A delicate pocket knife with a worn motif of tiny painted cherries rests quietly on display in the Folk School History Center. A roughly engraved letter M is barely noticeable on its wooden handle. The knife was a gift from the school's co-founder Olive Dame Campbell to Murrial Murray Martin who supervised the school's woodcarving program from 1935 to 1973. Likely meant only to be a small gesture of appreciation, Mrs. Campbell could not possibly have known what the knife would later come to represent one of the Folk School's most successful programs, perhaps even the best exemplification of its original mission: to be a school that would develop a community consciousness and awaken and enliven the people and out of it is hoped that better social and economic conditions will grow, as a 1925 newspaper article explained it.
Being an experimental school, the founders set many ideas in motion, not knowing which ones would uncover the potential lying dormant in its community. With a present-day vantage its easy to see the woodcarvers as this prodigy. But in the beginning, like all great endeavors, it was just one of several efforts presided over by chance.
It was Mrs. Campbell who first noticed the possibilities. Having walked by a carved-up bench outside Brasstown's general store on numerous occasions with idle men whittling it away out of mere boredom, she one day asked what they were making. Shavings was their reply, as the passed-down story goes. So Mrs. Campbell proposed a woodcarving class to teach these men how to create shapes with their knives. The famous whittled-away bench sits under glass in the History Center today.
And so began the legacy of the Brasstown Carvers. In 1929 a local craft guild to market and sell Folk School handicrafts was organized, of which the carvers were a part. They carved and labored, while the school provided instruction, equipment and bookkeeping.
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