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NOV. 18, 2014

Big Crafty Field Trip to Brasstown, Part I

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We just got back from our fabulous Folk School field trip and I could not be more proud of our amazing OA students! In Brasstown this weekend the students sang along to sea shanties and ballads and listened to old time fiddle tunes around a campfire at night; they Morris danced and square danced; they made Appalachian “face mugs” at a local potter’s studio, and they visited the homes of local master craftspeople (a basket maker, a blacksmith, and a timber framer/traditional woodworker). They did service work for the Pioneer Project, a back-to-the-land gap year project focused on earth skills and traditional craft; two of our guys even elected to sleep outside under the stars on a rather frigid night—and we were all awoken by the lowing of cows in the morning from the field next to our campsite! We made our own meals over our little camp stoves and we played with the sweet dogs who lived on the property. And that doesn’t even cover our “official” visit to the Folk School itself.

On Friday we woke up and made our lunches while others readied the gear for our trip. Driving the gorgeous Appalachian Scenic Byway and all its twists and turns, our Floridian students were smitten with the frozen trees and icicles that decorated the cliffs and mountaintops. Upon arriving in Brasstown, one bus load visited the local yarn shop, owned by the Folk School’s resident spinner/knitter/dyer, Martha Owen. Our students enjoyed fingering the handspun, naturally dyed yarns and leafing through pattern ideas. I am proud to say that every one of them found something inspiring that they want to knit soon—parents, be warned! I’m doing my best to make fiber-junkies out of all of them.

We met back up to distribute sandwiches and go right into our afternoon activities: learning traditional Morris dance styles (women’s clog Morris for half our group, and border stick Morris for the others). The students were enthusiastic and quick learners—the Brasstown dancers were impressed by the willingness and politeness that our kids displayed. There are a few videos on the OA Flickr page of the stick morris lesson! 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! They kids 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 the pottery and the dancing, we were ready 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 homebase for the Pioneer Project, who were kind enough to let us camp behind their gardens, next to a singing stream, and use their composting toilets and make a fire to warm ourselves by. Michael Ismerio, my friend and a widely known fiddle teacher, square dance caller, maker of leather shoes, and nature educator, came to visit us once it got dark and played and sang for us. Those students who were feeling like night owls got to stay up late, singing song after song, drifting away one by one to cozy up in their tents. It was a clear, brisk night with so many stars.

-Jess Kaufman, crafts and music/dance teacher