Back at John C. Campbell Folkschool in 2015

It’s been two years since I taught here at Campbell and I must say I’m less nervous since this is my second time. This time I have seven beginning turners in the week class and seven in the weekend class. The folks are really nice and are really getting their feet wet in woodturning, but rather than just review the class day by day as I have done in the past, I wanted consider more the ambience and feeling one gets from the Folkschool.

One group I am now feeling a part of is the instructors. It’s amazing to me that there are so many really enthusiastic teachers from all over the country that want to come to North Carolina and teach their craft. I had a chance to meet them on Sunday afternoon and although some are regulars, some were also here for the first time. There is a real depth on knowledge here and a real desire to share that knowledge.

I makes me feel in really good company, the kind of people I like to be around. Yesterday we had a after-class social get together and I got to know some of the people better. They all have their own story, but most of them have been dedicated artists for most of their lives. This means that all the stories they share are art related. While that is not my experience, a history of art is something I am striving for.

Another other group of people is the people attending the classes. Some have a lot of experience at the Folkschool and many of them are first-timers. However, everyone has brought their desire to learn with them. This is a very pleasant feeling since when at home there are so many people that you meet on a regular basis that could care less about learning something new. This energized group of people is very uplifting. The friendliness that is regularly expressed, with every one saying hello and having strangers initiating spontaneous conversations while walking the grounds or at meals is very refreshing.

All these attitudes fall under the Folkschool ambiance to me. This place is like an oasis. Artisans, friendly and enthusiastic and interested students don’t naturally congregate without a hub to bring them in and to say it’s alright to feel this way here. Of course many of these folks are in my age bracket and recall the sixties where such attitudes were more prevalent. It makes me think that these are the people from the sixties that made it through with their ideals intact and weren’t so overcome by capitalistic America or current politics. This is very refreshing. I’m sure some of these people, when they return home do revert to these archetypes, but it all seems to be buried while they are here. They are here to both learn and have fun.

On a more proximate level, I have been having a lot of fun with my class. All of them started by questioning themselves about whether they could do this, especially after my discussion and plan review with them on Sunday night. Getting the nomenclature correct and learning all about their tools was eye opening.

Monday after a quick demo I had them on the lathe. While there were issues, none of them seem scared of the lathe like a class I assisted at another school, where students were truly afraid to stand close to the lathe. Making a square piece of wood round was a revelation. Beads and coves were harder, but they put their burgeoning skills to use making a mallet, honey dipper and some tops. Even though it was tough turning, most made a decent mallet so were ready today for another challenge. However, before I had them back on the lathe, it was a morning on how to sharpen and some of the basics of good design. Sharpening was new and useful information they felt, but good design asked them to open up another part of their brain. In just a week I can’t go into design as deeply as I want, but when I did a demo of a weedpot, there were plenty of opportunities to discuss design options. Encouraging was that it was pretty easy for people to see the design problems in the demo piece and the corrections I wanted to make. In the end I had a nice weedpot that ended up and finished well. It took me 25 minutes, but I left them the rest of the afternoon to finish theirs. They had all started by creating a weedpot design they wanted to make. Some got closer than others. Skill comfort is still an issue, but to be expected since they were trying to do something pretty tough after only 1 ½ days of turning experience. Some came back this evening to sharpen tools from home, others to work on their weedpots and others to do some other projects. I have one person that is struggling and not certain of her abilities, but we’re working on an enhancement to her piece that is something none of the others have done.

Campbell Week 2015_03

Bowls were the goal for the rest of the week. Everybody is enthused and ready to go on their poplar practice bowls. Another lesson in design and skill development. Some made it through to the end and some got close before disaster struck. Some designs were good and some could use further development, but it was clear that all had learned with this exercise. The pacing was also good, since everybody quit at the regular time and only a few came back after dinner. It was great that some of the people that had struggled with the spindle projects felt much better about their progress with the practice bowl. It gave them a chance to soak up some of the other experiences that Campbell was offering. Weather has been great, so the extra demos and events were well supported.

DSC01052This week is Dance Musicians week, so music is everywhere. We get serenaded as we wait in line for lunch, they play at Morningsong and then every night there is dancing in Keith House. This is not only for the guests at Campbell, but also for folks from the community. The parking lot gets filled to overflowing and the main room in Keith House is packed with musicians and dancers. The Musicians that are here this week have broken up into “bands” that rotate the venues around campus that they play, so there are always fresh approaches to the music for the dances and pop-up concerts. This gives a really festive ambiance. As I am writing this I hear the stomp of the dances and the hoots of their enthusiasm and the wonderful fiddle, flutes, banjo, guitar and mandolin


Musicians Cropped


Many of my students have partaken in the dancing, but today was the final push in the studio. After the poplar bowls it was on to their final project – the cherry bowls. The blanks were bigger and the wood more beautiful, but there was even more enthusiasm after what had been learned with the practice bowls. It was great to see the increased confidence that the students showed as they tackled the cherry blanks. Most got the outside shape done with little problem. Of course there was coaching about some shapes that would make it easier when they tackled the removal of the inside of the bowl, but much less hand holding with the proper use of the tools. In the end some had to scrape more than others and some had to sand more than others, but I think they were all thrilled with their results, especially when we added an oil finish. The cherry just looks so nice with a good penetrating oil. After the oil dries it’s Beall buffing, clean up and presentation of the work at the showcase. I feel good about the week and feel the less aggressive schedule I adopted this year best suited the really great feeling I have had this week from the people at Campbell. What is really important is that the students felt great about their work and the skills they learned.


Week Pieces Cropped

Leave a Reply




You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>