancing ladies and playing the autoharp? Wow!

    • Leah Dolgoy
      Posted at 11:08h, 05 November

      Thanks Kathy! I hope to be back as soon as I can.

  • Mary Rutherford
    Posted at 20:47h, 07 June

    Absolutely lovely letter. Thank you Leah! I have some pictures from Little Middle that I think you will enjoy. Please let me know where to email them.

    • Leah Dolgoy
      Posted at 11:09h, 05 November

      Hi Mary! My email address is leahdolgoy@hotmail.com

      I would love to see your Little Middle photos. That was definitely one of the coolest parts of hosting. All the small people running around an being adorable. : )

  • Ed Miller
    Posted at 23:04h, 07 June

    Leah, my wife and I attended the Folk School about three years ago for the first time and built and learned a few songs on the Mountain Dulcimer. We had a wonderful time and our instructor Jack Smoot and the rest of the people at the school and students were all just wonderful. I have many times tried to share with friends the feeling of community that we got while we were there and always come up short. Now with the help of your letter I think I can get across to them what the School is about and what true community is.

    Thank you so much for sharing this with everyone. It is indeed a wonderful letter.

    We are saving now for another trip to the school, but from California it takes some real planning and saving, but we’ll return. As you said, not a day goes by that I don’t think about the school and also play the wonderful dulcimer that I built. It has a special Blue Mountain sound to it.

    • Leah Dolgoy
      Posted at 11:10h, 05 November

      Jack is such a great builder (and a great person). I hope you get back to Brasstown soon. : )

  • Emily Peters
    Posted at 16:32h, 08 June

    I grew up having the Folk School (literally) in my front yard and I after reading this it’s clear that I took it for granted.

    Thank you for the lovely prose.

  • Judy Wood
    Posted at 11:34h, 07 February

    What a loving, exquisite and in-depth tribute to a “Forgotten Way of Life”!
    To me, The John Campbell Folk School “Family/Community” is the most accepting of people in every way….. no matter where a student or teacher comes “from”….. once you cross the cattle guard heading into the School Grounds….there’s a feeling of ‘belonging’ which every person needs to experience no matter their background!
    My Maternal Grandfather was the only Blacksmith in a very small town in Texas back in the ’30s/’40’s/’50’s….what an awesome experience to walk into the new Blacksmith Shop…..it literally “took me back in time” to those olden days when I would visit Ben Patterson’s Blacksmith Shop in Henrietta, TX!!
    I’m sure I wasn’t the best/worst/ student at the Blacksmith School in 2012, but….I felt “accepted” and was amazed at those who would actually stop working on their projects just to help me or show me “their way” of working through a difficult piece of metal to form a certain shape.
    I, too….. would enjoy taking several of the classes offered there! Each time I wear my leather ‘feather shaped earrings’ purchased at the Gift Shop…. I’m transported back in time to the wonderful atmospheric feeling of that week where every day I witnessed new dimensions of artistic discovery whether it was dining on the wonderful food from the cooking classes or browsing all the wonderful recipe books located in the Gift Shop!
    I believe that was the friendliest atmosphere of any place I’ve ever been in my life!!
    I will most certainly return…my only dilemma will be “choosing which class” to take as there are so many wonderful creative courses/instructors to choose and experiencing the changing seasons in that area of the country would also be so much fun!
    Just a wonderful unforgettable experience!!

    Judy Wood
    Midland, TX

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