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John C. Campbell Folk School
By Anne Jenkins - American Roads Travel Magazine


Map of campus drawn by Annie Cicale -
used with permission of John C Campbell Folk School.

 

A plein air painting workshop - Photo by Keather A plein air painting workshop - photo by Keather Weideman of John C. Campbell Folk School.jpg (234036 bytes)

En plein air painting workshop - Photo by Keather
Weideman of John C. Campbell Folk School.

North Carolina’s art scene buzzes and everyone knows the “Made In America” branding is an enormous economic engine in that state.  You can tour around and practically fall over art studios, galleries and art walks. They are particularly and justifiably proud of their Appalachian heritage and crafts. But there is one outstanding example of honoring their heritage arts at the John C. Campbell Folk School  in the rural, isolated setting of Brasstown in the Western North Carolina mountains. I’m going to call it the JCC to keep it short!

The JCC has a fascinating history. The short version is John C Campbell, born in Indiana and raised in Wisconsin, felt a calling to humanitarian work. He brought his new bride, Olive Dame of Massachusetts, to the mountain region of Southern Appalachia. They traveled during 1908-1909 in a wagon and he interviewed farmers and studied mountain life from Georgia to West Virginia. During their travels she collected ancient Appalachian ballads and studied the handicrafts of the area. When John died in 1919, Olive and her friend, Marguerite Butler, traveled to Europe and studied folk schools in Denmark. The folkehøjskole - folk high school - system,  was well established in Denmark. They were instrumental in changing the Danish countryside into a vibrant and creative place.

Fiber lessons in action - photo by Anne Jenkins

On  their return to the States, they started the search for the right location. They talked with Fred O. Scroggs, a local storekeeper, to see if there would any interest in this sort of place in Brasstown. He set up a meeting a few weeks later and over 200 attended. The people of Cherokee and Clay counties pledge labor, building materials and support. The Scroggs family donated 75 acres of land. And thus was born, the JCC. The concept of the folk school is non-competitive - no grading, credits or testing one against the other. The form of instruction and teaching is discussion,  conversation and demonstration. The school started in 1925 and is going from strength to strength. It is certainly recognized as a leader in it’s field.

A woodcarving class - photo by Keather
Weiderman of John C Campbell Folk School.

Their workshops are varied and interesting. The whole place has a relaxed, small university feel to it. The living quarters started out pretty sparse and dormitory style but are continuously being upgraded to a very comfortable and private accommodations.  When we toured they were just about to complete houses comprising of private apartments. There is also a campground for RV’s on the property. The meals are served communally and apparently some very lively discussions take place over the table.

The range and list of workshops they offer is awe inspiring and way too many to list them all in this space. They include fiber, old time fiddle, clay, painting, blacksmithing, cooking, story telling, weaving, marbling and paper art, illustrated journals, woodworking, quilting, glass beads, spinning and dying, candle making, chair making and much more - you get the picture! They also have visiting instructors for each week and the credentials of their staff is legendary.

A cooking class on bread making talks things through -
photo by Anne Jenkins.

In the impressive and comprehensive catalog they give a “sample week at the folk school’ from the Friday evenings start through the final Sunday lunch. You can be as involved and active as you wish - or you can opt to attend meals and workshops only. The day typically starts with a morning walk at 7:15 a.m., morning song at 7:45 a.m., breakfast 8:15 a.m., class time 9-noon, lunch at 12:15 p.m., class time 1:30-4:30 p.m. a variety of events such as artisans studio tours, campus tours and the like take place at 4:45 p.m., supper is served at 6:00 p.m. and at 7 p.m. most evenings there is music, stories, dancing and craft demonstrations.

Old time fiddle lesson- photo by Anne Jenkins

There is an interesting small museum of the history of the school on site and we spent a happy while there. There is also a glorious craft shop which has the other accolade of being a founding member of the Southern Highland Craft Guild. The shop features work of instructors, local and regional artists and also has a great book collection. I could have spent hours and lots of dollars just on the books!

There is also a nice map of walking trails on the campus with cool names like Herb Garden Trail and Blackberry Loop Trail.  It also gives the description and inspirations for the Rivercane Walk which makes for a good read.

Lesson in photography - Photo by Keather Weideman
of John C. Campbell Folk School

Before I visited JCC, I’d heard it praised and also described as a place ‘beloved by the Birkenstock crowd,’ but when I went there for a day I found it is so much more. There is a homespun, crafty feel and everyone seemed to really be in to the whole scene. You could see the enjoyment and inspiration in people’s faces. The high level of dedication and expertise of the instructors and the staff permeate the place. It has the good feel of “a place of learning,” with no snootiness and I immediately wanted to sign up for every workshop available. The tranquil, rural setting is a delight and I’d highly recommend visiting, or better yet, sign up for a workshop and learn in a fabulous and relaxed environment. Enjoy!

Their website is www.folkschool.org and they are located at 1 Folk School Road, Brasstown, NC 28902. Call (828) 837-2775 or (800) FOLK-SCH. For any additional information on classes or on planning your stay, call Monday-Friday 8:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. Eastern Time.

Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.

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