The John C. Campbell Folk School (JCCFS) is a world apart.
The first thing you notice when you get there is its natural and rustic beauty. There are trees everywhere and at this time of year, the rhododendrons and mountain laurel are blooming.
The buildings are charming, too. They range in age from the orginal farm house built in the 1800s, through the community lodge and dormitories built by students and volunteers in the 1920s, to a new dormitory built last year. All of them reflect an Appalachian aesthetic that makes them blend in with nature instead of competing with it. Antiques and hand-crafted things abound, giving the place a very human feel.
But it’s not just the stuff that’s different, it’s the people too. I’m not sure if it’s the beautiful surroundings, or because folks come to the school to persue crafts they’re passionate about, but people seem nicer here, more polite, more helpful. Everyone pitches in when there’s work or clean-up to be done. Over the week, it starts to feel like a community, as you get to know people over meals and stop by and see what they’re working on in the various studios.
I’ve heard JCCFS described as sumer camp for grown-ups. That’s not a bad description. Everyone eats meals together and bunks together, and there are processes and procedures to help keep things running smoothly. For example, at meals one or two students from each table take the dirty dishes to the kitchen, and their reward for this is getting to bring dessert back to the table.
There are evening activities of concerts and dances and readings. Then there are the unplanned nighttime events (like the Raku pottery students and their impromptu fireworks run.)
One of the best parts for me is that it feels like a safe place: safe to try a skill you’ve never attempted before, safe to wander the woods alone at night, safe to leave your door unlocked, safe to take creative chances.
I also very much enjoyed the fact that there are classes in several different disciplines going on at once. There’s something wonderful about realizing that makers are all the same, no matter if it’s a big burly blacksmith or a prim and proper lace lady taking a tatting class. For example, one morning the woodturners were chatting in the library in the community lodge and one rapsodized about a pile of seasoned mahogany he’d seen at this one lumber yard. I was struck by the fact that he could have just as easily been a weaver describing handpainted silk they’d seen at this one yarn store.
It seems to me there are two kinds of people in the world: those that get that making things with your hands is necessary and good, even in our current Walmart era, and those that don’t. Some folks just aren’t happy unless they’re creating something. For me, it’s less about what I’m making than the act of creation itself.
There’s a drive in some people to express themselves creatively. To leave a part of themselves behind in a physical thing that says, “This is who I was in this moment. I made this. I was here.”