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How We Made Pizza: A Slice of Folk School Life

by Jan Davidson, Director on June 22, 2015

in Around Campus, Capital Campaign, Community Events, Cooking, Jan writes ...

90th Birthday Pizza Party outside of Davidson Hall

90th Birthday Pizza Party outside of Davidson Hall

Pizza Day minus 6 years. A potter, a dulcimer player, a painter, a poet and a berry farmer build a barrel-vaulted brick oven. Timber-framers build a structure around it. Iron workers make long-handled rakes, forks and peels. Stone-building classes dry-stack elbowhigh walls around it, carpenters make picnic tables and benches. Gardening classes plant fennel, oregano and basil. Work-study crews grow tomatoes and split oak into keen firewood.

Head Chef, Steve Cipriano puts a pizza in the wood fired oven.

Head Chef, Steve Cipriano puts a pizza in the wood fired oven.

P-Day minus 1. Nanette drives to a dairy she knows about and acquires milk from non-corporate cows. At night, she builds fires.

P-Day 13:00. Susan the Blacksmith forges world-class sculpture, then rides from Clay Spencer Shop to Davidson Hall on the running board of a truck full of what appear to be pirates. She becomes Susan the Cheese-maker and leads a class in making mountains of fresh mozzarella. Chef Steve and Cory Marie and their Italian Cooking class simmer sauce not too long. The Dining Hall crew brings a crisp salad of fresh greens from the gardens.

Carla slices a piece of hot pie.

Carla slices a piece of hot pie.

P-Day 15:00. Is it going to rain? Sure looks like it. At some point, we could call it off? That is, I could call it off. I confer with my top people, very much like General Eisenhower. I watch the clouds, pacing, deep in thought. Tensely, we watch the gathering storm over Wells Mountain. My top people point out to me that I am not General Eisenhower and that the worst that could happen is we might get wet. So I decide it is on, the game’s afoot, fullspeed ahead and charge. We take the precaution of requesting the religiously diverse group of folks each to whammy shimmy shammy in his or her own beliefs towards the darkling clouds.

The rain, it raineth over all of the Southeastern United States and pretty ferociously on Murphy and Hayesville, and all the way from Hanging Dog to Smackass, while The Folk School appears on apps as a placid blip in the midst of much precip. A pleasant misting sweeps through the vale, but the music never misses a bump-ditty. The baking, done by dancers, flows gracefully as a contraline. Smoky, toasty aromas of wood and bread unite us. Some carry wood, some bake, some play, some dance, all eat and drink. It looks like a festival of colorful medieval people in a Breughel painting except no hellmouths or bagpipes.

The traditional mountain tunes like “Angeline the Gluten-Free Baker” and “Shove That Pepperoni a Little Closer to the Fire,” are fiddled and banjoed by Dog Branch Cats—David, Lindsey, Martha, Bob, Annie Fain, and even me. There was a student who’d never held a banjo before, so I handed one over explained that this is how to play in open G: hit it and you will be right 75% of the time. I point out that a vacant stare is also requisite, and demonstrate using my own face. The student nails that instantly, and it’s another great moment in teaching.

The Dog Branch Cats & friends serenade the party.

The Dog Branch Cats & friends serenade the party.

The pies are tossed, sauced and baked by a mighty crew including, Niki, Carla, Forrest, Mike, and Martha. A length of charcuterie is sliced for topping. Nick and his brewing class laid up a keg of hefeweizen at harvest time, and now it is tapped. Joyful and enlivening community experience helps some folks think about the past, some the future, and brings at the moment, a now worth celebrating. New-dyed fabrics from Arianne’s class flap on the clothesline nearby, flags of honor to our Yoruba ancestors, kin to all whose visions come in indigo. We talk about the West African origins and Gullah traditions of Sweetgrass Baskets being sewed this week under the loving care of Sarah and Pauline from Mt. Pleasant.

Arianne and Forrest consider their pizza pie options.

Arianne and Forrest consider their pizza pie options.

Friends thank the blacksmiths for a new stage railing for Festival Barn, a lovely bench, and much fixing and oiling, including tuning up our butterfly valves, which some of us didn’t even know we had. Painters note that when the answer to the mountain sky is that it’s moving all the time, you have to turn it loose and let it flow. Adventures are recounted of our nearby streams, which can be challenging, and are said to have laughing trout. A tale is told of how in a snap a hand-tied yeller-hammer became chic ear jewelry. We hear of lamps cooler than Tiffany’s, of searches for the perfect scrap of cloth, tin can, and heirloom vegetable. In this grove there are learned discussions of the relative merits as artistic media of eggs of turkey, quail and duck. Costumes and big puppets for Mayday are designed. People knit, whittle and think how they will tell the story of this evening to folks at home.

Genealogy students regale their tablemates with newly dug nuggets of history. Jim hit paydirt. His locomotive engineer great-grandfather was family man: had a wife and kids on each end of the branch line. In the discussion of how to indicate this on the chart, there is general agreement that the official genealogical symbol would be railroad tracks from one family tree to another.

Artists and engineers hang out together and soon there appear Leonardesque sketches of pulleys, gears, mirrors. Probably—ho, ho—the optics and mechanics of a giant kaleidoscope, ha ha ha. Pirate hands wave around, physical principles are modeled with saltshakers, bottlecaps and spoons.

Nanette & Jan Davidson present the 90th pizza pie!

Nanette & Jan Davidson present the 90th pizza pie.

The embers are pushed to the back of the oven, and The 90th Anniversary Pizza slides onto the baking stone. Keather takes a picture of Nanette and her scruffy boyfriend, and folks round up to view the ceremonial pie. We say thanks for each other, for absent company and for folks of blessed memory who helped us all get this far. We sing Happy Birthday to the Folk School, and to Erica who celebrates her 19th today. I wish you had been here. We will be here whenever you can come.

So that’s how to make a pizza. How to make a community of artists? Make a community. Everybody is an artist. I hope you can help us make the Folk School strong so it can keep getting people off their duff and working together for another 90 years.

The John C. Campbell Folk School is a tax-exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code (EIN: 56-0552780). All donations are fully tax-deductible to the extent allowable by law. Learn more about ways to give and to donate online.

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