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.

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

Sienna’s First Class: Enameling

Enameled Bowl by Sienna

The summertime at the Folk School offers two opportunities for people under the age of 18 to take classes at the Folk School: Little/Middle Folk School and Intergenerational Week. For many young people, this is an ongoing tradition, so what happens when you turn 18 and age out of these programs? Do not fret, you are not banished from the Folk School! On the contrary, now you can take ANY class all year long.

I recently met Sienna Bosch, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate from Fort Collins, CO who was taking “Beginning Techniques in Enamel” with Christie Schuster. She was here with her mom, who was in printmaking class, and her dad, who taught woodturning. I sat down with her and talked about her experience. Enjoy our interview!

Sienna Bosch

CP: Had you been to the Folk School before this trip?

SB: I had never been to the Folk School before this trip. I had heard a lot about it from my sister and parents, but this was my first time at the Folk School.

CP: Do you have a favorite craft?

SB: I don’t necessarily have a favorite, I work mostly in wood, metal, and wire, but I really enjoy trying new things and experimenting with a variety of crafts.

Enameled Bowl by Sienna

CP: Why did you decide to take Enameling?

SB: I decided to take enameling because it was something that I had never tried before, but was interested in. I had seen pictures of enameled copper and was curious what the process was like. There were many classes that sounded interesting to me, but enameling really sparked my interest. Continue reading Sienna’s First Class: Enameling

Quest: Pottery, Printmaking & Family Vacations


I met Tom Quest over meatloaf dinner in the Dining Hall on Sunday night. We quickly discovered that we were enrolled in the same class: Jim Horton’s “Great American Poster” printmaking class. I discovered Tom is a professional potter and he got his start in clay years ago at the Folk School. He and his family often come here for vacation. This particular week, his wife and daughter were taking felting & dyeing together. I sat down with him to learn a little bit more about his pottery, our class, and why the Folk School is a great place for a family vacation. Enjoy our interview!

Instructor Jim Horton and Tom decide what ink colors to roll out for the press. Black is always a good place to start!

CP: What made you want to take letterpress printing?

TQ: Well, my family had a lot of things going on this year, and we just wanted to have a nice, restful vacation. The Folk School is one of our big go-to places to come as a family to just kick back and not have the pressure and stress of going to a big city. Its just very relaxing. We like to come here about every other year. So this year, my big pottery show was over with, my daughters wedding was over with, so we just thought, “Let’s go to John C. Campbell!”

CP: Do you take a different subject every visit?

TQ: I’ve taken so many pottery classes, now I try to take other subjects that will help me to branch out. Last time I was here, we did marbling. The time before that I did metal clay jewelry, and that was an interesting class.

CP: How did you get into pottery? Continue reading Quest: Pottery, Printmaking & Family Vacations

We Still Play Things at Dance Musicians’ Week

DMW Week instructors and students play on the porch for the hungry Dining Hall lunch line.
DMW Week instructors and students play on the porch for the hungry Dining Hall lunch line.

I don’t know about you, but I am awash in changing technology and the new world where I shop, make reservations, and bank–all through apps. I read the newspaper online and can communicate instantly anywhere with my phone. I rarely use cash anymore – and who even understands bitcoins? Anything I could possibly want is readily available – including prepared food, ready to eat.  Most of the music I hear comes out of an electronic device, but not always…

Sheryl and Sue Songer
Sheryl and Sue Songer

There is a red button on my fiddle case with a bright yellow graphic of the palm of a hand. Above it, it reads: We Still Make Things. In a world of unrelenting change, the John C. Campbell Folk School still sits nestled in the mountains of North Carolina. People go there to live a little slower and make things.

I am a music maker and have been for a long time – just not like this. Dance Musicians’ Week (DMW) has transformed me. I was (and still am) a music-stand-toting, note-reading player: “paper-trained,” as they say. I fell in love with contra dancing and the fabulous jigs, reels, and waltzes played live at dances – and made it my goal to be a dance fiddler. With the help of DMW, now I am! As a result of this class, I can learn a tune by ear, improvise a little harmony and back up, and join in a jam.

Dance Musicians’ Week is a special week at the Folk School. Students specifically sign up for other classes that week so they can be around all the music and dancing that the DMW class brings to the campus. There are music makers all over the place – on the porch at lunchtime, every evening at dances, and jamming at night. All kinds of folks, all playing levels, all instruments. (I just registered for the 2015 class!)

Dance Musicians' Week class circle
Dance Musicians’ Week class circle

A typical day starts with pre-breakfast (optional) Morning Song and a brief presentation of some sort in the Keith House. After breakfast, the musicians’ class gathers in a big circle for a slow warm-up session on a new tune, by ear – little pieces at a time. Non-intimidating. Non-judgmental. Then we have an hour of dancing. Every move gets taught slowly before each dance. Non-intimidating. Non-judgmental. Community folks in the area stop by to dance with us because we have so much fun!  The instructors play and later we discuss what kinds of tunes worked well with different dance moves… and which didn’t. Then we break into specialized classes like fiddle classes for melody players, and harmony and accompaniment classes for “pickers” and keyboard types. Continue reading We Still Play Things at Dance Musicians’ Week