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Our Stories

The personal stories presented here are from students who have experienced the special nature of the Folk School first-hand.



In Jack Stone, a Cooper is Born!

This is a photo of me demonstrating at Landis Valley Museum in October 2008. Over 5000 people attended their Fall Harvest Days.
In August 2005, my wife and I took our first classes at the Folk School. I took coopering from W. T. Hines. I have made over 75 coopered items in the past 3 years! By the way, I had never done ANY craft work prior to attending class. I was proud to present my first demonstration of coopering this past October at the Fall Harvest Days at Landis Valley Museum in Lancaster, PA. (See photo at the right)

Will was a great teacher and our experience at John Campbell was by far the best vacation we ever took!
From basket weaving to FANTASTIC photography – all in a week’s work at the Folk School for Nancy Hoffman

Inspired photography while walking on the trail from Festival Barn to the Blacksmith Studio by Nancy Hoffman
September 2007 was the first visit to JCCFS for my husband and I. I took the white oak basket class with Chuck and Peggy Patrick. Frank took the beginning blacksmithing class. It was a lot of hard work but such a joy! I have many years experience with basket weaving but it was wonderful to learn the true beginning of weaving. It gave me a whole new appreciation of my chosen craft.

At the same time, the Folk School has started the "fires burning" for me to come out of the box. I want to come back and try so many new things!! Learning just for the sake of learning. The picture I show here is one that I'm proud of because I didn’t have much confidence with a camera and photography. I was in the mode that the school seemed to instill in me of "go for it" and I got some fantastic pictures while out walking. I'm thinking now that of one of the photography classes is in my future. Thanks JCCFS for a wonderful experience!
Celebration of dulcimer playing leads to celebration of friendship for Marilyn Rice

Friendship in dulcimer playing
My first time at JCCFS was for the Dulcimer Celebration, July 2005. I play the hammer dulcimer. I immediately knew that this was going to be a fun week when I met my two roommates - Marilyn Call and Betty Hornaday, both from NC. I live in Florida. I grew up in NC. Betty and I graduated from the same college. Marilyn and I were both military wives, the same age, and had a son and daughter. So much in common!

I was known as Marilyn II, so as to not confuse Betty. They both played the lap dulcimer. One day I let Marilyn play my hammer dulcimer. She was hooked! After our fun week, she went back to NC and purchased a hammer dulcimer. We promised to meet again the next July at the Dulcimer Celebration, 2006. We emailed frequently exchanging music book titles, new techniques and just general fun conversation. In December, we made our reservations for the following July.

Then in June, I found an email on my computer from Marilyn telling me that she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and would not be at the Celebration. Betty and I went anyway, but our thoughts were always with Marilyn. I continued to email Marilyn, but it became an effort for her to write. In January 2007, Marilyn passed away. The following month, I received a package from Marilyn's daughter. In it were several hammer dulcimer books and a beautiful tote bag that I remember Marilyn carrying. It had her name embroidered on it. Now, it is my name. I carry it proudly.

Marilyn Call was only in my life for a week, but I felt like I had known her forever and am very happy for the privilege of having her cross my path, brief as it was. What two great friends I found at JCCFS in Marilyn and Betty!
Winter Dance Week from contra dancer Satina Anziano’s perspective

Swirling skirts from evening dances
I spent Christmas Week at the John C. Campbell Folk School. It has been ten years now, and still the memories are alive. My heart often goes back to the woods and the buildings, and finds unity with the spirit that dwells in that place.

I arrived alone, not knowing anyone. I came for the dancing, for the live music, and to spend the holiday among happy people. I knew they would be happy, because they were there to contra dance. And the music would be live—how could a heart not sing? I remember that Footloose was the band. After those short seven days, I left feeling like each musician was a personal friend, though I have never seen them again.

Mornings begin in the large dining hall. I bring my tray to the table and serenely wait for the music. Everyone stands, and a capella we sing the Shaker song. ‘Tis a gift to be simple, ‘tis a gift to be free…’

After breakfast I bundle up and go for a walk through the woods. I visit the many unique buildings. The dance gazebo in the woods, the stone house are enough for one morning’s muse.

One morning I walk before dawn. I used to write a lot of poetry, but not now. Yet this morning, in the chill, I stop to sit by a tree and watch the sun burn its thawing rays towards the hoary ground. And with it comes the muse. When New Year’s Eve arrives, I offer the frail imagery to my newfound friends, a gift.

The schedule is crowded, though I can choose to walk away from it at anytime. Sometimes I sit in my dorm room with an elegant southern lady, who boldly sips a fine single malt scotch, a forbidden bit of mischief. Or sit in the library, browsing among the collection. In the afternoons a gathering is organized for the library, a group singalong from folk music books, or readings from our own writings.

And dancing, always dancing. Workshops in the mornings or afternoons, dancing in the evenings. Contra, square, round. We try for days to learn that Danish dance, the Hambo. Some actually get it, but everyone enjoys the try.

Laughter, creativity, memorable moments with memorable people. This is my treasure from the John C. Campbell Folk School.
Barbara Jacquin, a student from France, relays her experience of being in class on September 11, 2001
I was in my very first jewelry class at the Folk School during the week of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. We were on Day One of our class, working away at our benches with the radio playing in the background. We began to hear reports of a "wayward" plane hitting one of the towers, then speculation about mistakes with the Control Tower at JFK airport. Not knowing whether this was some kind of prank or the real thing, we listened intensely. Soon a Folk School hostess came by to tell us that it was the real thing. By that time we had heard about the two other attacks and were seriously concerned. One of our classmates wanted to leave immediately to be with her children to ease the shock.

By the end of the day everyone was gathered around a radio in Keith House to hear the dreadful news, feeling disbelief. Since there were no television sets on the grounds the Folk School folks did their best to keep us informed.

By the end of the week travelers began to realize that at best they would have problems flying out of neighboring airports. Fortunately, the school personnel helped organize rides for those who were stranded. Many people were trying desperately to contact their family members or friends who might have been affected by all this in New York City. It was a very trying time for everyone.

Once I got home I began pouring over old newspapers for pictures and stories, only then realizing the real sense of sadness and loss caused by these attacks.
Lisa Smith and her son Noel have fun blacksmithing during Intergenerational Week

Shaping hot metal during a blacksmithing class
My son Noel and I attended Tom McElfresh's class in basic blacksmithing, the week of July 22,2007. I chose this class knowing it was the only kind of class my 16 year old son would go for with me. We had more fun and got way more out of it than I ever knew we would. Everyone in the class was great, and the 2 teachers (Brian Riley assisted) were the best!

Noel had a bit of a hard time at first being so young, among mostly much older folks. I asked him if he was enjoying it, and he said he was. Toward the end of the week, after he began to engage more people, he really began to enjoy himself. We will be back for sure, hopefully many times!
Ralph Stuckman improves his pottery skills while enjoying the Folk School experience

A 17-inch tall vessel that Ralph Stuckman threw at the Folk School. "It even surprised me!" said Ralph.
My wife and I first came to the Folk School during January of 2006. My class was a delightful raku class while Janie came as a guest. We chose a local log cabin for lodging and enjoyed the informal coffee hour in the morning. Morning song was so relaxing and a great breakfast awaited us daily. My morning then was spent with some profound pottery experiences while Janie toured the area, read, and hiked.

We met for superb lunches and sat at different tables to meet as many students as possible. The afternoons were an extension of our morning activities. We began to get de-stressed and these rural experiences meant so much to us. It was fun to tour the other art activities before eating some excellent evening food. Each night we went to the evening entertainment; it was always well presented in keeping with the culture of the area.

We found ourselves talking the whole trip home about John C. Campbell. It was then that we decided to come back during January of 2007 for me to take a throwing large vessels offering. We appreciated these experiences so much that another trip is planned for 2008. My present challenge is to throw larger and more profound pots that hopefully emerge with another workshop.
Mary Ruthe and Dick Carter reminisce about their 16 Folk School years

Mary Ruthe and Dick Carter say, "Oh what a difference 60 years make!" (First photo is from when they were married in 1947, second was taken in 2007.)
We first came to JCCFS in 1989 and except for 1990 came at least once every year thereafter, sometime 2 or 3 times, until 2005 when we decided to stay home and contribute to the Hurricane Rita cause. I always took woodcarving with Bill Cooley, plus other woodcarving classes and some turning. Mary Ruthe usually took book binding with Dea Sasso in later years. We have enjoyed Jan's history lessons at MorningSong, as well as David’s songs ands stories, and J.D.'s jokes and picking.

It was always like we had just come home when we pulled our RV into the campground and walked down to register. We never missed a Fall Festival after 1991. In 2003 we brought two grandchildren to the Intergenerational Week and they thoroughly enjoyed the time. Three of our adult grand children accompanied us at different times in other classes. What fond memories we have of the Folk School!
Joan Brower is paying it forward through quilting

Joan Brower's beautiful first quilt!
My husband and I made our first visit to John Campbell Folk School in 2005. I had never quilted before and thought I might like to try it. Nancy Hinds, my instructor, took me from a ball of nerves to a personally designed quilt in just one week. We all helped one another with our original designs. We hung all of our quilts on the line outside the Fiber Arts Studio on the last day of class so we could take pictures. (Note the beautiful blue sky in February.) I named my quilt Timber Creek Memories after a place we stayed in Colorado. The quilt is an abstract representation of a fireplace.

I have not stopped quilting since that class. The best part though is that I was able to teach a friend of mine and now she, in turn, is teaching a friend of hers. What a delight to be able inspire others to be creative. John Campbell Folk School is the gift that keeps on giving.
A hurricane could not keep Becca Hillan away from the Folk School!

Becca Hillan, second from the right in the first row with a beautiful basket made during her 2006 trip to the Folk School.
My best friend lives in San Antonio and I live in Ft. Myers, FL. Three years ago with her husband deployed in the Air Force and mine happy to stay home and dog sit we decided to have a weekend of adventure. I'd heard about the Folk School from a friend. She gave me a catalog and just reading through it I was hooked. The weekend in September that we chose for our class just happened to be the same weekend hurricane Ivan decided to stop briefly in Florida then head on up through Georgia. Verna flew in to Ft. Myers anyway, and we hopped in the car and followed (literally) Ivan up through Georgia. We stopped for the night just south of Atlanta surrounded by tornadoes and watched on TV as the hurricane created havoc there. The class we chose that first year was "Stalking the Wild Mushroom". It couldn't have been a better choice. The weather turned perfect and we spent the weekend outdoors hunting and in the kitchen learning about and cooking 'shrooms. We spent the trip home planning for the next year. Since then we've been back twice. I've learned the art of storytelling and last year wove a basket so pretty my friends all thought I'd bought it. And though we must miss this year, next year we'll be enjoying the beauty of the surroundings and the camaraderie of the new friends we meet each time we go. Can't wait!
A traumatic start has a happy ending for Donna Dillinger

A student-made mountain dulcimer
Last summer I had a class making a Mountain Dulcimer with Cris Crismore and his wife Beryl. I messed up on my first day cutting the sound board. The trauma and drama! But with the expertise of our instructor and the help of my classmates, my instrument came out wonderfully. The support was full of understanding and love.

As we praticed playing outside on the porch, the group gelled into a close, happy, adventurous whole. All the dulcimers sounded beautiful.

I am coming back this year to learn more. Thanks to the Crismores for opening my life into a great world.

A Christmas gift creates a life-long friendship for student Jack Smith

Jack Smith and Fred Ward presenting Morningsong in Keith Hall.
About ten years ago my wife Nancy and I drove from Asheville to Brasstown to "check out" the Folk School. This resulted in her giving me a Christmas gift of a week in Helen Gibson's carving class that following Spring. That week I met someone who was to become a life-long friend - Fred Ward from Devonshire, England. Fred and I shared the same birthdate, and a love of Scots-Irish traditional music. The Wards visited us several times in Denver, and Fred joined in when I played music with my local group.
The highlight came a couple of years ago when Fred and I were asked by David Brose to present a Morningsong program . We felt we had really arrived that morning!
Thank you Folk School for facilitating our friendship, and for all the wonderful memories.
Student and instructor Charley Orlando learned that he WAS musically talented - no matter what he'd been told by his mean ol' childhood teachers!

Charley Orlando instructs a blacksmithing student
I first started attending classes at the Folk School over twenty years ago, taking blacksmithing classes to develop my skills in working with the forging and fabrication of steel. After a few years of seeing the other studios in action, I realized there were other areas I wanted to explore.

First I took a class to make an Appalachian dulcimer. Then I needed to know how to play it. Taking a music class was a big step for me because when I was in elementary school, I was told “YOU are a listener!” and that instead of singing, I should just mouth the words. That was a big turn-off for me as far as music went. With trepidation, I signed up for a class to learn to play the Appalachian dulcimer but found, to my surprise, that I could do it if I wanted to. Since then, I have taken classes in, and learned to play, the banjo and fiddle and now feel comfortable with the previously incomprehensible mysteries of music.

I've also explored classes in quilting, copper work, jewelry, tin can art, spinning, woodworking, basket making and many more. Some of these crafts I continue to do regularly. In addition, I've developed many friendships with students and instructors that carry over to and enrich our outside lives.
For Nancy Neal, the Folk School was a stress reliever during a tough job search.

Nancy Neal selects yarn for her next weaving project in the yarn room at the Folk School's weaving studio.
Along with thousands of other people in the DC area, I was laid off as a computer programmer about 2 months after September 11th. With that many people out of work, I realized that, for some period of time, there was no hope that I was going to find a job. So I came to the Folk School and took a weaving class. I had so much fun I thought, “I’m not going home!” And I didn’t! I’d never gone on vacation and just not come back. I thought I was so daring! I stayed for another week and had a blast in a tartan weaving class.

I remember that a couple of us were weaving late in the studio one night, and a work-study student and some of the other students who fiddle came up to the weaving studio and played music for us for ages while we were weaving. And I remember pausing at the loom and thinking, “THIS is the good life. Right here.” It was wonderful! The stress of my employment situation was nowhere around that night!

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