Stories

[caption id="attachment_13059" align="aligncenter" width="600"]The "Science of Bread" Class Photo, May 2015 The "Science of Bread" Class Photo, May 2015[/caption] Magical. That’s the word used over and over to describe a week at the Folk School. And there’s always something that makes the visit extra special: last May it was the baby barn swallows peeking over the edges of their nests in the rafters outside Davidson Hall. Bread-OutdoorTrio This year it was the mountain laurel in full bloom; the mother-to-be barn swallows sat patiently atop their nests. The Folk School is a magical place, but also, when you’re there, you slow down and pay attention to things like the birds and flowers. [caption id="attachment_13066" align="alignright" width="215"]Nicholas holds the focaccia fresh out of the oven. Nicholas holds the focaccia fresh out of the oven.[/caption] I was at the Folk School last week to teach my annual “Science of Bread” class—not a magical name by any means, but bread-making can be wondrous even when you know about the microorganisms and molecules that make it work. In addition to making dozens of loaves, the class started a sourdough starter by attracting wild yeasts and bread-making bacteria from the air into a container of flour and water. They also braved the production of salt-rising bread, a first for me. Making salt-rising bread is similar to creating a sourdough starter in that ingredients (in our case, raw potatoes, corn meal, sugar, and baking soda) are left out to attract microorganisms that cause the bread to rise when the dough is mixed the next day. (“Salt-rising” is a misnomer.) The ingredients are kept at 110 degrees, however, so that the microorganisms attracted to the mixture are different than the usual ones; this results in the unique flavor and aroma of salt-rising bread.

[caption id="attachment_12744" align="alignright" width="300"]Rob unbricks the kiln. Rob unbricks the kiln.[/caption] It's like Christmas Eve over at Smoke in the Mountains Pottery today because it's the day before the big wood kiln will be opened and unloaded. Many potters from all over the region contribute pots to be fired the traditional way in Rob Withrow's huge wood kiln. This is Rob's 13th wood firing at his studio. I stopped by and caught him taking a little peek inside the chamber and took the opportunity to talk to him about the firing and clay in general. Join us in the sneak peek... CP: So what are you doing right now? RW: I'm unbricking this kiln here that's been cooling for five days. We heated it up to 2500 degrees using only wood, and now it's like Christmas! You open it up and see what's inside and this time the kiln fired so beautifully; it's such a joy. CP: Nice, How many time have you fired this kiln? RW: It's been a hard road but I stuck with it, and by golly the community came forth and helped me all along the way. I fired it nine times unsuccessfully. A weaker man would have caved or a smarter man would have stopped, but I kept going and here we are! The community came together and knew I was having problems. We put a new chimney on it and it works like a charm now. Now it's a third of the wood, and a third of the time (than when we first started). [caption id="attachment_12738" align="aligncenter" width="565"]Beautiful pots from the March 2015 wood firing Beautiful pots from the March 2015 wood firing[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_12659" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Felted Rug Class with Becky Walker in the Wet Room Felted Rug Class with Becky Walker in the Wet Room[/caption] Felt is the oldest known fabric used by man. That stands to figure... felt is so easy to make, it was probably first discovered by accident. The recipe for felt, after all, is wool, moisture and agitation. Picture lining a sandal or shoe with raw wool to act as a cushion. Now picture walking around on that wool, smooshing it with every step, maybe sweating on it a bit to add the needed moisture. By the end of a long walk, you're not taking out bits of raw wool, but essentially a felted sock that fits your feet perfectly. While felting techniques have come a long way, that essential concept of felt making is still the same.  I sat down to talk with Becky Walker about her adventures with felt making. You've seen Becky around the Folk School campus wearing a knit hat, sweater or socks, or maybe on the dance floor wearing her felted name tag. Wherever you may meet Becky, her enthusiasm for her passions – music, dance, good food, good friends, animals and fiber – becomes clear right away. Let's meet her. [caption id="attachment_12657" align="alignright" width="208"]Becky and her felted name badge Becky and her felted name badge[/caption] CC: How did you first become interested in becoming a fiber artist? BW: Well, my mother taught me to knit when I was a real little kid, I was about seven. I've always loved animals, or anything with fur, anyway, and one thing lead to another. I've pretty much continued knitting through out my life so far. So I haven't knitted all my life yet (she laughs). CC: How did you discover the Folk School? BW: After I met Steve, my husband. He was a Folk School person and this was one of the first places we came. His son, Able lived over here, and he wanted me to meet Able and his mom. Of course we had to come dance because we were right here. Actually, I had encountered the Folk School in my early 20s in the book Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands. There was a chapter on the Folk School and I thought, “Wow, that seems like such a great place. I'd love to go there!” but didn't really think I ever would. So the fact that we came here right away was pretty neat, and I've been loving it ever since. It was a while before I got to take a class, so anyway, we'd come here to dance and see family. CC: What kind of fiber arts do you do? [caption id="attachment_12666" align="alignright" width="217"]Felted Rug with Woman Felted Rug with Woman[/caption] BW: Well, felt making is what I've become known for and I dabble a little bit with spinning. I'm not very good, but I just need to sit down at my wheel and do it more. CC: Martha Owen, the Folk School Resident Artist in Knitting and Spinning, told me a story about teaching you to spin and you told her you might be more interested in felt making, right? BW: I told her that I loved her, that I was interested in spinning, but I wasn't really ready to sit still yet. And so when I said that, she said “Well, you know, there's this thing called felt making and it's really active and I think you would like it. Carla is teaching a class here at the Folk School sometime coming up pretty soon and I think you should try that.” So I did.

[caption id="attachment_12633" align="aligncenter" width="600"]Tim Tyndall teaches Soap Making in the Wet Room Tim Tyndall teaches Soap Making in the Wet Room[/caption]

When I was a Work/Study in 2011, one of the classes I chose for my work/trade was Dr. T’s Soap Making class. For a total beginner, the class was an amazing introduction to the chemistry and art behind creating your own customized cold process soap batches. Dr. T (aka Tim Tyndall) teaches Soap Making regularly at the Folk School. I'm a huge fan of Tim and his soap... Enjoy our interview.

[caption id="attachment_12629" align="alignright" width="216"]Checking the temperature of the milk and lye. Checking the temperature of the milk and lye.[/caption]

CP: How did you become involved with the Folk School?

Dr. T: About 10-12 years ago, Charlotte Latin School bused their 8th grade “graduates to be” to the Folk School for a celebration where students could choose 2-4 classes over a 2-day period. A parent who had been a customer and attended one of my demonstrations here at the Soap Shed, suggested to someone at the Folk School that they contact me to do Soap Making segments for the Latin students.

The Folk School contacted me and I came down to initiate a soap class experiment. Things went well; the students were pleased; I had fun; and I was asked to propose what regular soap classes might look like for the curriculum. Soap Making classes have been a part of the “curriculum” since then. I guess I have kinda been the “lead dog,” so to speak.

CP: Why do you like teaching at the Folk School?

First and foremost, I have always loved teaching. I have been an educator and administrator at all levels from private high school, community college, and university, focusing in science. I live in Spruce Pine, NC where we have the Penland School of Crafts and taught in Rome, Georgia, home of the Berry School. These schools, like JCCFS and Berea, focus on the goal of helping mountain or rural people marshall their skills and talents from generations of practice towards economic gain and enrichment for themselves, their families, and their communities.

I expected this would be the “Spirit of the Folk School” which I so richly enjoyed my first visit. To be a part of that AND to share some of my self taught skills as a contemporary soap maker is a most satisfying endeavor. I have learned much “Lore” and have a cadre of stories about the history of soap making as a foundation craft in an earlier time and an artisan craft today. I teach because it is FUN and I love seeing my students accomplish things they came to the school thinking they could not do or understand. They surprise themselves and give a thrill at the same time. That’s why I like teaching at the Folk School.

[caption id="attachment_12650" align="alignright" width="330"]Valerie dips her feet in the sand at Pacifica, CA - always close to water. Valerie dips her feet in the sand at Pacifica, CA - always close to water.[/caption]

Acclaimed North Carolina writer Valerie Nieman will be teaching The Breath of Life: Discovering and Depicting Characters at the Folk School, July 5-10, 2015. This month brings the release of her second poetry collection, "Hotel Worthy."

CP: How long have you taught at the Folk School?

VN: Hard question! I don’t have a great memory for dates. Several years ago, anyway. I began by teaching weekend character development classes and then graduated to a week-long fiction session in 2013. In 2014, I taught a weekend workshop and then spent a week taking a woodworking class – my first taste of being a student at John C. Campbell. What fun! I produced two lovely occasional tables, though I had never before worked with any power tools beyond a drill. The Folk School method definitely works.

CP: What is your favorite Folk School memory?

VN: Can I offer a quilt?

The magnificent elm tree in front of the Orchard House. Cracking thunderstorms. The Whipstitch Sisters rocking the house. The coal-smoke smell from the Blacksmith Shop.  “Simple Gifts” sung by a chorus of hungry workers. Purple martins. River cane whispering near the stream. Morning Song. Smiles – always smiles!  Enticing smells of Indian cooking emanating from the Cooking Studio. Cohosh berries – “doll’s eyes” – beside the path. Learning to contra dance. Bees working the gardens.  Creaking floors at the Keith House. The dinner bell. Mist on the fields. The sound of hammered dulcimers. Wild blackberries!

This past weekend, instructor Alice Russell taught a Quilting class. She brought some samples of her quilting, including this beautiful quilt she recently created for the Quilts of Valor Foundation​ which provides quilts to heal and comfort our service members and veterans. We think that's pretty awesome! Go Alice! [caption id="attachment_12533" align="aligncenter" width="599"]CP4_6898-AliceRussell-Quilt Julie Johnson and Alice Russell hold up Alice's "Quilt of Valor"[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_12507" align="alignright" width="284"]Ivan & Leanne Ewert Ivan & Leanne[/caption] I met Ivan Ewert in Leatherworking class at the Folk School this past fall. While we were busy cutting and riveting leather in the Wood Carving Studio, Ivan's wife Leanne was just across the way in the Jewelry Studio shaping metal into wearable treasures. This was Leanne and Ivan's second trip to the Folk School together. They were celebrating their 15th anniversary. It was inspirational to see in action how the Folk School is an awesome destination for couples. With V-Day right around the corner, I decided now was a great time to catch up with them about their Folk School experience. Enjoy!  CP: How did you hear about the Folk School?  IE: Leanne is a jewelry artist who subscribes to many art magazines. There was an advert in the back of one of them that grabbed her interest, and when we looked the school up online we knew it was something we had to do together. LE: I had been looking at that advertisement for sometime and when I finally mentioned it to Ivan, he was just as excited about the adventure as I was! CP: Why did you decide it would be a fun place to come as a couple?  IE: We rarely vacation apart, so if one was going, the other was too! Leanne's interest in learning new skills to apply to her career was inspiring. There was a painting class taking place at the same time as the classes she wanted to take, and a week painting in the mountains sounded like a wonderful retreat. [caption id="attachment_12505" align="aligncenter" width="480"]Leanne enjoys the vast supply closet in the Jewelry Studio. Leanne's "Mecca"- the vast supply closet in the Folk School Jewelry Studio.[/caption] LE: I work out of my home studio and it can become a very solitary/insular life if one is not careful. The opportunity to be surrounded by, and learn from, other creatives that work in my chosen field sounded fabulous and I immediately wanted to go. I was born and raised in the south, so any chance I have to go back home is always a big treat for me. This is the best of both worlds AND I get to share it with the person I love. This last trip was our anniversary gift to one another! CP: How many times have you come to the Folk School? What classes have you taken?  IE: Only twice so far, and never a class together. Leanne's focused on jewelry but branched into leatherwork with Donna Wiggins this year. I've taken painting, leatherwork, and The Art of Smoke... all of my classes have been a real treat. LE: The first time we came down, I took a week-long wire wrapping class with Judy Peppers. This last time, I was getting more advanced instructions in Metalsmithing with Tom And Kay Benham for my week course and then onto a much-too short weekend session with Donna Wiggins for beginner work in leather...LOVED IT!!!