Success! This is Jess writing to you to tell you that last weekend the entire student body (minus one who had a wedding to attend in Las Vegas), the residents, and I loaded up our busses and backpacks and headed down to the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC. The Folk School is an amazing place, with a rich history of handwork, sustainable living, neighborhood community building, and lots of traditional song and dance. In preparation for the trip, we watched the Emmy-nominated documentary Sing Behind the Plow, detailing the history of how the Folk School was founded.
On Friday we drove to Lane’s End, to go set up camp. There is a gorgeous piece of property in Brasstown called Lane’s End Homestead that has been used for community-building purposes since it was established. For the past year it has been the home base for the Pioneer Project, who were kind enough to let us camp behind their gardens, next to a singing stream, and use their composting toilet and work the land, preparing it for their spring gardening season. We ate our sandwiches and drove over to the Folk School campus, where we split into four groups and toured the studios and the grounds, including the craft shop where students could look at all the sellable wares of the teachers who have passed through over the years. We ended up at the Keith House, where we got to see the finished projects from the Folk School students that week, and OA students got to see what was made in just a week.
We then went over to the campground to warm up the chili and cornbread that our OA chef, Mark, made for us. We brought Rodrigo’s special “hot rod” sauce, not knowing it was the new, extra-spicy batch! We got really warm, really fast after putting that in our chili. Then it was time to head back to the Keith House to watch a concert by the Barralon Brothers, who are fantastic musicians from France. They played a variety of traditional French songs, some with accordion and mandolin, and some A Capella. The brothers’ voices blended perfectly and OA students were attentive, enthusiastic listeners.
After the evening concert, we headed back to Lane’s End, and got to go into the main house and talked with Adam Haigler, co-founder of the Pioneer Project, and son of the authors of the best-selling book on gap year experiences (see The Gap Year Advantage by Karl Haigler and Rae Nelson). Our students asked great questions, dreamed aloud of what they would do with their ideal year off from school, and it was a pleasant but sleepy evening of talking about alternatives to mainstream education. We were all asleep in our tents, cozy and warm despite the rain, by 11pm.
The next morning we were up bright and early to pack up camp and make oatmeal and grits. We then split up into two groups. One bus load visited the local yarn shop, owned by the Folk School’s resident spinner/knitter/dyer, Martha Owen and Charlotte Crittenden. They are two of my fiber mentors, and although we couldn’t meet Martha there, our students enjoyed fingering the hand-spun, naturally dyed yarns, leafing through pattern ideas, playing with puppets, and watching Charlotte demo a spinning wheel. Then that group went to the Keith House to have a lesson in dips—the dancing kind, not the chips kind! Local Brasstown residents Stefan Kelischek and Forrest Oliphant taught students how to spin and dip each other, so that they could look extra pro at the contra dance that night. The other busload got to learn some traditional morris dance styles (clog morris and border morris, both incredibly fun and high-energy). The students were enthusiastic and quick learners—the Brasstown dancers were impressed by the willingness and politeness that our students displayed.
While the groups weren’t dancing, they took turns making expressive face jugs at local potter Rob Withrow’s studio, Smoke in the Mountains. Probably everyone’s favorite moment of the day was when Rob said we could dig through his pile of “throw away” mugs (literally a pile on a tarp in his front yard)—some of the mugs barely had anything wrong with them, but Rob’s dedication to only selling the best of each kiln firing meant we had plenty of seconds to choose from. Oh boy, free pottery! Students were overjoyed, especially as they had just worked for 90 minutes to craft their own mugs. They knew the value of the free mugs because they had experienced firsthand the effort, care, and skill that goes into each one.
After everyone had had a dance lesson and made a mug, we drove back to OA to have dinner, shower, and get ready for the contra dance that night! We went to the River Falls Lodge, which we are lucky to live very close to, just across the State line in Marietta, SC. We got to dance to the incredible sounds of the Stringrays from New England, with Will Mentor calling—one of our nation’s best callers. The band, caller, and local dancers were incredibly receptive to our group of new dancers, and my music and dance class got to put all their practice into play (we’ve been studying contra and square dance for about 3 weeks now). We had a great time; and several students danced every single dance of the night! We headed back to OA exhausted and happy. I hope that this trip inspires Semester 40 and their friends and family to go take advantage of the Folk School, go to their local contra dances, and make things by hand for the rest of their lives.
I really owe a big thanks to everyone at OA who supported me in dreaming up this very packed weekend, and everyone in Brasstown and at the Folk School for providing us with inspiration, knowledge, effort, and creativity. I was blown away by what is possible when we come at life with a spirit of collaboration.
Jess Kaufman, Craft, Music & Dance Teacher