Stories

[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]

When I found out Pattie Bagley (Resident Artist for Baskets, Brooms, and Chair Seats/local mischief maker) was teaching an introductory rib baskets class, I knew I wanted a spot in the class. Right before coming down to the Folk School to begin my term as a second-time host, I completed my masters degree in Occupational Therapy (OT) – a rehabilitation profession that focuses on working with people to regain function and get back to meaningful occupation (self-care, leisure and work) after illness, injury or disability. Traditionally OTs have used crafts such as basket-weaving as a way to work on rehabilitation-related goals. There is also a strong connection between OT and the Folk School. Murray Martin, who was integral to the growth and success of the Brasstown carvers, was trained as an occupational therapist.  For all these reasons, I knew it would be a special week for me. What I didn’t know was that Jan Stansell, an expert basket-maker, long-time Folk School instructor, and recent stroke survivor, would be one of my classmates.  Jan agreed to sit down and have a chat with me at the end of our week together. [caption id="attachment_10067" align="alignnone" width="350"]Jan on the Keith House porch. Jan on the Keith House porch.[/caption] LD: Tell me about your history with this craft. What kind of baskets do you like to make best? What is meaningful to you about basket weaving? JS: Oh gosh – I probably started 30 years ago just as a little hobby. It was one of those hobbies that became a small business.  I learned initially from someone in the town where I was living. Generally people who have made baskets as long as I have tend to specialize in one kind or another (whether it be Nantucket, or naturals etc). I never did. I always called myself a basket generalist. Whatever class was going on that sounded interesting, I would come and try it, and generally incorporate it into my work. I guess what’s meaningful to me about baskets is that along with pottery, it is just such an old craft and an old way of doing things. You can also go in so many different directions with it – the artistic end, the functional end. You can use traditional materials or go to something else entirely. [caption id="attachment_10069" align="alignnone" width="232"]DSC_0604 Jan working on the finishing touches of a basket.[/caption] LD: I understand you have a very long history with the Folk School. Can you tell me more about your relationship with JCCFS? JS: My very first class here was 26 years ago. It was a white oak baskets class and was fairly advanced. It was so exciting to discover a whole other way of life and that there were people who just loved to be together and make things, and make music. At the time, I was not a person who made a lot of long-term goals in my life. I would go to these seminars at work and they would say “you’ve got to set goals, you’ve got to do this or that.” And I thought to myself “if I had a goal, what would my goal be?” And I thought “I know! My goal will be to teach at Folk School.” So I started thinking to myself about what I would have to do to make that happen. I suppose I’d have to get a portfolio together, volunteer to assist in a class and make myself known. And then as I was mulling this over I was at a craft show, and a woman who happened to be in charge of programming at the Folk School approached my booth. She asked if I ever taught at the Folk School. I said “No.” She asked if I’d like to. I thought to myself – this goal-setting thing is a cinch! If I had known that, I would have been setting goals years ago! It was at a time when the Folk School was actively looking for instructors so I started coming up as an instructor 20 or 25 years ago. Over the years, I have met so many wonderful people. Coming here is not like going away; it’s like coming home. I used to cry going home from Folk School (laughs).

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

[caption id="attachment_9968" align="alignright" width="232"]Wood turners and spinners make good sweethearts. Wood turners and spinners make good sweethearts.[/caption]

 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.

As a host at the Folk School, sometimes really incredible opportunities come your way. Karen Mueller is an innovative, virtuosic musician and highly sought after music educator. I recently took Karen Mueller’s intermediate-advanced autoharp class and weekend beginner mountain dulcimer class back-to-back. At the end of our time together, she agreed to sit down with me and answer a few of my questions about her life, career, and relationship to the Folk School.  [caption id="attachment_9805" align="aligncenter" width="480"]DSC_0531 (1) Leah Karen Karen Mueller & Leah Dolgoy in front of the hearth in the Music Studio, Davidson Hall[/caption] LD: How did you get started playing the autoharp and the dulcimer? KM: I have played both instruments since high school. I started because there was a bluegrass festival that I discovered in my hometown of Winfield, Kansas. I wasn’t raised with bluegrass music. I knew folk, rock, pop, and classical music, but the more I was around bluegrass and old time, the more I liked it. I saw people playing these instruments really well, doing things I didn’t know you could, which piqued my curiosity. My dad and I built my first dulcimer and I taught myself to play both instruments from recordings and just by watching people whenever I could. [Karen also plays guitar, mandolin and ukulele.] [caption id="attachment_9814" align="alignright" width="228"]karen-mueller-dulcimer Karen and her dulcimer[/caption] LD: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? (laughs) I had no idea! I was really into art. I was thinking about visual arts, but I did well academically too. I didn’t see myself being a professional musician. I loved music more than anything, but I didn’t want to pursue the classical arena. I had really intense classical piano studies until I was about 15 and then I was ready to take a break. I picked up the classical guitar just as intensely. Once I picked up the strings, I really felt more in touch with that than with the piano. To pursue music at college would have required I go to the conservatory and take the classical route and I was just done with that. I didn’t see a career as a folk musician being a viable option. That career just had to gradually develop over time. When I was in college at the University of Kansas I tried to meet other musicians in the community even though I was studying all the time. I met some people that I played with regularly and we formed a band. When I graduated, I thought I would take that proverbial year off and decide whether to pursue grad school and in what discipline (I was in Art History and English, with a minor in Fine Arts and had done journalism too). So I took a year off and got a job with a jewelry maker doing really high-end gold and silver smithing and still played pretty seriously with my band from college. I also got a Celtic band going. Both bands rehearsed twice a week, and gigged on the weekends, so I learned the craft of being in a working band: the playing as well as the administrative end of it. Meanwhile I still had the security of a full time job. I was earning more with the band than I was with the full time job so I just kept going with that. When I moved to Minneapolis, I hooked up with a music school and music store to give lessons and still did temping and office work while I was building up my student base. I started touring more as a solo artist, was quickly playing in 4 bands, and then gradually I realized that I had enough students that I didn’t have to do the other stuff. I had no illusions that it was going to be easy or that it was going to happen because I said it was going to happen. It really was a day-by-day thing. I get a lot of calls now inviting me to events, so I don’t have to do the same kind of outreach anymore. And your network of contacts keeps spreading so you get more ideas of where and how to set up things over time.  LD: If you could collaborate with a musician living or dead, who would it be? I’ve covered songs by Sting, and now he is playing the lute too. That would be a trip! I would add Maybelle Carter, Eliza Gilkyson, and the Swedish band Väsen to that list too.  

[caption id="attachment_9833" align="aligncenter" width="432"]Quilted Landscape by instructor Karen Tunnell Quilted Landscape by instructor Karen Tunnell[/caption]

When I stepped into Karen Tunnell's "Quilted Landscapes" class, every wall had a different window peeking into a beautiful and unique world. The "windows" were the quilts students had been working on all week. Many worked from "near and dear" personal photographs of places that inspired them.

[caption id="attachment_9825" align="alignright" width="313"]Landscape Quilt by Stephanie Wilds Reference photo & landscape quilt by Stephanie Wilds[/caption]

Stephanie Wilds from Black Mountain, NC used a photo she took of the Folk School labyrinth on a previous visit. The result was a gorgeous depiction of the garden rivaling the beauty of the original photo.

Stephanie is an experienced quilter and has taken several classes at the Folk School including Marilyn Wall's "Fabricating Faces" and Julie Sibley's "Design on Paper and Fabric," which she refers to as "life and career changing." She is currently creating the quilt to be displayed at the 2014 Swannanoa Gathering. We can't wait to see what see comes up with! Find out more about Stephanie on her website.

Margaret Radcliffe is teaching two Knitting classes next month at the Folk School: My First Sock (Feb. 28 - March 2 / Weekend) and the Easiest Sweaters in the World (March 2-8). Come learn new techniques to take your garment knitting to the next level (or the first level if you are new to socks and sweaters). I chatted with Margaret about Knitting, the Folk School, and what it is like to write about Knitting. Enjoy our interview!

[caption id="attachment_9786" align="aligncenter" width="480"]Radcliffe_KN_13_01_BIO Sweater by Margaret Radcliffe[/caption]

CP: Where are you from?
MR: I grew up in Williamsburg, Virginia, and now live in Blacksburg.

[caption id="attachment_9788" align="alignright" width="233"]Radliffe-IMG_3099 Community Knitting Project[/caption]

CP: How long have you been coming to/teaching at the Folk School?
MR: Since 1997. I was starting out as a knitting designer and teacher and saw an ad for the Folk School in Knitters Magazine. I got a catalog and discovered that there was one week in the summer, Little/Middle Folk School, when I could come with my daughter. She was just old enough (seven), so that summer we both came. We loved it so much, we kept coming back. It was actually years before I even approached the school to teach-I was too busy learning. That summer was the beginning of a tradition, attending Little/Middle with my kids, that lasted 15 years. I started teaching knitting, both adult classes and during Little/Middle in 2004. A few years later I expanded to add dyeing to my classes.

[caption id="attachment_9620" align="aligncenter" width="425"]"Crow" Block and Print by Sandy Webster instructor of "White-line Printmaking" January 5-11, 2014 "Crow" Block and Print by Sandy Webster[/caption]

A lot of people think they can't dance. But then they try contra dancing: they can jump right in as a beginner. The moves are straightforward, and they don't need any special skills. With practice, they become smoother and learn some extra moves, but the initial learning curve is a mere ripple in the road.

White line printmaking is the contra dance of the art world. I spent last week in Sandy Webster's printmaking class and enjoyed every minute of it.

I'd chosen the class for many reasons: I like how woodblock prints look, and the class had a low materials cost. I would not have to buy expensive tools and could use my old watercolor set. As I had hoped, the technique proved to be one that I can easily continue to do at home, even without a studio space.

[caption id="attachment_9617" align="aligncenter" width="425"]"White-line Printmaking" Process: Poppy Line Drawing, Poppy Board, Poppy Print White-line Printmaking Process: Line Drawing, Board, and Print by Emily Buehler[/caption]