home, nature, self

the folk school

today marks one full week since i moved to the john c campbell folk school in brasstown, north carolina. the experience has already been incredible and i’m meeting all sorts of folks and learning new things. if you’re interested in my day to day life up at the folk school, read on!

honestly, i didn’t know a whole lot about the folk school nor had i ever visited when i applied to the work study program. i arrived last sunday afternoon nervous and unsure what to expect. i knew i would be living with four other women, something i’ve never done in my life. i also knew i would be taking a few classes and working outside on various projects. but that’s about it.

our first evening we shared our first meal. over 100 students and staff gathered in the dining hall, with views of the mountains out the windows. we sat at tables of eight and shared food family style, passing large bowls around the table. the meal ended with desert, which i soon learned is served not just after every dinner but after every lunch as well.

after dinner and orientation we were cut loose. i spent the first night hiking on the school trails – the property is about 350 acres and a mixture between developed studios and housing, pasture and forest. i was still vaguely unsure what was going on and definitely second guessing leaving my life in athens behind. i missed andrew and my cats and my bed. i sort of wanted to go back home. but in the week that has followed, i can say my perspective has completely shifted. i’m away from the school right now and all i can think about is returning home there.

the folk school opened its doors in the 1920’s, modeled after scandinavian style folk schools. the founder, olive dame campbell and her late husband john c campbell traveled throughout europe observing these folk schools. upon returning to america they traveled again, this time throughout appalachia observing and collecting folklore, traditions, songs, and ways of life. after john’s passing olive settled on opening the folk school in a valley in the far southwest corner of the north carolina mountains. the land for the school was donated by locals.

the school was originally a working farm and dairy, with some building where traditional appalachian folk arts were taught to locals. the school has grown in size over the years, purchasing more land and erecting more buildings. the school now encompasses 44 buildings – mainly studios and student housing, a large garden, acres of pasture, a campground, and a few miles of hiking trails. classes are held on a weekly basis, with up to 130 students arriving every sunday to study traditional folk arts such as blacksmithing, weaving, quilting, wood carving, wood working, pottery, basketry, drawing, and painting, as well as nature studies, music, cooking, writing .. the list goes on. students stay for a week, going to class every day and enjoying the local community and surroundings in the evenings.

to top it off, the school setting is ridiculously beautiful. the pastures and rolling hills offer views of the mountains in all directions, and patches of native-flora filled woods punctuate the property. walking paths connect all the various buildings. much of the decor in the buildings is made at the school – craftsman furniture and forged door handles and wall hanging quilts. it’s rustic yet refined.

so where do i fit in? i’m living at the school for nine weeks as part of the work study program. there are five of us total in the program, and in exchange for six weeks of work we each get to take three weeks of classes, plus a couple short weekend classes. we live in the third story loft of the keith house, the main hub of activity for the school. the first floor of our building houses the community room where contra dances and folk music concerts take place, as well as a cozy library filled with books about all the crafts taught at the school.

our days are busy, if one chooses to participate in all the activities offered by the school. i wake up every morning around 7:00 AM, wash up and dress. i walk downstairs to the community room where the coffee is brewed and grab a cup with a mug my sister gave me. morningsong is every weekday morning at 7:45 AM in the community room. folks gather to hear storytellers or local musicians perform for half an hour before we start our day. it’s honestly the best way to wake up – sipping coffee and relaxing for a bit before heading to breakfast.

breakfast is served at 8:15 AM in the manner described above. all meals are family style, and i have learned at the folk school to eat slower and share conversation. each meal i sit with different students, hearing about their life stories and what they’re at the school to study. as an introvert, i was nervous about shared meal times, but i’ve grown to enjoy it. there are meals where i’m exhausted and don’t feel like socializing though, so i just practice listening quietly and asking questions of others.

speaking of meals, the food is delicious even if it is a bit heavier than i typically eat. they’ve been very accommodating of my vegetarianism! the hardest part is trying not to overeat – especially with desert served twice per day.

after breakfast, we either go to work from 9:00 AM – noon, or we go to our class if it’s a class week. this coming week is my first class – quilting – so nothing to report on that yet. work is generally outdoors and maintenance-y work. this week we pulled invasive ivy and cleaned up an old garden, broadforked beds, transplanted warm weather crops, harvested greens, and painted walls. since i’ve got a maintenance background, i’ve also got to do an awesome side project – building 12′ x 4′ raised beds! we built about 6 beds out of a white oak that was felled on the school grounds. they sent the tree to a local mill to be cut into 12×2 boards, which we set and fastened together. it was hard but rewarding work, and it’s got my mind in a tailspin about carpentry and perhaps shifting my study focus to wood-working. i love working with wood and it fits in nicely with my arborist/ forestry training. we’ll see.

lunch is served at 12:15 PM then we return to work or class from 1:00-4:30 PM. after the day ends, there are various programs including yoga (free to us work studies) every tuesday and thursday. then dinner at 6:00 PM then nighttime activities. in the evening there are art demonstrations and literature readings and live music and most fun to me so far, contra dance! every tuesday there’s a contra dance, open to the local community as well as students and staff. i danced last week and had a blast, despite being very nervous and having no clue what i was doing.

that’s a pretty good, long summary of the folk school so far. i hope soon to write a post about how my experience is affecting me intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually, but for now i’m taking it all in. the people have been astoundingly kind and generous, and have managed to make social-anxiety-stricken-me feel welcome. the girls in my program are also great – they all seem talented, smart, and friendly. i look forward to getting to know them better and learn and share our crafts!

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