Regional Folk School Developments Focus on Wisconsin
In some parts of the country, folk schools have become numerous enough that we can begin to speak in terms of “regional developments.” The Pacific Northwest is becoming one such region, the Smokey Mountains is another, and the Upper Midwest yet another. The state of Wisconsin is particularly exciting for its density and diversity of schools. A recent article in the Wisconsin State Journal in Madison, Wisconsin, listed several schools that are active today, new schools as well as some that are well-established for many years. Included in our discussion here is the new folk school at Folklore Village which will begin offering classes in the summer of 2018!
• Driftless Folk School, founded in 2006, is a nonprofit organization offering courses in the Viroqua/La Farge area that focus on food, traditional crafts, natural building, sustainable farming, the art of homesteading and more. Driftless is deeply inspired by the Grundtvigian Danish folk high school model, being a community of lifelong learners cultivating personal and cultural resilience through hands-on educational experiences. Grundtvig taught that students and instructors should learn from one another, and that one should not be more important than the other. This refers us back to our long human history of learning from each other how to make tools, build homes, secure and preserve food, find medicinal plants, and make and mend clothing. Driftless is in this tradition of folk schools that connect us to our past, while also helping connect us to connect to the environment, to our food, our shelter, and our own survival. www.driftlessfolkschool.org .
• The Clearing Folk School in Ellison Bay, was founded in 1935 by the famed landscape architect Jens Jensen, and is one of the oldest continuously operating folk schools in the country. The Clearing is a nonprofit continuing education institution on 125 acres near Ellison Bay which today offers year-round classes in natural sciences, fine arts, skilled crafts and humanities. The extensive campus has living space and dining facilities for participants in its classes, students and instructors. With its long history and close ties to the Danish tradition, it is perhaps the closest school to the Danish style of schools in the USA today offering Grundtvigian theory and practice. The Clearing’s Danish founder Jens Jensen always maintained that coursework at The Clearing would be non-competitive and non-credit-bearing, in keeping with his Grundtvigian beliefs. Today that holds true for all courses, which include a wide array of subjects such as arts and crafts, poetry, philosophy, and nature study, all taught in a relaxed informal style. www.theclearing.org.
• Folklore Village is a nationally recognized folk arts and culture center in Dodgeville. Founded in 1968, Folklore Village has since then offered a wide variety of workshops and cultural events and next summer, 2018, will launch a new folk school, with an initial emphasis on Scandinavian folk arts. The first year will focus on a wide variety of Scandinavian folk arts, a project funded bythe American Scandinavian Foundation. Courses will include: Rosemaling, Scandinavian Turnshoe Making, Finnish Kantele Building and Playing, Saami-inspired Bracelet Making, Viking Spinning, Norwegian Log Cabin Building, Scandinavian Blacksmithing, Spoon Making, Lefse Making, among other arts! As the class offerings and schedules are finalized, find further information on the web site: www.folklorevillage.org .
• Lost Creek Folk School is a program of Lost Creek Adventures, a group that organizes kayaking tours of the Apostle Islands, and specializes in survival skills and wilderness survival, with courses such as “Introduction to friction fire” and “Edible Plants.” The “Core Curriculum” is part of every course at the folk school and includes learning the fundamentals of how to gather the materials, sharpen the blade, and make the tools needed to do any project from scratch. Connection to the natural world, encouraging interaction with the world to gather and create, learning self-reliance and resiliency, and knowing what you can do without fancy tools or money, the aim of the instruction is to allow students to leave with the skills to continue learning on their own, in other words, to instruct in lifelong learning. In short, the aim is to teach skills that can change the way students think about problems and challenges in all aspects of life! For more information visit: http://lostcreekfolkschool.org/
• Shake Rag Alley in Mineral Point, is a non-proﬁt school of arts and crafts, founded on October 14, 2004 by local artists and community members, led by their founding board. It offers one- to multi-day workshops in subjects ranging from rustic crafts to fine arts, children's programs, and an annual "Woodlanders Gathering" in mid-summer. It has grown into a national art center attracting students from across the continent to 200 adult workshops per year, a robust summer children’s program, theater productions, and a host of annual special events. Part of their mission is to assure the preservation of their incredible collection of historic buildings that give the school its name. These have been reroofed, rewired, repaved, reconstructed, and expanded, recently adding student/guest lodgings and the outdoor theater venue, Alley Stage. The offerings continue to grow as new programs are added each year, for example, this year’s new Winter Writers Series. For more information and to read more about the wonderful historic setting of the school, go to: www.ShakeRagAlley.com
• Sievers School of Fiber Arts, on Washington Island, was established in 1979 and is a privately owned school with classes in weaving, knitting, quilting, spinning, basketry, surface design, felting and more. There are 70 programs and classes per year, 50 professional teachers/fiber artists, and enrollments of 500 throughout the year. Sievers School of Fiber Arts has received national recognition for the week-long and weekend classes it offers for adults. There are dormitory facilities for participants, and a store where original fiber art works are available as well as art knitting and weaving yarns, and books and supplies. Open spring through fall, registration for 2018 courses is on Feb. 1 when the web site also starts up.www.sieversschool.com
Journal of a Folk School Founding: A Visit from Denmark!This is the second installment in a series about starting a folk school at her family's farm, Happiness Hills Farm and Retreat Center, in Berea, Kentucky, by Jennifer Rose Escobar
We ended the year at Happiness Hills with the pleasure of receiving a visit from two Danish journalists, Joan Rask and Søren Prehn Jensen, who were working on a project called “On the Trail of Grundtvig,” supported in part by The Nordic Council. Their travels in the USA took them to the well- established John C. Campbell Folk School in N.C., and to Highlander Research and Education Center in TN, to Berea College, and to our not-even-really-born-yet Happiness Hills in KY. We were excited to host them, and honored that they chose to visit us.
During their two day visit, we spent several happy hours around our dining table, discussing our dreams and plans for the folk school here, as well as the Grundtvigian ideas and philosophies we share, that were passed down to me from my family and which are the birthright of all Danes. We had a lovely Zoom conversation about the past and future with my uncle, John Ramsay, one of FEAA's founders, and headed up the road a mile for an interview with my father, Bill Ramsay. He regaled Joan and Søren with stories about Highlander founder, Miles Horton, along with bits of history and wisdom from his own many years in education and community development.
We walked around Berea’s arts and crafts districts and took photos on campus for use in their articles and blogs. At the end of their stay, we wandered all over the farm, talking about where our folk school activities will take place, and I sang (at Søren’s request) “This Land is Your Land” about 50 times while he shot video at different angles. As it was getting darker and colder with the sunset, we retired to our house, where Alfredo had 16-ounce rib eyes on the grill – we thought it would be nice to send the Danes off with a hearty American meal. Søren and Joan are on YouTube and Facebook with their project – search either site for: “On The Trail of Grundtvig.”
What a great, inspiring way to end a year! We’re energized and ready for action. Coming up: we have brainstorming sessions with a young lady who would like to do some stringed instrument sessions here, a father and son who are interested in offering black smithing classes, a man who will be taking over coordination of weddings and other formal events at the Barn, and a professor who might take us on as a project for his summer entrepreneurship students. New, promising possibilities abound for 2018!
The Nuts and Bolts of Folk Schools
The Michigan Folk School, Step by Step
This is the first in a series by Jason Gold, Founder and Director of The Michigan Folk School, on managing a folk school.
Back when we were college students, my wife Julia and I made a life-changing visit to John C. Campbell Folk School. She a potter who was in training at the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, at the time, and we were instant converts to this new (to us) kind of education. Nurturing the dream of having a folk school of our own, some years later an opportunity came along, and the Michigan Folk School (MFS) was founded. We had hosted a chicken processing workshop on our Ann Arbor homestead in the fall of 2011, with the plan to establish a series of workshops focused on sustainable folk arts (chickens, gardening, soap making, cheese making, etc.) that would be held all over Washtenaw County in classrooms, farms, backyards and family kitchens. These were a success, and so with thoughts of posterity in our heads, the Michigan Folk School was created as an LLC in the state of Michigan in February of 2012. The inaugural class, Natural Beekeeping Workshop was held on Saturday February 25, 2012.
Partnering and growing:
In the summer of 2012, we formed a relationship with the Division of Economic and Community Development at Washtenaw Community College (WCC) in Ann Arbor, Michigan. We would offer folk art classes and programs that would develop and personally enrich the lives of people in the community. Growing in size to an average of 60 classes per year through WCC, we maintain a dedicated section in their course catalog that introduces a variety of folk arts classes, and our mission, to their patrons. Each college semester we continue to grow the number of introductory classes as well at the variety of offerings. Over the past six years, with a small army of experienced teachers and eager students, we have learned to slaughter chickens, raise dairy goats, hand craft shaker boxes, forge a kitchen tools, lacto-ferment the harvest, ponder radiant, conducted and convected cob oven heat, and dance to our fiddle tunes while barefoot in an earthy mix of straw, sand, clay and water. According to plan, and pretty much on schedule, in 2016 the Michigan Folk School LLC became a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization, NS, and today operates with a small board of directors, 7 professionals strong.
Creating a campus:
Our long term vision was for MFS was to develop a home campus that would offer educational courses and research opportunities in a non-competitive agricultural atmosphere. In June of 2016, MFS was presented with an opportunity to lease a 98 acre historic homestead farm that was purchased by Washtenaw County in 2001. The farm has everything that we could imagine, a historic farmstead (including several barns in very good shape), two lakes, two ponds, a stream, mature woods and large open fields. Over the next year, we vetted out a lease with the county to create an official campus for MFS. Washtenaw County agreed to install a new well, a septic system, sidewalks & paths, a parking lot. They also agreed to build a 4000 soft multi-purpose building with a teaching kitchen for our exclusive use. But first we had to raise the $80,000 for the workshop renovation, so we put on our fundraising caps and created a crowd-funding campaign with a goal of $40,000 that could be matched by an economic development division of the state government. On December 15, 2017, we successfully met and exceeded our fundraising goal ... and now the real work begins.
Sharing our experience:
I understand very well that the work of a folk school administrator is different than that of a folk school instructor. The administrator wears a plethora of hats, many of which require a solid base of knowledge. It is my intention in this series of articles, for the benefit of MFS and for many of folk schools around the country, to interview, compile, and publish reports in this newsletter on the nuts and bolts of starting, running and growing a folk school in America. Each report will be centered on a different topic related to the administration of a folk school.
One report might offer an exploration of marketing and advertising or fundraising and financial planning. We might analyze the easiest accounting software or discuss the pirate of instructors. The intention is to unravel the complexities of managing a school, whether that school started yesterday or has been around since the days of prohibition. I am not promising that each report will produce a clear path or solid recommendation. Rather each report will present what other schools have tried and their respective outcomes. My hope is that through these reports, and with a head full of information, a heart filled with great intent and hands ready for craft, we can all create a prosperous "now" and an optimistic future for folk craft.
We use this occasional column to bring historical and pedagogical accounts of the founding ideas and people of the Scandinavian folkhighschool to those who are creating the exciting 21st century expansion of folk schools in North America which we are witnessing. We welcome your inquiries, suggestions, and writing as our folk school tree grows ever taller from its very deep roots.
Grand View University
Accounts of Grundtvig and the Origins of North American Folk Education
By Chris Spicer
The Folk Education Association was formed in Berea KY in 1976 and held its first national conference in 1977. Mostly coincidentally, it was in those same two years when two significant works were published to accompany this later 20th century interest in the Danish Folk School. In fact the second book makes mention of the formation of FEAA that year.
Grundtvig Selected Writings
In 1976, the first ever collection of English translations of the writings of the founder of the Danish folkhighschool movement, N.F.S. Grundtvig, was published: N.F.S Grundtvig Selected Writings. The translations were the work of Johannes Knudsen, President of Grand View College (Des Moines Iowa), Enok Mortensen (see more below), and Ernest Nielsen (President Emeritus of Grand View). Knudsen served as editor and wrote an introduction.
Grundtvig's ideas were the inspiration for the Danish folkhighschool movement, but his influence is not limited just to that. He is a national figure, a radical theologian and Lutheran Bishop who wrote prolifically throughout his life, a force in the formation of Danish identity. The selections in this book represent a wide cross section of his life’s work: sermons, hymns, poetry, theological and educational writings.
While the folkhighschool was never a religious institution, it is helpful to understand the Christian roots of Grundtvig’s life and the transition of Danish culture at the time he lived, a period also influenced and critiqued by another philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, Grundtvig's contemporary. Grundtvig’s theological ideas evolved significantly throughout his life, yet even with sometimes conflicting theological ideas, he had a profound impact on renewing the Lutheran church life of his people.
The bridge between Grundtvig’s religious thinking and the folkhighschool can perhaps best be found in his thinking about “the fellowship of a people united by history, geography, and nationality” – “Folk-life.” These ideas are developed in his interpretation of Christianity, but also fleshed out in his ideas on education, which gave a central role to the “higher arts,” especially the Danish language, folklore, history of the people, and Nordic mythology. These played a primary role in Grundtvig's educational endeavor which emphasized themes of particular interest to the folk school community such as:
-Introduction to Nordic Mythology (1832) -A Nordic University (1837)
-The School for Life (1838)
-The Danish High School (1847)
Schools for Life
The second book came in 1977: "Schools for Life, A Danish American Experiment in Adult Education,” by Enok Mortensen (published by the Danish-American Heritage Society). Mortensen was a lifelong Grundtvigian, native of Denmark who came to the upper US Midwest with his family when he was 16. His small, but inspired little yellow book provides an account of the first 6 folk schools in America in the late nineteenth century, all started by newly planted Danes during the strong wave of immigration in that part of the US.
“Grundtvigian folk schools in the homeland (Denmark) had always emphasized “the national spirit,” the love of one's land, and the mother tongue. No wonder, therefore, that the immigrants in their eagerness to perpetuate their heritage fashioned their first educational institution in the image of, and according to the philosophy of the folk school.”
While Mortensen begins with an introductory chapter to provide background to the folk school movement in Denmark, and concludes with reflections and notes about the context and impact of these efforts, the heart of the book devotes a chapter to tell the story of the 6 original schools: Elk Horn in Iowa (1878), Ashland in Michigan (1882), Nysted in Nebraska (1887), Danebod in Minnesota (1888), Atterdag in California (1911), and Dalum in Alberta Canada (1921).
Like all small, personally inspired and led community projects, the folk school stories are filled with trials, crises, passions and changes. Mortensen is faithful to the particulars of each of the stories, while at the same time keeping the reader informed about the cultural and social context of the evolving American life that over time saw less and less relevance to the idea of folk education. Ashland Folk School’s story, for example, is a heart-breaking year-to-year story of survival, discouraged leaders, and persistent new efforts to “try again.”
The two books are long out of print, though FEAA still holds what we assume are the only remaining copies of the Knudsen’s Grundtvig translations. This volume is available with a minimum contribution of $50 to FEAA (and $20 each for additional copies). Send a check (to FEAA), c/o Chris Spicer, 73 Willow St., Florence, MA 01062. Write him at firstname.lastname@example.org
News from the Board
FEAA Board Notes for Winter 2018 Newest Board Member!
Jason Gold (see Nuts and Bolts article above) is a renaissance man with an insatiable appetite for learning. Having worked in various fields from furniture making to farming, Jason has gained an expansive knowledge across many disciplines. Yet, at the heart is Jason’s love for teaching. Jason earned his Bachelor Degree from Eastern Michigan University with a double major in U.S. Cultural History and Social Anthropology. He uses his collection of experiences to teach from multiple perspectives and to engage different learning styles. The topics Jason teaches originate from his time spent as a beekeeper, builder, electrician, farmer’s market manager, homesteader, toy maker, teacher, woodworker, videographer, and writer. In 2012, Jason and his wife Julia, founded the Michigan Folk School in order to extend the reach of a community of people who want empower themselves with new skills and knowledge.
Jason founded and operated several profitable businesses including Camden Rose, Inc. a natural toy company, which he sold in 2010. Since that time Jason has worked for the non-profit Dixboro Village Green Inc. to help bring a cultural craft and art renaissance to small village outside of Ann Arbor, Michigan. Through this non-profit work he has written several successful grants and worked with local government agencies to improve the infrastructure and historic preservation of the Village of Dixboro.
Jason brings to the FEAA his past experiences as a business owner, teacher, craftsman, and community organizer to bridge communication between folk schools and the patron public. Jason believes that we are at our best when we work together. He looks forward to his tenure at FEAA with great excitement.