This is the week of Folk School! I’m attending the John C Campbell Folk School and taking a class on woodturning. In the multitude of crafty things I have dabbled in over the years, woodturning is not among them.
Plies of fine sawdust like angel hair lie in heaps on the floor. Every shade of blonde brunette and red. Some are ringlet Shirley Temple curls, some little more than dust. Like some strange beautician with unfamiliar tools used for wooden angels, we trim and trim down bit by bit.
Just a little off the top, please!
All of the Folk School seems other-worldly in some way or another. Some of it is a bit of time transport to another age when people were required to create things “by hand”, one at a time, each piece bearing an intended (or unintended) signature. Blacksmiths and woodturners, jewelry makers and quilters, wood carvers and woodworkers. That is something I have learned here. Many crafts that we assume go by one heading are very much not the same.
Woodcarving, woodturning and woodworking are not the same thing at all. My suspicion is that the relation is like knitting and crochet. Same materials, similar looking tools, very different skills and very different craft. Metalworking, blacksmithing and jewelry making seem to share a similar relationship.
It also feels otherworldly because of the rural setting. I live in a semi rural small town, so it isn’t too out of the norm to be far away from the closest Target store. Still, there are fields of gold and green, purple and white clover, cows in the distance and behind them rise this edge of the Appalachians. Wooded areas are dense and protected here. Birds abound.
Ultimately, the otherworldliness seems to come from the whole notion of learning from a crafts person face to face. A master of their craft. Not just a you tube video or a demonstration at Michaels or a website or even a book. All those things are great! Don’t get me wrong here, I have learned or taught myself many things in those very ways. But the whole concept of this is different. Here, we are working with someone who has mastered the craft.
There is something arcane about it all.
It is more like a classroom, obviously, but no assumption is made that you’ll know it all in a matter of hours. Here, a craft and its mastery are taken quite seriously. Of course, there is also the assumption that you are not going to master the craft in a week either, but it is a unique experience to learn and create something, gain the beginnings of a skill and do so within the watchful eyes of someone who knows massive amounts about the work and who is there to correct, re-correct and refine your work.
And yet, there is no sense of arrogance or an insulated or unattainable knowledge, which makes it all the more amazing and hypnotic. You are drawn in to what you are doing in a manner unlike any other.
Most of the time, we don’t do things this way. We want flat abs in 15 minutes, fast food, weekend warriors and one-day workshops. We want on-line classes so we don’t have to be bothered by other students or actual professors critiquing our work. We want to reach black belt status with minimal time investment. Above all else, we don’t want to disrupt our daily lives, our regular commitments, our precious schedules.
But this place is all about interrupting the regularly scheduled program. It is nothing if not separate from what most of us have as our daily lives. Here, there are no commitments BUT here, and for a few short days, we live as though all that matters is this learning and this project.
Perhaps there is something to that very thing, even apart from the actual skills gained. Over the past couple of years I’ve tried to intentionally live in such a way as to make space for creative things. It started with Tuesday knitting group and has grown quite a bit. It seems that my life is better and less stressed than it could be. Regardless, I’m convinced I feel my life more deeply and enjoy each moment more even when I’m not engaged in a specifically creative activity.
I’m certain that when I return from this mysterious otherworldly place, I will not be a master wood turner. I will also, most likely, not be missed nearly as much as I might think. Rumor has it that the world is still turning out there beyond the boundaries of field and workshops and forest. And that’s not so bad, really. It is quite possible that a good number of things that get in the way of this very same mysterious and amazing life we get a taste of here at the Folk School are not really that much in the way after all. Perhaps this is one of the best crafts here; crafting life.
For now, I’m going to soak up this fantastic place, take a million photographs, walk a lot (which I almost never do), try new things and have an all around wonderful time!