Folk School, Home in my Heart

JCCFSJanuary 15, 16, 17, 2016


John C. Campbell Folk School has been on my bucket list for a few years. In the mystical mountains of North Carolina, it was established in 1925 to teach young adults the skills they needed to live well in Appalachia:  cooking, welding, basket making, soap making, quilting, music, etc.  The earliest founders stated that finding joy and harmony in community was part of their goal. Today it is a haven for grown ups who want to live in an artists’ commune, even if only for a few days.  It is home in my heart.  


We arrived late on Friday afternoon, got settled in or comfortable yet modest room, then got to work. Barry and our buddy Dan signed up for woodturning, friend Nancy for weaving and I took a jewelry class. That first class ran from after dinner to about 9pm. All of us got a good start on our respective projects.

John C Campbell Folk School
John C Campbell Folk School

The next day we got more of a feel of community vibe.  Yesterday, at check in we were told there are no room keys, though you can lock the door from the inside at night, “it’s all about community”. Saturday began with Morning Sing in the Community Room over a cup of hot coffee and the gradual peeling off of layers of down and fleece. We layered clothing for our frosty walk from our room in Davidson Hall to Keith Hall Community Room. Singing folk, and originally hymns, in the morning has always been the tradition here. They ring a dinner bell, and the hundred plus of we students and our instructors convene inthe dining hall to take our places behind large tables for the blessing.  

last breakfast together

A country breakfast of biscuits, gravy, sausage, eggs and more fueled us up for the morning’s classes. (We were some of the very few “yankees” and couldn’t help chucking about all the delicious, but pretty heavy meals.) The weekend classes are more intense than the weeklong classes, I am told. Therefore we missed the evening folk dance because three of our little party were still in their studios until around ten o’clock PM.

I took a class on clay silver jewelry, something that I knew NOTHING about. (This is how you keep the little grey cells healthy, n’est pas?) My excellent instructor, Pam East,

Denise Hogan and instructor, Pam East

managed our class of nine students. Every damned part of the process was a huge surprise to me. The silver clay IS silver with a bonding agent that looks and feels just like modeling clay, but much more expensive. But, I am getting ahead in the process. We beginners started with copyright free patterns and designs on transparencies to save the time of drawing our own. The more experienced artists had prepared some work of their own. These are transferred to photo polymer metal plates PPP, via a UV lamp. (No, don’t think the early Appalachian farmers did this particular craft.) These are then developed in a solution and cleaned to use as “stamps” for making designs on the silver clay.

silver clayI was able to make a pendant and three pairs of earrings with just some of the plates that I made. These clay “things” go into a dehydrator to dry. At this point they are very fragile and if dropped would shatter. Then they go into a kiln for only ten minutes. This is the magical part, they come out still white like clay, but if you bounce them on a countertop they ping like the silver they are. After a wire brushing and a ride in an electric tumbler with stainless steel buckshot, they are gloriously shiny. Oh my god, I made this??!

My silver jewerly!

The final step is apply patina, another processing and buffing and burnishing and we are done.

As I was working I got to chat to the folks with at my table: a practicing pediatrician, a retired orthodontist, a retired CPA who went back to school after retirement to become an RN and volunteers nearly full time to help the poor and her daughter, a chemical engineer. This wasn’t the group of people whom I originally expected to meet here, but I guess ….they really were!  Folks who live to learn and hunger for diverse life experiences.  All of this takes place on a 300 acre rural mountain farm. The rustic old buildings, meadows, rivers, hills and forests and quirky art installations just wrap around you like grandma’s quilt. So blessed to celebrate life in this joyful place.

The final morning we all had a “happy clappy”, as my new pediatrician friend calls it. Work displayed, dulcimer performances presented, certificates distributed, applauds and goodbyes delivered. I am planning our next trip back!

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