Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Folk School

My first of what I now hope will become a string of visits spread over the course of many years began with the trip in late January. Leaving a little later than intended on Friday, I drove with eyes wide open along roads I had not traveled before. Vows were made to return with a time-frame that allows multiple stops to take photographs along the route.

After traveling south to Asheville, I turned west into and among the mountains of North Carolina. One long, lovely portion took me alongside a stretch of the Nantahala River and through the Nantahala National Forest. Nantahala is a Cherokee word meaning land of the noonday sun, so named for in some of the steeper gorges the sun is overhead only at midday.

Arriving around 4pm, I registered and went off to find my sleeping quarters. I had been assigned Little Rock House. One housemate had already arrived and was practicing her autoharp in the living room.

Situated next door to Rock House which is an older and more stone based construction, my building offered simple straight forward amenities, a twin bed in a shared room.

It is a hint of things to come, for I found John Campbell Folk School to be simple in the best sort of way. Simple as in genuine and free of secondary complication. It is a place that has the duality of being restful to the spirit while compelling your creativity to the forefront.

This time of year I am always on the lookout for signs that winter's grip is weakening. New iris shoots point that direction.

Bud swell on tree branches indicate sap is rising as lengthening days hint at coming warmth.

A red railing leads to the dining hall.

I sing behind the plow is the school motto.

Multiple sections of fence feature different symbols of the various folk arts taught at the school. John Campbell offers some 860 week-long and weekend classes each year. The week I attended there were classes in basketry, blacksmithing, my mica bookarts class, clay - complete with kiln building, dance (Appalachian clogging), enameling of jewelry, music (beginning autoharp), painting, quilting, wood turning and woodworking.

Classes are non-competitive with no grades or credits. Instruction is hands-on with discussion and conversation taking the forefront, rather than reading and learning through books.

The culinary arts are both taught and practiced here. While meal time is on a schedule, beginning of service is signaled by the ringing of a farmhouse dinner bell atop a tall tower. Rather than prayer, there is a short, simple song before meals. The lyrics are printed on laminated sheets at the dining tables.

Meals are served family style and the food is family fare. Really, I had not noted the nature of the meals until overhearing two sisters from Atlanta talking to each other about the food. Forty-somethings, they had come to share a quilting class. The sisters remarked to each other how this wasn't like restaurant food, it was like a friend had cooked for you.

As someone that cooks from scratch most days, I saw the food as fairly similar to what is served at my house (although perhaps more mainstream to suit more of the students). I forget how home-cooked meals are no longer the norm for many people.

Writing classes span the genres of poetry, journaling, fiction and memoirs.

Blacksmithing seems to be a strong area of emphasis here. A capital campaign is underway to build a new Forge Building and Francis Whitaker Blacksmith Shop.

There are hand-forged accessories in all manner of nooks and crannies including these coat hooks in the dining hall.

The dining hall chandeliers were hand forged by the blacksmiths as well.

Interesting items abound. As you leave the dining hall you can see this assemblage of a vinyl record and other assorted objects, put together to mimic a banjo. It carries the inscription

For Sun and for Rain
for grass and for grain
for All who toil
on sea and soil
That We may eat this daily food
we give our Loving

The main administrative building is Keith Hall. It is where you register and welcoming activities are here too. Keith Hall also houses a stage and dance floor where weekend dances are held.

The walls along the perimeter of the dance floor are hung with gorgeous quilts, only two of which are pictured here, as this post has become lengthy.

The only "spin" evident at John Campbell.

In an era when the reach of corporate America seems ever expanding and advertising shows up in ever more places, this place provides respite. Only after leaving and doing research for this blog post did I find out there are no televisions on grounds. I never missed them.

If you are so inclined, you can search out the two soda machine on campus, but there are no soda dispensers in the dining hall.

Do I qualify as smitten? I think so, only wishing that the school was a little closer. Weather was truly awful for my Sunday drive home with strong winds, heavy rains and even some hail. The trip that had taken four hours on the way up, lengthened to a five and a half hour journey requiring careful vigilance.

Arriving home safely, I can begin lusting after the next adventure.


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