Stories

Book_KS2A5694"What do you like best about the Folk School?" I asked an eight-year-old friend. "All the new old-timey stuff." The Folk School is cutting edge, ever pushing the handmade envelope. We were growing our food in Brasstown before any of us knew we were locavores. When bigger was surely better, we were small and rural and believed it to be the fountainhead of creativity. (Yer welcome, cityfolks). We wanted art to be a part of everyday life, and every person an artist, not just for art's sake (but, hey, art, yer welcome) but for our own sake. We said there was art in all of us, especially as children, and that we just wanted to give it back to those who may have missed it or laid it aside. BA-GianWe were helping people to find common ground at times when others tried to divide us about race, class, gender, orientation, origin, personal appearance, attitude, religion, and footwear. We are not really about crafts or music or books, though we teach and learn them at the very highest levels; to us, they are a legacy and a way to get beyond our bad selves and try to love one another. We teach good ways. Some of them are very old. Cool. Words under glass are handy, like when you're waiting in the drive-through at the Krystal and you can't remember who it was that shot Archduke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914. BA-Holly-XOBut books are more than the words or images they contain. They are a physical object, the best-ever communication device and an inspiration. The fact that we've had paper and books around a long time does not mean we are through with exploring them, it means that we have a lot going for us in the forward journey. We still paint mountain landscapes in oil, though there are quicker ways to grab an image. We still carve wood, though plastics may be a quicker route to "bear." We still play the banjo, heaven help us, though it is easier to plug in the earbuds and listen to somebody else making music. That would be too easy for the likes of us. We are willing to go to some extra trouble to have beauty in our lives.

[caption id="attachment_8274" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Shape Note Singers with Richard Moss in the Keith House at the Folk School, 1978 Shape Note Singers with Richard Moss in the Keith House at the Folk School, 1978[/caption]   For anyone who loves to belt it out in the shower, was moved by the church scene in Cold Mountain with everyone belting it out together, or is simply a fan of “belting it out” in life, Shape Note singing is for you! Every time I have participated in a sing, I have been overcome with the sort of pure emotion that stems from being truly “in the moment” without even realizing it. It is incredibly refreshing and I whole-heartedly recommend it as a great way to spend a summer-time Saturday. My top 10 favorite things about Shape Note singing (in no particular order): #1. You don’t have to know how to read music or find harmonies. You can just relax and follow the singing leaders and shapes that resemble each note on the page. #2. Sitting next to a seasoned singer helps you sound like a seasoned singer (It’s the same theory as a lead biker “breaking the wind” for the riders behind them). #3. The more raw, gutsy and untrained your way of singing, the better it sounds. #4. You are not alone! This is true togetherness through song. It is basically a room full of 4 part harmonies happening simultaneously. A perfect opportunity to melt into the crowd. #5. The harmonies are so different from what you typically hear. They sound so old and heart wrenching… SO beautiful. #6. Singing increases oxygen to the brain, releases endorphins and reduces stress. All good things, right? #7. It is a different way to meet folks from our region. At the Folk School sing North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and even Alabama are often represented. #8. It is a safe space for people of all different beliefs and is simply intended as a mode to celebrate joyful living. #9. The Saturday sing doesn’t drain your go-out-and-have-fun budget. It’s free! …and last, but not least

To have the freedom we had as children: to explore, to try new things, to dabble, to be alright with not being good at it, to immerse ourselves and relinquish all responsibilities for awhile… sound good? Since 1925, John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC has been answering the call of adults who want to have fun learning about music, art, nature, crafts, gardening, cooking, storytelling and writing. [caption id="attachment_11005" align="alignleft" width="268"]Gardens Folk school gardens[/caption] Their history is fascinating. The school’s namesake, John C. Campbell was described by his colleagues at Piedmont College as “the guy from up North that you can get along with” when he was president of the school. In 1903, he and his wife Olive Dame outfitted a covered wagon and set out to explore Appalachia. John interviewed farmers about their agricultural practices and Olive collected traditional ballads and studied the handicrafts. They aspired to improve the quality of education in the region but they were also studying the wonderful crafts, music and tools that mountain people used. Beyond cruel stereotypes, not much was known of this region at the time. The book of ballads Olive eventually published is still the seminal work on the subject.

[caption id="attachment_8222" align="alignright" width="207"]Some of the beautiful flowers grown in our gardens The beautiful campus of the Folk School inspires the writer in all of us.[/caption] The cusp: a potter at her wheel, wood turner at his bench, weaver and loom, blacksmith and forge, fiddler and fiddle, glass-maker and fire, writer and page. Craft communities are small heavens open to ordinary and extraordinary people. As I prepare to teach Crafting Words at the J. C. Campbell Folk School (Aug. 22 - 24) I am drawn to what unites artists. How does a poet meet a photographer? With awe and respect. We share ideals: perseverance, attentiveness, desire, delight, despair, communication, and the ability to acknowledge the muse and at times, let her have her way.

[caption id="attachment_10936" align="aligncenter" width="480"]Class Photo: Yoruba Batik, Adire, and Tie Dye with Gasali Adeyemo Class Photo: Yoruba Batik, Adire, and Tie Dye
with Gasali Adeyemo[/caption] [caption id="attachment_10935" align="alignright" width="230"]Gasali and Charlotte by the Indigo Dye Pot Gasali and Charlotte by the indigo dye pot[/caption] I had the pleasure of assisting in the Science of Bread class in the Cooking Studio at the beginning of this month. As a class that produces more warm crusty delicious bread than we know what to do with, you can imagine that we make friends with other classes pretty quickly. Our next door neighbors in the Wet Room, the Surface Design and Dyeing Class with Gasali Adeyemo and assisted by Charlotte Crittenden, received the bulk of the bread bounty. In return, their class invited us to watch one of the most exciting moments of their class: the magic moment of the indigo dye pot!

[caption id="attachment_10916" align="aligncenter" width="459"]IMG_3953 Emily demonstrates how to shape focaccia dough to the class[/caption] You wouldn’t start your oil painting career at an easel on the midway of the state fairgrounds, surrounded by people, tents, and trees with the sky overhead and the light shifting throughout the day. Instead you’d set up some apples on a tablecloth, lit by a desk lamp to create obvious shadows that don’t move. Once you’d practiced how to capture a simple scene—sketching it out, building the shadows, painting the background to make the objects pop—you’d move on, maybe to a plant or some dishware. [caption id="attachment_10911" align="alignleft" width="212"]Vickie shows off her finished loaf Finished loaf[/caption] Similarly, last week’s “Science of Bread” class started with the most basic bread possible: a French baguette made with flour, yeast, water, and salt. Each student made a pair of baguettes on Monday, with the class moving one step at a time. Keeping everyone on one schedule enabled me to demo each step of the process (kneading, folding, shaping, baking) as it happened. While the doughs rose, we discussed the chemistry occurring inside and how it affects the final product. We covered practical tips for managing dough at home, like using a desk lamp to keep rising dough warm in winter months; best practices, like using a pizza stone in the oven (and how to use it properly!); and tricks to get better bread, like preheating your oven hotter than desired to make up for the heat lost when the door opens to load the dough.

1 We just had a visitor come through our knitting class. She told us that she was a knitter but that she could "never do what we were doing!" And all of the students exclaimed at once that of course she could! So what are we doing that looks so complicated but is so based in common sense that we think this newcomer could totally handle it? Well, here's what we're doing in the knitting room this week: Top Down Stranded Yoke Sweaters (without a pattern). Sounds intense, right? Sounds like you need a lot of experience? Nope! Really, all we are doing is the knit stitch and increasing. We're starting at our necklines, learning how to do the knit stitch with one color in each hand (stranded knitting), and then we are increasing as we work beautiful designs down to the widest part of our shoulders (the "yoke"). Since we each have different body sizes and proportions, and we each fancy different types of designs, we are going off-road and making up our own sweater patterns as we go.