Stories

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.

[caption id="attachment_10612" align="aligncenter" width="425"]Folk Harp Class with instructor Lorinda Jones Folk Harp Class with instructor Lorinda Jones[/caption] The four f's of why I continue to teach at John C Campbell Folk School. I can teach music lessons on a weekly basis, twenty minutes from my house, so why would I drive 6.5 hours, sleep in a different bed, and not have continual access to internet for a week?! Because when I pull in the drive to the Keith House Community Room, I get the feeling one gets when they have returned home after a long absence. When I open the door in the mornings to the music studio and see the light streaming through the doors, highlighting the wood of the instruments, and I look out at the beautiful view of the mountains, it is like nothing else I can describe. And after just a couple of days with my students, it is like being reunited with family, even though we may have only just met on Sunday. This year was no different. Well, it is always different, but I experienced those same feelings of being home, being united, and being inspired.

[caption id="attachment_10387" align="alignright" width="232"]Sing Behind the Plow lampshade by Ron Nichols Sing Behind the Plow lampshade by Ron Nichols[/caption] Blacksmith Work Week is an annual Folk School tradition, bringing 20 professional blacksmiths/instructors from around the country together to volunteer their time for the purposes of 1) beautifying the Folk School campus with functional ironwork; 2) repairing and creating new tools and infrastructure for the Blacksmithing program; and 3) spending a week learning and exchanging in the company of peers and mentors.Work Week was started by Clay Spencer (namesake of the new blacksmith shop) in the early 1990s and is currently coordinated by Paul Garrett, resident artist blacksmith. I had the chance to visit the shop and interview some of the blacksmiths as they put finishing touches on their projects and reflected on their connection to this very special community and yearly opportunity to participate in Work Week. Leah Dolgoy: Paul, how’s it gone this week? What were your priority projects and what’s been accomplished during Work Week? Paul Garrett: There were many priorities this year. One was making chandeliers for upstairs. They won’t get done this year but we’ll keep working on them next year. The shop is named after Clay Spencer so I gave Clay free reign on the design and he chose something very contemporary and out of the ordinary. Other priorities included work in some of the studios. We mounted some equipment for the Jewelry studio. We built a pot rack for the cooking studio. And we finished installing the door latches I made for the main door to the new blacksmith shop. We made two treadle hammers, and two treadle torches. We fixed a lot of tools – hammers and tongs, punches and grips. We also do whatever else pops up. I really wanted to do the Keith House door so that got done this year. We etched and epoxied the bathroom floor in the shop so that housekeeping can come in and clean it more easily now. Then there are all the little things that come up. I have these little job sheets that I put out and I find that works well. People pick their jobs based on their area of interest and expertise. LD: What does it mean to be the coordinator of this thing that everyone regards as so special? [caption id="attachment_10391" align="alignright" width="232"]New door hardware for the Blacksmith Shop made by Paul Garrett New door hardware for the Blacksmith Shop made by Paul Garrett[/caption] PG: For me, it’s an honor and a privilege to be a part of Work Week. I just love having everyone here. As the coordinator, it’s up to me to make the most of it. We have 1000 hours of volunteer labor every year. My role is to keep everyone else working, and to make sure that they can get what they need to get the job done. Funny story - 13 or 14 years ago I came here as a student, and I asked Clay if I could come to Work Week. And basically he said no, because he had enough people and he didn’t really know me that well. (laughs) It wasn’t to be mean or anything. He just had his team that he needed. I understand that now that I am on the other side of it. I believe this is my 10th year as the Work Week coordinator.

[caption id="attachment_10345" align="aligncenter" width="480"]DMW-DiningHall Dance Musicians Week students serenade folks as they enter the Dining Hall for lunch.[/caption] [caption id="attachment_10346" align="alignright" width="256"]DMW-Class1 Student learn to play together as a dance band.[/caption] In 2001, I received a message from Bob Dalsemer asking if I would join the instructor team for Dance Musicians Week at the John C. Campbell Folk School. Lifelong mentor, fiddler, caller and instructor extraordinaire David Kaynor had thrown my name out to Bob, the music and dance coordinator at the school at the time. At that point I was living in Western Massachusetts playing with David and the Greenfield Dance Band and had been devoting much of my time to being a touring singer songwriter. I had been in the contra dance scene picking tunes for about a decade. My musical influences were a woven patchwork of the folks that had surrounded me growing up in New York—Jay Unger, Lyn Hardy, Molly Mason, Sonny Ochs, Pete Seeger. Being born into a family of activists and labor organizers, community was most important and music was (and is) the vehicle and the glue that tied it all together. We were raised to believe that music and dance for music and dance’s sake is not enough. Community first. [caption id="attachment_10347" align="alignleft" width="195"]DMW-Dance2 A band of DMW students takes the stage for one of the nightly contra dances.[/caption] “Sing behind the plow!” is one of the great mottos of the John C. Campbell Folk School. Upon first look into the Folk School it seemed to be a kind of Brigadoon, a place stuck in time. Of course, I mean that in the best way. At that point in my life I was lamenting the waning of “community” in “community dance” and was excited to see a place nestled in the far west mountains of North Carolina, founded in the 1920s by the grandmother of the twentieth-century folk music revival, Olive Dame Campbell. Mrs. Campbell based the philosophy of the Folk School on the Danish tradition of folkenhojskolen which aims to foster culture and tradition through noncompetitive adult education—metalwork, quilting, woodwork, photography, cooking—happening alongside a rich tradition of music and dance, with folks from the surrounding Brasstown community invited to weekly concerts and dances and given special admittance into classes. I heard a student once comment “This place is like a kind of Whoville!” referencing the idealistic village from How the Grinch Stole Christmas. This is exemplified best by the very fact that each dance ends with a short goodnight song, sung with hands joined in a circle. The facilities are surrounded by hills, rivers, lush gardens, outdoor folky sculptures and paths through the woods. Best of all, the dancers are not contra “dancers”—they are mostly just folks from the community. Their gauge of a great experience is more based on who they got to see that night, not how slick the floor was or what tempo the band had played. I had found my place, or maybe the place found me!

[caption id="attachment_10289" align="aligncenter" width="480"]Cory Cory and fellow Tinsmithing student play music in the Community Room after Show and Tell[/caption]
In the spring, the Berea College Bluegrass Band comes down from Kentucky to charm the Folk School Community with a Friday night concert and a jumpin' Saturday night dance. I had the opportunity to have a good porch sit with Cory Shenk, a former Work/Study, Sticks in the Mud Dancer, and former man-about-Brasstown. Cory left Brasstown to pursue his undergraduate degree at Berea College. He is a member of the Berea Bluegrass Ensemble who will be playing at the Folk School April 4.
[caption id="attachment_10295" align="alignright" width="228"]Cory-Hay Laying on the hay in the Folk School field[/caption]

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.

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"]Martha-SheepLine 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"]Martha-Archives 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"]MarthaDavidandPups 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.

[caption id="attachment_10177" align="aligncenter" width="480"]IMG_4556-Lettuce Lettuce in the Vegetable Garden is harvested by Work/Studies and brought to the Dining Hall[/caption]

 

[caption id="attachment_7303" align="alignleft" width="291"]Greenhouse Starts Kale, Spinach, and Lettuce transfer seed starts in the Folk School Green House[/caption]

The Folk School’s vegetable garden provides organic, seasonal produce for our Dining Hall and our Cooking Studio. This time of the year, lettuce, kale, mustard greens, and collards transfer from their green house tray location to the earth. Volunteer Coordinator/Gardener Joe Baumgartner and the Work/Study crew have been busy tending to the seed starts and prepping beds since January.

[caption id="attachment_8227" align="alignright" width="206"]Salad with Kale and lettuce from the Vegetable Garden Salad with Kale and lettuce from the Vegetable Garden[/caption]

Much of what is planted in the garden supplies and supplements the salad bowl and vegetable dishes in the Dining Hall. When you enter the Dining Hall check out the sign next to the menu board which details exactly what the Dining Hall is using from the garden each week. Next time you enjoy salad or veggies at lunch or dinner in the Dining Hall, take a post-meal stroll over to the Vegetable Garden to see what's growing.

[caption id="attachment_7626" align="aligncenter" width="450"]Folk School Garden Frances Juhlin teaches about heirloom vegetables in the Folk School Garden.[/caption]