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NOV. 19, 2014

Big Crafty Field Trip to Brasstown, Part II

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On Saturday morning, following a big pot of oatmeal, we hurried over to the Folk School for a Q&A session with resident folklorist and musician David Brose. David was wearing a knitted necktie made of handspun angora and yak fibers, prompting our student Jack to ask if I thought he might be able to someday knit a tie. Hooray for finding inspiration everywhere! David told us more about some of the things we learned when we watched the Emmy-nominated documentary about the Folk School called Sing Behind the Plow. After our talk we split into four groups and toured the studios and the grounds of the Folk School, ending up in the craft shop where students could look at all the saleable wares of the teachers who have passed through over the years. Most just looked but a few bought special items to bring home. I loved watching them examine each piece for construction techniques, asking about materials and methods. What brilliant young craftspeople we are nurturing here!

We ate our lunches in the sunshine and then did two hours of digging, weeding, raking, and mulching at Lane’s End. Then we split up into three groups, allowing each person to decide what they wanted to spend the rest of their afternoon learning about: basketry with Folk School resident artist Pattie Bagley; dovetail joinery with John Campbell; or a blacksmithing demo with Folk School resident gardener Tim Ryan. It is my sincere hope that our students have formed the basis for potential lasting relationships with these artisans; they are all master craftspeople and local treasures. I went with the woodworking group, and got to watch John use handmade tools to create exact measurements and carve out the joints with traditional chisels, saws, and repurposed steel. It was also nice to warm ourselves by the woodstove in his shop, which doesn’t yet have a door—it’s a labor of love to build your own studio from the ground up! He gave us a tour of all the furniture that he has made and has in his home. We learned about the qualities of black walnut versus black locust, and we all left sincerely wanting to build our own furniture. The other groups had a great time as well—Leo showed me a tiny woven creature that Pattie showed him how to make. Wow!

We made a quick dinner of pasta and pesto sauce made from our garden kale and garlic butter from our own garlic stash at OA. We had “sun”dried tomatoes from our September harvest, and then we went to the square dance! Most of our students danced most of the time—some only danced a bit but enjoyed watching, and one hardy student (Eleanor!) danced every single dance and never sat down! She also set her mind to dance with only non-beginners, which is one of the most effective techniques for getting really good at partner dancing in a short amount of time. We had a bonus flat-footing demo from visiting pro Dave Harvey, founder of the NYC Barn Dance. With Beth Molaro calling, and two ENC friends also showing up at the square dance, it felt like the perfect night for blending OA + Brasstown (4-ever!).

On Sunday morning we attempted a sleep-in but the cows had different ideas. We packed up our tents and organized our gear, did a sweep of the property to make sure we weren’t leaving things behind, and then got to go into the main house and talk with Adam Haigler, co-founder of the Pioneer Project, and son of the authors of the best-selling book on gap year experiences, The Gap Year Advantage. Our students asked great questions and were polite and attentive listeners. Then we were treated to a homemade brunch at Tim Ryan’s home, feasting on homemade biscuits and gravy, sausage, bacon, scrambled eggs, fruit salad and yogurt, cheesy potatoes, kale and onions, and cheesecake.

I really owe 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. Here’s hoping that Semester 39 is the first of many to go on our “big crafty field trip” to Brasstown!

Jess Kaufman, craft and music/dance teacher