Jackson Takes a Blacksmithing Class

Charley & Betsy Orlando’s grandson recently took his first Folk School class. Enjoy our story about generations connecting.

Jackson with some of his finished blacksmithing work

Jackson Haigis first heard about the Folk School’s blacksmithing program the old-fashioned way. Instead of stumbling upon a catalog, or seeing us on national TV, Jackson heard about us from his grandparents Charley and Betsy Orlando. 

Charlie was an incredible blacksmith, knitter, spinner, tin can artist, banjo player, and so much more. He was a beloved instructor, student, supporter, and board member who left an indelible mark on the Folk School and wider Brasstown community. His wife, Betsy, is also a cherished member of our Folk School family. She’s a well-known doll-maker who took as many classes as she taught in a variety of subjects. “It’s probably been over thirty years since my grandmother first went to the Folk School, and she still keeps in touch with some of her former classmates,” Jackson told us, speaking to the Folk School’s ability to bring folks together and spark long-lasting friendships. 

Charley and Betsy
History Center

The History Center

Jackson With his grandfathers candle stick holder

Jackson with his Grandfather’s Candlestick 

Jackson in his Blacksmithing class

Jackson in The Blacksmithing Studio 

Jackson came to the school with his wife Emma months ago, the couple looking for somewhere to go that would offer a change-of-pace from their day-to-day lives. (“My job is a lot of screen time, including calls, meetings, things like that,” he said. “It was nice to disconnect for a week.”) Emma took a stained-glass class, and Jackson signed up for blacksmithing–which his grandfather taught here from 1986 until he passed in 2014. 

  Exploring our sprawling campus before class began, Jackson headed into our History Center, a small museum offering a snapshot of the school’s archives and almost hundred-year background. Imagine his surprise when he stumbled upon one of his grandfather’s hand-forged candlestick holders hanging on the Center’s wall.  

 More intricate and involved than the metalwork Jackson had seen growing up, Charley’s masterful ironwork on display, “drove home how involved my grandparents were at the Folk School, how much of an impact they had, and how many people they influenced when they came there. It was great to see my grandfather’s name up there on the wall, even though he’s been gone almost a decade.” 

 Charley and Betsy were just as influential with their own family. “Visiting my grandparents in western New York, we would do our own version of Intergenerational Week,” Jackson said, referring to our special series of classes where parents, grandparents, or guardians can take classes side-by-side with their teenage counterparts and craft a memorable experience for all. He described how he and his sister would spend hours crafting or forging with Charley and Betsy, learning the building blocks for skills to revisit later in life. “In learning from them, and hearing where some of these skills originated from, the Folk School took on this mythical quality for us.” 

That legend and lore became reality for Jackson last summer, and while he had an inkling of what to expect, he was still surprised by how truly enlivening and engaging his experience was. “In blacksmithing, I progressed way further than I thought I would in five days. Part of that is because, as a student, all you’re doing is focusing on whatever craft you’re learning,” he said. Days were spent in the studio, but there were plenty of other activities to enjoy. Jackson and Emma went to our Tuesday night social dance, with Jackson saying that, during the evening, “you feel like you’re in a different time period, pre-internet.” The two also started their day with Morningsong every chance they could get. “I have recordings of both of my grandparents performing at Morningsong from fifteen years ago, and it was great to experience it firsthand and realize, ‘They were here. This is where it all happened.’”

 Jackson’s Folk School experience was transformative because of his family connection, but also because of the possibilities unearthed by our tight-knit, creative community. “Seeing so many things that have been forged around campus–even in the room where we stayed–it really felt like inspiration was everywhere. It made me think about all you could make with more time and instruction.” 

 Like many students, Jackson and Emma’s first visit won’t be their last. “We have already started looking through the catalog,” he told us. “Once we came to the school, it was like, wow. I can’t believe it’s taken us this long to get down to Brasstown.” 

Images from Charley Orlando's Classes

Explore The Studio

Clay Spencer Blacksmith Shop

Named in honor of Clay Spencer, renowned blacksmith, teacher and supporter of the Folk School, this remarkable shop opened in 2009 and stands as a centerpiece of our campus. Handcrafted by volunteers and students from the Timber Frames Guild of North America, this spacious, modern workspace includes 12 forges for students and a large instructor demonstrator forge. The studio features a generous supply of hand tools, power hammers, saws, shears, grinders, drills, welders, and other equipment and supplies for a full learning experience. The second-floor loft includes an air-conditioned classroom and resource library for when you need to take a break. The Francis Whitaker Blacksmith Shop, our old studio, now acts as an additional tool and finishing room for students.

No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.