| Crafting with the Hands and the Heart
Brasstown farmer W.J. Martin, Sr. supplemented his income with woodcarving
he learned at the John C. Campbell Folk School in the early days.
Photo: Doris Ulmann
From basketry to broom making to blacksmithing.
From spinning to soapmaking to storytelling. From weaving to woodcarving
to writing. The John C. Campbell Folk School offers these courses and
many more. And the year 2000 marks the 75th anniversary of this special
school in the far reaches of western North Carolina.
Started by Olive Dame Campbell and her friend Marguerite Butler, college-educated
yankee ladies, the school was named to honor Mrs. Campbells
late husband. The Campbells had spent time in the area in 19081909,
surveying social conditions in the mountains, and believed the quality
of life could be improved by education. And they wanted to preserve and
share with the rest of the world the wonderful crafts, techniques, and
tools that the mountain people used in everyday life. They dreamed of
a school that would create better social and economic conditions and would
serve as an alternative to higher education facilities that drew intelligent
young people away from the family farm.
Mrs. Campbell and Miss Butler realized they could not impose their ideas
on the mountain people, so they worked to develop a genuine collaboration.
The dream came true in 1925 when the local Scroggs family donated 75 acres
of land and the people of Cherokee and Clay Counties pledged the most
valuable thing they had their labor to get the school off
Though the John C. Campbell Folk School specializes in crafts, nearby
Murphy native and school director Jan Davidson notes, Were
a crafts school thats not object-oriented. It almost seems like
a clash of terms, but thats the core of the difference between us
and other places that teach crafts. Our concern here, says Davidson,
is primarily that people have a sense of discovery of themselves
and that they do it in the company of other people.
So while you wont find a course called Discovering Yourself
in the catalogue, you will find that the school aims to engage both the
hands and the heart. More than 450 week-long and weekend classes are offered
year round on the 372 acre farm-campus.
The centerpiece of the school is a testament to craft itself. Keith House
is a handcrafted structure complete with hand-wrought door latches, woven-seat
oak chairs, and iron wall sconces. Starting out as the community gathering
spot, Keith House has grown over the years to include administrative offices,
library, classrooms, and student housing, just as the programs at the
folk school have grown from instructing local folks to serving the worldwide
As Davidson tells it, In the beginning this school was started by
people from off thats what we call people who
arent from around here. People from off came here to
civilize the mountain people and
to run this school. Well now,
he says with a grin, the school is run by me and mostly other people
from here, and people from off come here to get civilized.
A 75th anniversary celebration was held at the John C. Campbell Folk School
in Brasstown on Saturday, July 22. A dinner on the grounds
pot luck feast was complemented by informal jam sessions, for those who
want to pick a few tunes with old and new friends, and storytelling sessions
of folk school history and personal experiences. Studios were open for
demonstrations, and the exciting new History Center and Classroom Building
was open for viewing as well.