Orchard House


It is Thursday afternoon. Outside the writing studio window, the day is bathed in sunlight, the limb patterns on the grass motionless. Inside the studio, writers are at work with pen or laptop, or staring out the window, or sitting chin in hand. Chairs squeak, the printer clacks, the clock ticks. Small sounds that only accentuate the silence. The writing group is focused, which is different from a focus group . . . or maybe it isn’t.

I wondered, on Sunday before I arrived, who these people in the class would be, what they would be seeking, what they would be bringing. On Monday, as we tiptoed toward one another, I began to find out. Talking and listening, deciding what to offer up from our own personal stories, we began to trust. This is what I expected.

In the afternoon, we scattered across the campus, each of us to a different studio. The instructor had told us, “Write about what you are seeing, hearing, feeling there.” I heard only birdsong as I walked outside; all the other students were sequestered in class.

Rounding the mulched curve to the Woodworking Studio, I saw steam. The porch was steaming. I asked the man tending the steam if I’d found the banjo-making class. “You have,” he said. “I’m one of the instructors and I’m about to begin a steam-bending demo. Feel free to go inside and look around.” Noise! The moment I opened the studio door I was met with a wall of noise. Not from banjos playing, but machinery noise. What I saw was clusters of students working so intently that they didn’t even notice my presence. I expected to be questioned; instead, I was invisible. Continue reading Expectations

From the Writing Studio: The Blacksmith’s Wife

Earlier this fall, Donna Glee Williams taught a writing class at the Folk School: “Write What You Don’t Know.” In the class, students took inspiration from life at the Folk School to find prompts for writing stories, pushing past the boundaries of their own experiences. Don M. Benson, Sr., a student in the class, shared the following story he wrote, taking inspiration from the craft of Blacksmithing. Enjoy his story below!


The Blacksmith’s Wife

by Don M. Benson, Sr.

He came to bed a happy man.

It was well past midnight but he was happy. He hadn’t been happy for at months or maybe years. But tonight, in bib overalls covered with soot and smelling like the smoke that poured from the forge he nurtured, he was a happy man. He labored all day and half the night heating strong members till they glowed a perfect orange. He pounded and twisted and molded them into shapes pictured in his imagination. The project was almost complete, a six foot, ornately sculpted, one of a kind hall tree, none other like it in the universe.

He was a happy man.

Very much unlike the man he was back home, with his hair coiffed to perfection, a custom tailored suit, a stiff Egyptian cotton shirt, silk tie with matching braces and shoes shined to glossy perfection. Back home he labored all day and half the night in the glow of computer screens or the florescent flickers of conference rooms. He nurtured mentees and supported colleagues as he strove to craft a perfect deal, the deal that would benefit the firm and the client, all while his mentees and colleagues plotted his demise.

But here, at the Folk School, for a few hours or maybe a few days, he was a happy man.

And I was a happy woman.

Meet Host Donna Glee Williams

Donna Glee’s felted creations from the class “Nuno-felt Collage” with Liz Spear & Neal Howard

Our current host, Donna Glee Williams, is a writer of fantasies for the teenager in all of us, as well as being a seminar leader, dream worker, and creative coach. She has recently published two novels and her work has been featured in anthologies, literary magazines, academic journals, spoken-word podcasts, and more. She even came to the rescue and taught a recent weekend writing class at the Folk School when the scheduled instructor cancelled at the last minute. The hosts at the Folk School keep the show running smoothly and they are fully involved in the daily life of the School for a four month period. Without further ado, let’s get to know Donna Glee!

CP: What first brought you to the Folk School?

Donna Glee Williams outside of Keith House with her book, the Braided Path
Donna Glee Williams outside of Keith House with her most recent book, Dreamers

DGW: From 1994 to 2015, I worked at the NC Center for the Advancement of Teaching and we created weeklong intensive seminars for public school teachers in all manner of subjects with the goal of helping them reconnect with their passion, pride, and love of teaching. In that time, I worked with many fabulous local craft artists. I wanted come learn about this resource that was so close and make connections with the people here who could be possible presenters for my teachers. That’s what got me to the Folk School for the first time.

CP: What inspired you to apply for the Host position?

DGW: When I left my job to be a full-time writer, I knew I wanted to add craft adventures to my life. I wanted to continue to work with top craftspeople and have these experiences of the hand that by some mysterious alchemy wind up coming out as material in my books.

Living the life of the full-time writer, I knew I would not have the funds to make that happen, so the host position was an ideal program for me. I don’t know how what I learn here will come out in a book, but there is a strong likelihood that it will. Right now, I am working on a book that is the residue of an experience I had in 2008 when I was a Fulbright fellow and went to India to study certain small, desperately poor communities are declaring independence from pesticide use and raising cotton without chemicals. Fiber arts have often been a focus in my work. Continue reading Meet Host Donna Glee Williams

Discovering Author Valerie Nieman

Valerie dips her feet in the sand at Pacifica, CA - always close to water.
Valerie dips her feet in the sand at Pacifica, CA – always close to water.

Acclaimed North Carolina writer Valerie Nieman will be teaching The Breath of Life: Discovering and Depicting Characters at the Folk School, July 5-10, 2015. This month brings the release of her second poetry collection, “Hotel Worthy.”

CP: How long have you taught at the Folk School?

VN: Hard question! I don’t have a great memory for dates. Several years ago, anyway. I began by teaching weekend character development classes and then graduated to a week-long fiction session in 2013. In 2014, I taught a weekend workshop and then spent a week taking a woodworking class – my first taste of being a student at John C. Campbell. What fun! I produced two lovely occasional tables, though I had never before worked with any power tools beyond a drill. The Folk School method definitely works.

CP: What is your favorite Folk School memory?

VN: Can I offer a quilt?

The magnificent elm tree in front of the Orchard House. Cracking thunderstorms. The Whipstitch Sisters rocking the house. The coal-smoke smell from the Blacksmith Shop.  “Simple Gifts” sung by a chorus of hungry workers. Purple martins. River cane whispering near the stream. Morning Song. Smiles – always smiles!  Enticing smells of Indian cooking emanating from the Cooking Studio. Cohosh berries – “doll’s eyes” – beside the path. Learning to contra dance. Bees working the gardens.  Creaking floors at the Keith House. The dinner bell. Mist on the fields. The sound of hammered dulcimers. Wild blackberries!

Continue reading Discovering Author Valerie Nieman

Asia to Appalachia: Japanese Influence at the Folk School

Bonsai by Tim Ryan
Bonsai by Tim Ryan

Japanese aesthetic philosophy inspires us all the way from the Far East to the Folk School. Radically different from Western design, Japanese design principles mesh especially well with the Folk School due to an emphasis on simplicity, unobtrusive beauty, function, irregularity, weathered textures, nature, and tranquility. Cultivate a bonsai, write a haiku, try Ikebana flower arranging, learn about traditional Shibori dyeing, demystify Asian spices, create raku vessels for a Japanese tea ceremony and much more at the Folk School. Embrace Wabi-Sabi and Zen philosophy with these 2015 offerings focusing on Japanese design and techniques:

Beading by Judy Walker
Beading by Judy Walker

Beaded Kumihimo
with Judy Walker • February 1-6

Learn to do kumihimo – the beautiful Japanese braiding technique – with beads! Use a braiding disk for consistent results, starting with the easiest cords. Progress to more intricate designs and discuss the various results achieved with different materials and with the traditional marudai stand.

Haiku Poetry Writing Workshop
with Redenta Soprano • February 6-8 Weekend

Haiku Poetry by Redenta Soprano
Haiku Poetry by Redenta Soprano

Haiku is a traditional Japanese poem, consisting of 3 lines and 17 syllables. It is easy and fun to write, as well as an expedient, creative way to capture life’s special moments. Try your hand at it, using the winter beauty of the mountains as inspiration. Bring your powers of observation and depart with a:

Small book of haiku
At the end of the weekend
To take home with you! Continue reading Asia to Appalachia: Japanese Influence at the Folk School