CP: When were you a Work/Study?
CS: March 14 – May 15, 2010. I remember the date clearly because I recall being mesmerized by the St. Patrick’s Day Party at the Murphy L & N Train Depot. Dale’s imitation of a leprechaun trapped in a brown paper bag - I thought that was brilliant!
CP: What have you been up to since your W/S session?
CS:I am currently a student at Berea College. I have been there for three years pursuing my undergraduate degree. I’ve also done a bit of working and traveling. I went to Ireland and Japan with the Berea Bluegrass Band. For a while before I went to Berea, I was working with Meredith Dahle (former host) at Sugarboo Farms in Blairsville. That was great because I could still be involved at the Folk School.
CP: Welcome back to the Folk School. What’s it like to be back as a second-time host?
LD: It has been so incredible to be back in this community. It’s a bit like coming back to folk-craft-musical-dance wonderland. Some of the cast of characters has changed, but the heart of the matter is the same.[caption id="attachment_10266" align="alignright" width="215"] Karen Mueller and Leah Dolgoy[/caption]
CP: How is the Folk School different than your regular life?
LD: I think the best way to illustrate this is by telling you about what I’ve been up to between my last host term and my return to the Folk School. I finished my last host term in August 2011 and went back to school that September. Conventional school. Graduate school in Occupational Therapy. I remember the first day I went to get my ID card. I went to a computer and used a touch screen to print out a number. And then proceeded to wait in line for hours while cranky people all around me played on their iPhones. I remember thinking to myself, “when you register at the Folk School, a work study greets you, hands you a map, tells you how to find your housing through the woods, and directs you to the room with the freshly baked cookies.” Having just finished conventional school, it is so nice to return to a Danish Folk School model of learning.
I arrived at the Folk School for my current host term on Christmas Day. I walked into Keith House, and was just struck by the comforting familiarity of everything around me. The smell of the wood, the creaky floors, the feeling of the Jr. host room at the top of the stairs. Then Winter Dance Week started. Suddenly I was in a literal embrace with all of these dear lovely folks I hadn’t seen in two years. I would run into friends in the contra dance line. I very quickly became re-acclimatized to the rhythm of how things are around here – morning song, ringing the bell, the exact time it takes to walk from any point on campus to the dining hall and not be late.
I stopped by the Yarn Circle on a Monday afternoon to speak with Martha Owen, our beloved longtime Resident Artist in Spinning, Knitting, Dyeing and Felt Making. We talked about many things including fiber arts, raising sheep, travel, artistic process, Fair Isle, her rich history with the Folk School, and more. Enjoy our interview![caption id="attachment_10134" align="aligncenter" width="480"] Don't ever lead your sheep with feed! A student photo op pic by Bonnie Shearer[/caption]
CP: How did you become involved with the Folk School?
MO: There was one year when I was a wee lass that I came to Little Folk School. I must have been 8, 9, or 10. I grew up in Pennsylvania, but my mother, Mary Porter Fain Owen came from Murphy. I would spend the summers here with my grandmother. At that time there was only one group of kids in Little Folk School. I learned to dance and I still sing the song I learned.[caption id="attachment_10131" align="alignright" width="284"] Photo shoot for Early American Life Magazine: Spinning near Festival Barn, August 1988 - That's Emolyn drinking a "grape coke" and trying to be good[/caption]
The next time, I was in college and I came for dancing again. I was doing volunteer work with a local church and we came to the dance one night. One summer my mother gave me a spinning wheel she had gotten from my great aunt and said: “Look! You always did like weird stuff.” She put the wheel down in front of me walked off and I thought “Well, I don’t know how to work with this thing.” My grandmother was reading the Cherokee Scout and saw an ad that the Campbell Folk School had a two-week class in Spinning and Dyeing. She said "Why don’t you go down and learn?" I said “Well, maybe I will.”
The full craft program that we have now had started in the '70s. The class was taught in Open House by Pam Strawn. We would card and spin and then do a dye pot when we had a pound of yarn between all of us. From that I made my first vest and I wore it for years to prove to my students that you should make something for any yarn you spin, you don’t have to wait until you spin “perfect” yarn.
My whole life turned left after taking that spinning class. That was 1978. I married my enabler, David Liden in 1979, and I had sheep by 1980.
CP: Tell me about your first sheep.
MO: I bought two ewes with lambs by their sides. One of the lambs was called "Maw Maw" and was the same age as my oldest daughter, Annie Fain. Maw Maw's portrait is hanging in our house. She was a pretty important sheep and I learned a lot of things from her. She lived to be 17.
CP: Do you have tips for beginning sheep owners?[caption id="attachment_10141" align="alignleft" width="237"] Ro-bear and Julliet, our current Great Pyrenees dogs - they weigh at least 125 pounds each now and live with the sheep (Oh, and Martha and David!) - Photo by Charlotte Crittenden[/caption]
MO: Now I have 35 sheep, but you've got to start small. Sheep reproduce quickly. While you are learning about things like housing, worming, and hoof trimming, etc, the fewer sheep the better. Security is also top priority. Sheep don’t have a way to protect themselves besides snorting, stomping, and running away which is very attractive to dogs. The biggest problems you have are neighbors' dogs and strays. Try security animals like llamas, donkeys, or Great Pyrenees. I have two Great Pyrenees right now. I haven't had any predator problems since they have been here. We are on our fourth generation. A border collie's job is the tell the sheep what to do, but the Pyrenees protect the sheep. They live with the sheep.
CP: As a current resident artist, one of your duties is to schedule teachers for the knitting, dyeing, felt making and spinning classes at the Folk School. How do you find them?
MO: Every possible way you can think of. We need someone who is passionate about what they do, someone who has done their craft a lot, but is a good teacher. I am always looking around and listening.
It’s Valentine’s Day here at the Folk School. I caught up with some friends and classmates this week to hear more about what folks are doing to mark the occasion.
Karen and Paul
Karen is a second-time Folk School student who brought her husband Paul here for the first time. They did not pick this week intentionally for Valentine’s Day but are happy to be here to celebrate with the Folk School community. Karen and I are classmates in Martha Owen’s Sheep to Shawl spinning/dyeing class together, while Paul is over in the Woodturning class with Phil Colson.
Karen: I loved it here and knew he would love it too. So we looked through the catalog and found a week where we could be here and work on stuff together.
Leah: So between the two of you, who is craftier?
Paul: She is.
Karen: I might be more artistic, but Paul’s an engineer. He is into figuring out how stuff works and making beautiful things that function well.
Leah: What are you learning this week that you will take home with you?
Paul: In wood turning, you have to concentrate hard for short amounts of time and then stand back and watch to see the potential emerge. I think that’s something I am taking away from this week that applies in our life.
Karen: (laughs) So you concentrate on me for short periods of time??
Paul: (laughs) Yes – and then all the potential emerges.
Karen: I think the way we are spending time with each other this week is really reflective of how we want our lives to be, so it’s a good way to practice what to prioritize.
Leah: That’s beautiful you guys. However, I actually meant – what are you literally taking home for each other?!
Paul: I am making some spinning tools, and a bunch of stuff for our home. And I am working on a special thing that I haven’t told her about yet.
Karen: I am learning a bunch of techniques. I don’t know how much knitting I am going to get done, but eventually these techniques will turn into sweaters. Or socks.