There's a hidden treasure in the North Carolina mountains. You have to drive just about as far west as you can go, towards Murphy, but just before you get that far if you take a little jaunt south, you'll find Brasstown, NC.
Brasstown isn't really much of a town. There's a post office and a few other buildings. The small country store with a couple of gas pumps is called Clay's Corner and is the self proclaimed Opossum Capital of the World.
But turn onto Brasstown Road next to Clay's Corner and you enter a fascinating little piece of the world called the John C. Campbell Folk School. If you are a crafter, musician, dancer, or storyteller, you enter heaven. Even if you're not, you might be before you leave, because the Folk School was started in 1925 for the express purpose of keeping the traditional folk arts alive and well in a non-competitive, community oriented environment. Browse the Folk School catalog and you will find a wide variety of classes. Wood working, knitting, calligraphy, blacksmithing, quilting, writing, and the list goes on and on.
My husband, a wood worker, was told about the Folk School about two years ago, and immediately wanted to attend a class there. He was originally looking at a class in May of 2009, but as soon as I found out about it I wanted to go too, and I couldn't take the needed time off work in May. So we made a deal. If he would wait to go when I could go too, we'd pick the week we went based on when the class he wanted was offered, because I was positive I could find something I wanted to take. The class he wanted was offered again in November 2009, so we started planning.
I initially was hoping to take a knitting or spinning class, but since the class offerings vary each week there wasn't one being offered the same week as my husband's class. I considered taking a class in Italic calligraphy, since I do calligraphy, but am completely self-taught, however a writing class was being offered and I was still talking about writing a lot, but actually doing very little writing, so I signed up for the writing class in hopes of writing motivation. We couldn't wait to go, but it was only January.
We went to the Folk School in November 2009, completely psyched about the classes we had signed up to take, and we weren't disappointed at all. The classes were fabulous. What we were totally unprepared for was the rest of the experience.
The Folk School is a community. The students that come to the school range in age from 18 to 80's+, are from all over the country and the world, and during the week that you are there, they are your community, and you will never want to leave. You will live together, eat together, learn together, dance, laugh and sing together, and you will have the time of your life.
Forget fancy hotel rooms, the accommodations are mostly houses that have been donated to the school or bought over time and converted into rooms. Some have private baths in the room, some have baths shared between 2 or 3 rooms, and there is also some dormitory style housing with hall baths upstairs in the main building. They are nothing spectacular, but they are clean and decent, and if you don't stay on campus, you will miss a huge part of the experience.
The meals are at set times and served family style. When the bell rings, everyone lines up outside the dining hall and files in, grabs something to drink & finds a seat. In many ways it's like being at camp as a kid, except you don't have to sit with your bunkmates, and the food is actually GOOD. They encourage you to sit with different people each meal and, while by the end of the week you will have found a couple of people you tend to sit with regularly, it's really fun to sit with new people and hear where they're from and why they came and what they're learning. If you have special dietary needs or preferences, they are very good at accommodating those as well. They always have a vegetarian option and they will also prepare diabetic, gluten free, and I'm sure other options if you let them know before you come that you will need those. I'm a very picky eater & there was only one meal that I really did not like, but they had plenty of fresh fruit and a salad bar, so I didn't go hungry.
Classes are scheduled for 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the afternoon, but since the classes are so hands-on, most instructors will open the classrooms in the evening as well if you want to come in and work on your project. As a member of the writing class, I could work wherever I took my laptop (not required by the way, one of the students in my class was in her 80's and did everything in long hand), but my husband went back to the woodturning studio almost every night.
If you don't want to do class work in the evening you will certainly not be bored. They had contra dancing (similar to square dancing) one evening which was a blast. There are concerts, poetry readings, and demonstrations by instructors of some of the classes being taught that week, that you can attend. Or you can always find someone just hanging out in the living room of Keith House (the main building), which also happens to be the only place you can really get internet access. But you know what? We both took our laptops, and cell phones, and if it weren't for the fact that I was using my laptop for my writing class, I don't think I would have touched it all week. The cell phone reception is very spotty up there, but there are places you can get a signal if you need it.
If you're an early riser, which I am definitely NOT, they have something called Morning Song every morning, which is usually someone singing or telling stories. It's very mellow and laid back and actually a very nice start to the day. I even dragged myself out of bed most mornings to attend.
I could go on and on about our wonderful experience at the Folk School, and how we cannot wait to go back, although it will probably be a few years before we are able to return. I could find something to take every week for a year, and never lose interest, but unfortunately I haven't buckled down and written a best-selling novel yet, so I still have to work the day job. But I have probably written more than enough for anyone to expect in one entry, so while I may not be done talking about the John C. Campbell Folk School on this blog, I'll stop for now.
But go check out their website and start planning your next vacation! While you're there, you can visit Mouse Towne, but that's another post.