For years and years, I’ve promised myself a trip to the fabulous John C. Campbell Folk School, located in the mountains near Murphy, N.C. Established over 90 years ago, this school is famous for its classes in many (47!) artistic mediums: blacksmithing, pottery, weaving, spinning, printmaking, music, leatherwork, lace tatting, cooking, gardening, all types of painting, bead-making, dyeing, photography, quilting, needlework, wood carving, basketry and lots, lots more. Their inspiring instructors come from all over the U.S. Classes are kept small for individual attention, and it’s a committed non-competitive environment. My dear cousin and I went for the “Plen air Landscape Painting” class, with internationally known artist Mary Jane Volkmann.
Forty years ago, I painted a half-dozen landscapes with a friend who painted well, but haven’t touched a brush since then. Before I become too palsied to hold a brush steady with eyesight too murky to see colors clearly, I wanted to paint again. The Folk School was a perfect way to jump back in. It’s located in a gorgeous part of the country on a multi-acre “campus” with lots of open spaces and interesting buildings that have been converted into studios, classroom spaces, and various types of housing. Although it looks quaint and rustic, you’ll find the latest in equipment for woodworking or photography, etc. but also the traditional tools and methods when called for. Surrounded by woodlands, mountains, and wonderful people from all across the country just being there was a delight. No matter where you turn, there is art in evidence, whether by former students or teachers, or by Mother Nature! Imagine my delight, when I looked out the window of my assigned housing, to see an herb garden below! Fate had no doubt planned this lovely surprise just for me. Whenever I got frustrated with my brush, I calmed by touching leaves of my faithful friends: rosemary, basil, sage, thyme and more. Here’s Davidson House, where I lodged. Photo was taken from the herb garden. We were on the second floor. The “Fiddle” class was on the bottom floor during the day! There are flowers and gardens everywhere, and small spaces to just sit and contemplate or dream.
The week of morning and afternoon classes sped by exceedingly fast, but I learned SO MUCH. I will never look at the world before me in the same way again. Now every view, every sky, every tree is studied for its light value, the perspective, its prospect as a subject for a future painting. My cousin, Eve, and I (standing) enjoyed not only the painting and beautiful setting, but our time together. I managed to do 3 paintings, plus some value and color studies. The important thing is that it boosted my confidence, not to mention my abilities, and sky-rocketed my desire to put paint on canvas!
Here’s the dining hall. The food was delicious and plentiful, served family-style. So delicious, in fact, that I gained 6 pounds! (Obviously, my self-restraint was entirely on vacation as well!) Lots of the food comes from the extensive gardens and the herb garden. There’s even a small flock of chickens to patrol for bugs. There were lots of evening activities from local tours, to readings, folk dancing, and concerts but I was too tired (too old!!) to manage attending those. I did attend the exhibit at week’s end of all the items various classes had made, and it was truly amazing. That’s the work of our class above. Pretty impressive since some people had never painted at all! Everyone exhibited at least one work. In case you’re wondering, mine are the ones bottom row right “Three trees and mountains” and far right on the same table is “tree trunks and road.” The interaction with fellow classmates was so supportive, and we all choked up a bit as it was time to say farewell.
If going to a beautiful setting, with great people to learn more about an artistic venture appeals to you, please go to https://folkschool.org and click on the “Find a Class” button on the top right. You won’t believe the opportunities that await! I’m hoping to take a class on making kaleidoscopes and another painting class soon! Even if you can’t squeeze in a class, a visit to the fabulous Craft Shop is an enlightening experience. Not only will you find the best of works by the instructors, but also by the area’s talented crafters.