“So what did you think of blacksmithing?” friends ask.
“I loved it,” I say. “Though it was one of those classes I could have loved or hated based solely on the teacher. Thankfully, I had a really good teacher.”
In my ten weeks here at the Folk School, I haven’t just been studying blacksmithing, or cooking, or writing. I have also been studying teachers, and myself as a student.
During my years of “traditional” schooling, I excelled. Not because I was necessarily smart, but because I was good at doing what was asked of me: namely memorizing information and spitting in back out. I was also one of those kids who wanted to please the adults in my life – namely my parents and teachers – and so I did what it took.
Thankfully, I’m mostly over my need to please other people. But not completely. Holding the beginnings of what would hopefully become a hook, I asked my blacksmith instructor what he thought of my work so far. “Well, do you like it?” he asked. “Yeah,” I said, wondering what that had to do with anything. “If you like it, it’s good,” he said. Wait – I determine what’s good here? At first it was a little alarming. I don’t know what I’m doing. How do I know if it’s any good? But then the idea started to grow on me. After all, I was the one that was going to take this hook home and use it.
Later I told another student what my instructor said. “That’s what so great about this place,” she said. “You’re not trying to please a teacher – just yourself.”
Tending the Forge
Making a Bottle Opener
“So have you made a lot of things so far?” my new co-host asked me. Having taken eight weeks of classes here at the Folk School, one would assume I have a cabinet filled with the fruits of my labors.
“Actually, no,” I said. “I’ve purposely chosen classes where I don’t make a lot of stuff. I may hold the record for the Host who produced the least amount while at the Folk School.”
I explained that I’m kind of a minimalist. It was the first time I’d used that word to describe myself but I felt like it fit perfectly.
- Scottish Cooking and An Abundance of Appetizers left me with delicious recipes.
- Nature Writing left me with some blog posts and stories – all stored electronically. And one hand-made book.
- My Building A Garden Shed class was tasked with creating a shed for the Folk School – nothing for me to take home except the knowledge that I’m not cut out to be a builder.
- From my Genealogy class, I gained a destination for my trip to Italy in March: Corigliano. It is in that class that I learned the name of the town my great-grandmother came from. I now own a copy of the ship manifest that shows her arrival in the port of New York on the Perugia on June 7, 1913.
- I have an eight-ounce cup full of Glass Beads, most of which I’ll donate to Beads of Courage.
- I made five hooks, two bottle openers, and a fork in my Blacksmithing class – all useful things either for myself or as gifts.
In fact, everything I’ve made can fit into my purse. Which fits my minimalist lifestyle just fine:)
A couple cookbooks, a handmade book, some beads, a ship manifest, a genealogy guide, assorted blacksmithed items
How is it that one chooses fourteen classes out of one hundred forty? This isn’t like college where a lot of the classes are “required” and in some area that is of no interest to you. No, the John C. Campbell Folk School is a place where nearly every class is of interest to me. Who knew such a place existed?
So how to choose? Well, some Student Hosts pick a theme. Maybe they have an interest in blacksmithing or jewelry making, so they take mostly those kinds of courses. (And indeed, there are classes in both of those subjects nearly every week.) I, however, can’t imagine only focusing on one craft during my time at JCCFS (surprise, surprise). Instead, I have just a couple rules that I’ve come up with to guide my decisions. And since I’m not a big follower of rules, the first rule is that any rule can be broken at any time.
1 – Take classes that don’t have any physical end product that I have to lug on to my next destination. The garden shed class fits this quite well – we’ll be building a garden shed for JCCFS. So all I take with me after the course are the things I’ve learned:)
2 – Try something new and/or something I’ve always wanted to learn. Thus, my list includes learning to play the mountain dulcimer and learning to spin yarn.
3 – If a class has me making things I’ll have to take home with me, take it only if what I make can be easily given away. Thus a class on making wooden toys and blacksmithing.
4 – Take only classes that are of interest to me. Thus, quilting will never be on my list. Nor dying fabrics. Believe it or not, there are actually some things in this world that I don’t have an interest in doing.
How wonderful is a life where my biggest decision each week will be which class to take the next?