Leah Dolgoy Tag

[caption id="attachment_14526" align="aligncenter" width="630"] Leah Dolgoy on the stage of the Carter Fold.[/caption] This May, the sweet-stringed sounds of Leah Dolgoy's autoharp will once again fill the Folk School campus with joy and magic. She returns to Brasstown to teach a music class focusing on the legacy of the Carter Family for continuing autoharpists. Leah is a two-term student host at the Folk School, she considers Appalachian old-time music to be her true love, and Brasstown a second home. [caption id="attachment_14531" align="alignright" width="233"]KS2A5198 Picking on the autoharp in the Music Studio[/caption] CP: When did you first hear the autoharp and what drew you to it? LD: I first heard the autoharp when a Canadian singer songwriter named Basia Bulat played it. I was actually at home with a fever, recovering from mononucleosis, and listening to a live broadcast of Basia’s concert on the CBC. I was immediately drawn to the instrument because of its unique sound. I remember listening  intently and trying to figure out what it was that she was playing. I was totally mesmerized. CP: Is the autoharp mostly a solo instrument or do you like to play with other people? LD: The autoharp can be either a solo instrument used to accompany yourself singing, or it works beautifully in an ensemble or a jam. I play it both ways but I certainly have a preference for playing with others. CP: You play autoharp in some indie folk bands, Corinna Rose and Heirloom. How do fans and show-goers respond to the autoharp?

[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.

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.