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Flourishing at the Folk School: Corie Pressley

Corie Pressley has lived in tiny Brasstown, North Carolina, all her 21 young years. She commuted to college for two years but this scenic Appalachian community is where she’s grown up, developed, and matured. You might think her life experiences have been limited in this small town.

But that’s where you’d be wrong.

Corie has seen the world in a grain of sand—just like many others who have spent time at John C. Campbell Folk School. She has learned that self-discovery and personal growth are not contingent on traveling the world in a literal sense. Her worldliness comes from within—and from her time growing up in the Folk School’s community of lifelong learners from all corners of the earth.

Her youthful wisdom tells her she has found her place, her home, her sense of purpose. It’s here in the mountains of western North Carolina, in a remote, isolated corner of the world that, ironically, she has learned to be open-minded, creative and adventuresome.

“I can’t imagine working anywhere else,” says Corie, who joined the Folk School’s programming department just last July. “I get to be a small part of making someone’s week here something they’ll never forget. This place has taught me to think critically and to think about things on a deeper level. It’s helped me see things in a creative light and allowed me to learn how to be around other people in the world without being judgmental.”

“Being here, I am discovering just how much there is to learn. How much there is to
experience in life.”

Corie’s family has been connected to the Folk School for at least four generations. Her grandfather Jerry Wilson and his brother Ray, both accomplished in old-time music traditions, made an award-winning recording at the school. Her great-aunt worked in the Craft Shop. As a young girl, Corie attended the Folk School’s Little Middle programs, and danced with the Folk School Cloggers at the yearly Fall Festival.

Corie credits the school with inspiring her and Katie, her twin sister, to pursue their music. As The Pressley Girls, they often play for Morning Song at the Folk School, as well as at festivals, events, and fundraisers. Corie doesn’t read music but learned to play knee-to-knee with her family members. “I’m so grateful for that influence,” she says.

Corie is thankful for her upbringing in Brasstown and is determined to preserve her Appalachian heritage through her music and her work for the school.

“The Folk School is preserving mountain traditions,” she explains. “I think people are drawn to the Folk School because of this. They know they’re a part of something much bigger, part of something that’s been here for generations.”

Corie hopes to encourage younger people to come to the Folk School. “We need them to come learn and understand how important it is to carry on these mountain traditions. To make things and take part in something bigger than yourself.”

We hope you enjoyed reading about how the Folk School has influenced Corie. We are collecting stories for our archives. If you have a Folk School story you would like to share, please email



Dear Folk School Friend,

I’ve mentioned Corie Pressley to you in my previous letters because I think she embodies the profoundly positive influences the Folk School often has on people’s lives. Her familiar story will likely resonate with those of you who feel as though you’re coming home each time you arrive at the Folk School.

Folks come to this rural mountain community, entering the peaceful campus of John C. Campbell Folk School, to spend their days exploring the meditative, the creative, and the productive. They venture outside their comfort zones in small, almost indecipherable ways. And out of this quiet bubble of time, they experience an openness to ideas, form new life-long friendships, and discover just how much they can learn.

We believe helping people flourish is important work.

Your gift to the Folk School—regardless of the amount—makes a huge difference. Your support helps us develop programming, care for our beautiful campus, equip studios, provide learning scholarships and pass along Appalachian traditions to our Little Middle Folk School students.

Please help us sustain the Folk School for the future so that others might discover their own unique grain of sand that lies within.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour
–William Blake





Jerry Jackson


Listen to These Folk School Stories

I realized soon after joining the Folk School this summer that this was a unique place brimming with stories. Stories about what happens here, stories about learning a new skill or technique. Stories about how a week at the Folk School has transformed lives, created rich new relationships and empowered students and instructors to make new discoveries about themselves and others.

Corie Pressley, for example, grew up in Brasstown. She first came to Little Middle Folk School at the age of 5 and has memories of her mother taking her to Saturday community dances. Corie credits her confidence, her freedom of expression and her personal growth to her youth spent at the Folk School. Today, Corie and her twin sister Katie—both of them accomplished musicians—perform on stages throughout the region, including our Festival Barn stage. A recent graduate of Young Harris College, Corie is back at the Folk School, this time as an employee in the programming department.

“What would my life be like if I had not found the Folk School?” ponders Corie. “The Folk School is a dream come true.” Continue reading Listen to These Folk School Stories

Your Fall Festival Guide: October 7 & 8

Come on down to the Folk School Fall Festival this weekend. Enjoy music and
dance performances on two stages, shop for unique craft and art made by local and regional artisans, and view live craft demonstrations. Enjoy delicious food, and participate in many kids’ activities. The Fall Festival offers fun for the entire family.

Continue reading Your Fall Festival Guide: October 7 & 8

Totality in Brasstown: Eclipse Viewing at the John C. Campbell Folk School

Eclipse viewers congregated near the vegetable garden for a view of the big event. Photo by David Baker.

When I heard about the eclipse, I immediately thought of watching it in Brasstown: I have friends to stay with, I know where there’s a big, open field, and it’s always nice to be in a special place for a celestial event. So Saturday afternoon, I headed down the road with two friends, Dane and Jessica.

Folks congregated near the garden gate.

Throughout the day Sunday, more and more people—friends and strangers—arrived at the house until it felt like a large family gathering. On Monday at noon, we walked over to the Folk School and laid out a picnic blanket on the edge of the gardens. If you didn’t get to see the eclipse, here’s what happened.

Crescent shadows on the Rainbow Bridge near the Rivercane Walk.

At 1:05 it began. Everyone put on their eclipse glasses and watched the first tiny edge of the moon appear at the top-right of the sun. Everyone snapped photos of everyone else watching. Someone had a special telescope. Dane taped eclipse glasses to a pair of binoculars. After a minute, I’d retreat to the shade, only to find myself back out there, checking the sun, a moment later. As more of the sun disappeared, people spread white sheets to observe the crescent shaped spots of sun filtering through the trees, or held up pinholes to cast a crescent onto the ground.

At first, the daylight didn’t seem different. I was surprised by how little of the sun it took to make the day bright; even when the sun had been reduced to a crescent, the light seemed almost normal. It did get a little cooler, though, so at 2 p.m. I ventured out into the field. More and more viewers were gathering at the edge of the garden, and I liked the relative silence in the field. When Dane and Jessica joined me, we walked out to the ever-present Folk School hay bales and climbed on.

Eclipse watchers by the Cooking Studio watch as the moon just begins to touch the edge of the sun. Photo by Pam East.
John Clarke, Folk School Building & Grounds Manager stands in the field to watch the eclipse by the hay bales. Photo by Karen Hurtubise.

Around 2:20, the light began to noticeably dim. The barn swallows flew out from their nests at Davidson Hall, swooping to catch insects, but after a minute, they retreated, perhaps realizing that something was not quite right. All around the horizon, the sky grew pink, like a 360 degree sunset. Only a fingernail of sun remained. I took off my glasses because I wanted to watch the darkness set in. Venus appeared overhead, along with two or three other bright stars or planets. Then, in the direction of Field House, there was a deeper darkness, like a menacing storm covering the trees; you could imagine you saw the shadow coming. Then the sun went out.

I looked overhead (no eclipse glasses, time: 2:34:29) and saw the final brightness of the sun still shining out from the left side of the moon. It dimmed and went out, and for a moment everything looked dark, and then the white corona of the sun appeared, with the black disk of the moon at its center.

Near Totality at the Folk School. Photo by Liz Domingue.

The corona wasn’t symmetric; there was a complete ring, but it smeared out on the right side, and farther out on the left. It looked unlike anything I’d ever seen. And it was up in the sky—there was no way it was being projected or imitated. It wasn’t like looking at a photo of an eclipse, because there was so much space around it, a whole sky’s worth.

Sara Boggs looks at the eclipse in totality.

A collective gasp/shout went up from the crowd. I might have whooped. Next to me, Jessica repeated, “That’s so amazing. That’s so amazing,” over and over. But everyone knew we only had 2 minutes and 26 seconds, so no one moved. I looked around at the deep twilight colors—it hadn’t gone pitch black, and only the few bright stars were visible—and then I looked back at the eclipse.

It seemed far too soon when the sky to the right of the moon began to brighten. “Here it comes!” someone warned. A few seconds later, the sunlight burst through. I ducked my head and donned my eclipse glasses, then checked the reappearing sun. But then I found myself taking the glasses off, to see the eclipse again. “I can’t,” I told myself. “It’s gone.” Around me, the darkness was fading fast, the hot sunlight returning. Already it felt over. It felt like the day after my birthday, if I were going to live forty more years and never have another birthday.

David Baker in his festive eclipse garb.
Dane & Emily on the hay bales, post-totality.

There was something real about the eclipse, and later I thought in the same way there is something real about the Folk School. I couldn’t rewind 15 seconds to watch it a little bit more, the same way you cannot hit “undo” when your pottery collapses on the wheel or you break the antler off your deer carving. You must go carefully. Of course, someone could probably simulate a pretty good solar eclipse in a theater, with lights dimming and a small breeze blowing. In the same way, you can buy a machine-woven blanket or a five-dollar basket made by a poorly paid woman churning baskets out in a third-world country. But it’s not the same as a craft handmade with love and care. There’s something deeper that cannot be imitated. We were there at the eclipse with family, sharing the experience. And the eclipse was viewed in the wide-open sky. You might recreate the look of it, but not the soul.

As we came down from the hay bales and shared our thoughts, someone mentioned a friend who’d declined to watch, saying eclipses were nothing special. I could see being disappointed if you stepped away from the office at 2:30, expecting to be awed by the highlight reel of the event. Like a craft, the eclipse was a process, and we’d been there at the start, in tune and watching.

Students in Pam East’s jewelry class made beautiful eclipse-themed pendants for the occasion. Photo by Pam East.




EmilyBuehlerEmily Buehler is the author of this blog and a frequent bread instructor at the Folk School. She became a bread baker in 2001, intending to take a break after finishing a degree in chemistry. Six months later she began teaching bread classes. Emily has written two books: one on bread making called Bread Science, and one about her bicycle trip across America called Somewhere and Nowhere. Visit Emily’s website for more information.

Emily will be teaching bread making class again in October 2017.