The Folk School Alliance Newsletter
A project of Folk Education Association of America
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Chris Hansen
Folk Education Association of America Board of Directors - 2016

Mary Cattani
Christopher Spicer
Vicky Eiben
Marilyn Jackson
Steven Rubenstein
Kate Parsons
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Folk School Alliance

news | spring 2016

Welcome to the Folk School Alliance (FSA). This winter, we have been reaching out with phone interviews to get to know you and your schools better, and to actively engage this growing folk school network. The results of some of those conversations can be seen in the folk school focus articles below. We are excited by the sheer numbers of folk schools springing up across the USA, and by the fact that they are increasing rapidly. We have 46 schools on our current list, which you will find on our website  under the heading “The Folk School Network”.

Please email us at if you have news to share through our newsletter or would like us to feature your organization!

In this issue:

Feature School: North House Folk School


Fan Hitch is Key to Success at North House Folk School In Grand Marais, Minnesota

By Vicky Eiben, Ed. D.
Article is based on an interview with Jessa Frost, Program Director at NHFS, Nov. 2015.

It was a cold, dark December night as about 50 people gathered in a cobblestone courtyard near the shore of Lake Superior. The occasion was the Winter Solstice and the presentation of a shadow puppet play to mark the longest night of the year. The night air was filled with music, laughter and a tangible creativity, all hallmarks of a North House Folk School (NHFS) experience. Their mission is to enrich lives and build community through the teaching of northern crafts in a student-centered learning environment that inspires the hands, the heart, and the mind. On this particular night NHFS brought people together to enjoy an artistic presentation, to laugh, to celebrate the dark and the return of the light, and to share a potluck meal...


Article Themes

History—Vision, Passion, Tenaciousness, Right Timing
Current Programming
Interface with the Local Community
Local Schools
Advice/Lessons Learned/Keys to Their Success

Notes and News from the Board

This winter, we have been reaching out with phone interviews to get to know you and your schools better, and to actively engage this growing folk school network. The results of some of those conversations can be seen in the folk school focus articles below. We are excited by the sheer numbers of folk schools springing up across the USA, and by the fact that they are increasing rapidly. We have 46 schools on our current list, which you will find on our website (, under the heading “The Folk School Network”. If you know of people and organizations you do not see on our list, please let us know so our list can be as comprehensive as possible.

In addition to the newsletter and web site, we now also have a lively Facebook page, page name “Folk School/People’s Education,” ­ which we encourage you to check out. Most recently we have posted an article about Karin Stenberg and the Sami folk school movement!

We want to invite you to become involved!   Consider working with us as we further this outreach to revive the folk school network.   Would you like to participate in the monthly phone meetings?   Let us know!    We would welcome your contribution to any of our projects:   write an article for the newsletter about your school;   give us feedback on the web site;  post to our Facebook page;   help us organize the next conference!   We want to hear your news,  and we welcome your ideas!

New Website Announcement

We are excited to announce our newest website which is now up and running. Thanks to our wonderful friend and web site designer, Alexandra Martines, we have  launched an improved and expanded website. Be sure to check out our folk school network page or our news page to stay in the loop about up and running folk schools!

If you can make use of Alexandra's many skills and talents as a web designer, we highly recommend her.    You can contact her at:

Folk School Roots

Our roots section highlights how current folk schools in North America have tied their mission and philosophy to the founding principles of the Danish folk school and their inspired thinker N.F.S Grundtvig.  We focus this issues roots section to North House Folk School, as a companion piece to the feature article.

North House states their mission as follows: “To enrich lives and build community through the teaching of northern crafts in a student-centered learning environment that inspires the hands, the heart, and the mind.

Folk School pedagogy

  • While North House’s mission is centered around the teaching of crafts, they describe how they’re not just a craft school: “For us it’s about the people.” In a North House class, there’s time for introductions, there’s time for stories. They are inspired by Frederick Christensen, who writes: “If a young teacher came and asked me, “What should I do?” I would answer: “Find 25 stories – narratives about life. Learn them by heart and tell them. Then your students will revolutionize the world.” (in Lifted by the Heart, Ed. Chris Spicer, Circumstantial Producations, 2009)

  • North House lore includes a story about one of the early classes – on boat building – where founder Mark Hanson brought together some local people that included woman in her 70s. He teamed her up with 2 young men from a social work program, asking them to assist her in any way she wanted.  As the story is told, “not only did we build boats, but relationships -  it was about the people.”

  • How do you develop folk school teaching and teachers? At North House, they tell us: “You can’t write an instructor manual and explain how to be a folk school teacher. You have to find the right people, the ones who love teaching beginnings, and who have a passion for the craft.

The critical role of Community

  • Founder Mark Hanson had strong roots in the community: His two grandfathers were both Lutheran ministers and one of them was a Grundtvigian. When he moved to the area in his twenties, he was basically interested in getting to know the old people.

  • It’s not about having one or two people who are excited about the folk school. It’s about having a community.  In the early days, there were a lot of people at the table – literally at Mark and Wendy’s kitchen table.

  • As the school grew, the North House community extended beyond the geographical community, which gave them the opportunity to learn new ways to build community: how to stay in touch,  how to share a meal together, how do you come together?

Read our full feature story for full details of the North House story.

- Notes by Chris Spicer, drawn from an interview by Vicky Eiben with North House program director Jessa Frost.

American Folk Schools

Take a peek and check out some Folk Schools!

The Adirondack Folk School

The Mission:

The Adirondack Folk School teaches the arts, crafts and heritage of the Adirondacks, promoting creativity, self-reliance, sustainability and cultural preservation.  Town resident and school founder Jim Mandle had been looking for ways of revitalizing the historic downtown of Lake Luzerne when he made a visit to North House Folk School in Grand Marais, MN. Inspired by their work, and greatly assisted by them, he and a group of donors and community supporters were able to acquire an unused town hall building, which had been a classroom in the past, for the purpose of starting a folk school, and began teaching there in 2010.  The Board is made up mostly of retired teachers who are very involved with the program, who volunteer almost every day, and who are aware of and include information about the Scandinavian roots of their folk school work.

According to Rand Condell, President of the Board, and a blacksmith trained at Turley Forge, Santa Fe, NM, the very first summer 90 classes were offered, to nearly 300 students taught by 40 instructors - and it has been growing ever since!  In 2011 a new multipurpose pavilion was built, the “Inspiring Hands, Heart & Mind” pavilion.   This new space  allows for expanded children’s programs, blacksmithing, boatbuilding, including cedar strip and Wee Lassie canoes, and ceramics.  Students built an outdoor wood-fired baking oven, and the first timber framing class during the fall  of 2011 created a structure to protect the new oven.  Today a course in timber framing allows people to build buildings they can disassemble and take home with them!   The school has both coal and gas-fired forges, with 9 complete forging stations, weaving rooms, a bench-top studio, woodworking shop and multipurpose areas.  

The school serves mostly summer visitors to the Lake George and Saratoga Springs region, and most classes are one-day.  More recently longer classes of 3 to 5 days, and even 10 days, are being offered as they seek to expand their base.      

The website provides a long list of courses for 2016, and for full detail on the extensive offering of this wonderful school, please visit their web site:

P.O. Box 2
51 Main Street
Lake Luzerne, NY, 12846

The Michigan Folk School

“Marrying the wisdom of yesterday with the technology of today”

The mission of the Michigan Folk School is to build community by providing educational programs that promote renewal of traditional folk arts and the preservation of forest and farmland.  
Located 10 minutes from downtown Ann Arbor, and 10 minutes from downtown Ypsilanti, The Michigan Folk School classes are taught at a wide variety of locations throughout Washtenaw County, Michigan, in instructors’ homes, on farms and homesteads, at the Dixboro United Methodist Church, and at Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor Township.

The idea for the Folk School was originally inspired years before it became a reality when founders Jason and Julia Gold visited the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina, as students.  Jason explained that later on, when life and time allowed, after they had lived in Ann Arbor long enough to have converted the front yards of their Ann Arbor neighborhood into veggie gardens, with chickens in the back,  they acquired a homestead farm near Ann Arbor and soon began teaching there, a move that redefined their work and family lives.  One of the first classes they taught there was a chicken slaughtering class, and it was a huge success!

As they built a community of like-minded individuals in the county, they expanded their class offerings to woodworking, furniture making, cheese making, blacksmithing, in courses taught at neighboring farms, in unused barns, in churches, and at the local Community College, evolving as they went, a mission that included small scale food production, art and education.  The Golds’ relationships with individuals and institutions who share their ideals, are an important form of support for their work:   Driftless folk school, Tillers International,  the Michigan Farmers’ Market Association, and the Washtenaw Community College, to name a few.  Today through their cooperation with the Washtenaw Community College Community Enrichment Program they offer many classes - permaculture, brewing, cheese making, blacksmithing, earth oven building -  and are expanding rapidly.  They have taught 3,000 students in classes that range from 4 to 12 hours of combined lectures and hands-on experience, and all their instructors are paid.  

Jason and Julia’s plans for the future include building their own campus on 6 donated acres in Northern Mich., where advanced classes will be taught, the basic levels remaining at the various sites in Washtenaw Co.   

The web site of the Michigan Folk School includes a full list of upcoming courses for Jan. - May 2016,  To see the list, click here:

The Michigan Folk School
6685 Vreeland Road
Ypsilanti, Michigan 48198

The Clearing Folk School

The Clearing Folk School, located near Ellison Bay, Wisconsin, and usually called just The Clearing,  is a place to ‘clear one’s mind.”  Founded in 1935 on principles originating in the Danish folk schools  by Danish immigrant and landscape architect, Jens Jensen,  it still maintains the Grundtvigian inspiration of its founder, discussion, conversation, nature study and hands-on work being the key tools of learning,  in keeping with Grundtvig’s philosophy of  “The Living Word.”  

Jensen is one of America’s most important landscape architects, and a founder of  The Prairie Style who  worked with the most influential architects of his day including Louis Sullivan, F.L. Wright, and Albert Kahn. According to Executive Director Michael Schneider,  maintaining the connection to the inspiration of the founder are central to their mission.  They continue to honor the man who gave the school not just the inspiration, but 128 acres of land, extensive forests and meadows overlooking the dramatic Green Bay coastline.  Every other year, a landscape architecture professor at the University of Michigan,  offers a course on landscape architecture in the Jensen style.  

The Clearing offers three programs throughout the year:   The Summer Program, from May through October, consists of week-long classes with 25-35 students and instructors living and learning together; The Workshop Program which includes one, two, and three-day workshops from June through mid- November,  for those who cannot come for an entire week:  The Winter Program with a wide range of short classes, including painting, writing, quilting, birding, wood carving, poetry, rustic furniture making, photography, poetry, fine wood-working, music, weaving, philosophy, stained glass, metal work, nature study and paper arts.

The Clearing experience is made up of many special components:  the  classes, the sense of community, the forests, meadows, water, sunsets, home-cooked meals, traditions and history all blend to create a wonderful place to learn, relax, reflect and make new friends.  The principle of living and learning together is fundamental and  is facilitated by dorm and dining facilities sufficient for all participants.  The campus includes the lodge, the classroom building, and dorms with 2-person rooms with 38 beds, old farm buildings, 128 acres, 14 buildings and, since 1999, an endowment.   

Much more information about The Clearing and its mission is available on their extensive web site.

Michael Schneider, Executive Director
Address: 12171 Garrett Bay Rd, Ellison Bay, WI 54210
Phone:(920) 854-4088

To see a working list of folk schools in the United States, visit the Folk School Alliance's website at

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